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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.

This story first appeared in the October 5, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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.

Country Product Quota Limit Usage to Date
Philippines Men’s and boys’ wool coats 3,746 dozen 94.6 percent
China Cotton and man-made fiber dressing gowns and robes 4.1 million dozen 90.0 percent
Philippines Cotton and man-made fiber skirts 1.0 million dozen 89.9 percent
Malaysia Wool coats 18,901 dozen 86.8 percent
China Wool coats 26,979 dozen 85.8 percent
China Wool knit shirts and blouses 29,080 dozen 85.7 percent
India Cotton and man-made fiber woven shirts 3.5 million dozen 85.0 percent
South Korea Wool coats 41,575 dozen 83.9 percent
India Cotton trousers 1.5 million dozen 82.8 percent
Pakistan Cotton trousers 2.0 million dozen 82.1 percent
China Cotton skirts 299,746 dozen 81.6 percent
Indonesia Man-made fiber knit shirts 2.5 million dozen 81.5 percent
Thailand Wool coats 69,195 dozen 81.5 percent
China Man-made fiber suits 576,377 units 81.4 percent
China Wool skirts 43,693 dozen 81.2 percent
Macao Man-made fiber skirts 270,939 dozen 81.0 percent
Indonesia Cotton and man-made fiber skirts 715,200 dozen 80.3 percent