NEW YORK — Exhibitors and buyers at the International Fashion Fabric Exhibition this week will have their feet in New York, but their minds will likely be on China.
Opening today and running through Thursday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, IFFE will feature more than 400 suppliers selling textile products such as fabric and trim. Those firms increasingly have to contend with the hulking capacity of China, which benefits from low-cost labor and easing trade controls.
During the 12 months ended July, China shipped $522.3 million worth of fabric to the U.S., an increase of 23.9 percent compared with a year ago. The country accounts for 9.4 percent of the total fabric imports to the U.S.
Fabric imports represent only a small portion of China’s $13 billion in overall imports, $8 billion of which comprises finished apparel.
As the 147 countries of the World Trade Organization drop quotas on apparel and textiles on Jan. 1, marking the end of the system of quotas that has long regulated world trade, China’s market share is expected to increase, creating even more pressure on many of the firms showing at IFFE. That pressure can be seen in businesses that participate in every market segment.
John Sheils, president of Portland, Ore.-based Pine Crest Fabrics, a converter that specializes in stretch fabrics with visual effects such as holograms and foil finishes, said there is more competition now than ever.
While demand for his products has remained about the same, Sheils said supply appears to have increased. He said customers appear to have the same amount of money budgeted, but, “they’re spreading it around a little bit more.”
Overall, business has been “OK,” he said. “I’m not going to jump up and down and say it’s been the greatest thing in the world. We’re probably doing a lot less with companies that traditionally have been driven by price point only. We’ve replaced those with customers who want the satisfaction of knowing they’re going to get their product on schedule, done correctly and priced competitively.”
Sheils expects to meet with smaller apparel manufacturers at IFFE that buy mostly from the firm’s in-stock selection.
The global market is also on the mind of Philip Rawdon, president of the novelty fabrics firm Formal Fabrics, based in New York.
Formal Fabrics follows European and American fashions, but has its own factory in China and its distribution base in Hong Kong. Much of the firm’s goods include hand detailing such as embroidery.
“We’ve been doing sporadically very well considering the market as it is,” he said. “Plus, we have world distribution. So if it’s slow in one area, quite often it picks up in another area.”
Rawdon said IFFE was the firm’s “billboard for the American market.”
Also meeting the competitive challenge of China on its own turf is Transfer Tex, which manufactures print paper for heat transferring and this year completed a plant in that country to apply its prints.
Hugh Cullen, national sales manager for Top Trans, a division of Transfer Tex, said the company is trying to face China head on. “We get in now, we create a beachhead,” said Cullen.
This will be the company’s first time at IFFE. “We thought we’d give it a shot just to see what’s out there,” he said.
Logan Textiles Australia, a stretch fabric maker that has primarily catered to the swimwear market, has lowered its prices on high-volume orders to be more competitive, said Michelle Yabko, director of U.S. sales for the Brisbane, Australia-based company. Logan also has been expanding into sportswear, which helps smooth out the seasonal fluctuations of the swimwear business.
In addition to the vendors, IFFE, produced by Advanstar Communications Inc., will have a student design lounge, an Italian-designed trend forum; massages, and free ice cream. There also will be educational seminars from the likes of The American Trend & Color Committee, The Doneger Group, ESP TrendLab and The Fashion Institute of Technology.
Quota Watch: Embargo Countdown
In less than three months, the quota system governing apparel and textile quotas will expire for the 147 member nations of the World Trade Organization. Importers and retailers are closely watching several apparel and textile categories fill quickly, and many are shifting production from one country to another to avoid getting caught in embargoes. Wool product categories for fall began to fill rapidly in September. As of Oct. 2, there were 17 new apparel and textile categories more than 80 percent filled.
SOURCE: US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION STATUS REPORT