LOS ANGELES — The twin issues of port delays and the elimination of quotas on Jan. 1 have the West Coast textile community on edge as they gear up for the Los Angeles International Textile Show from Oct. 18-20.
The basic task of getting product through the supply chain has become daunting at the congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a problem that has ebbed and flowed since late June.
The impact of relief efforts, including the addition of 3,000 nonunion workers that could now increase to 5,000 and the approval for round-the-clock operations, has yet to kick into high gear. So far, about 1,000 additional workers have been brought in and the 24-hour schedule that was expected to begin Nov. 1 is now slated for the first quarter of 2005, according to Dick McKenna, deputy executive director of the Marine Exchange, which monitors the vessels. Delays could worsen in January if manufacturers postpone spring shipments to benefit from the lifting of quotas, as they are expected to do.
“It’s hard to say things are stabilizing,” McKenna said. “We’ll be looking out for January because that could put a greater strain on us.”
On Friday, there were 76 ships waiting to be unloaded and 26 at anchor. That compares with the average range of 35 to 50 vessels with two to three at anchor, he said.
Siamak Okhovat, president of Los Angeles-based Guilbert Textile, which imports from Turkey, China and South Korea, said “If we have to, we’re absorbing the costs of adding air freight to get products in on time.”
Okhovat said the firm’s focus on customizing prints for customers such as Swat Fame and Great Escape has created long-term goodwill and prevented them from canceling orders even if there are delays.
Stock houses, such as United Fabrics International, Fabricland L.A. and Impala Industries, hope they can profit from the delays.
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise and companies like ours benefit since we can provide immediates,” said Bernie Gardner, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Impala.
Ramin Simantob, co-owner of United Fabrics, said: “We’re trying to promote the fact that we can create quick turn for customers, especially for the upcoming holiday season. We’re seeing a big surge in demand.”
As for the expiration of quotas, which many fear will lead to a surge of cheaper imports from China and elsewhere, the path to ensure survival is differentiation.
“The looming quota situation has everybody holding their breath, especially in the mass market which is the most vulnerable,” said Brian Weitman, ceo of Security Textiles in Los Angeles. “That part of the business is slow, but our premium casual business is taking off.”
Weitman, whose business specializes in pocket linings for denim and dress manufacturers, also began offering full-package garment production three years ago, tapping into the latest avenue of growth for firms. His specialty is premium T-shirts, a craze in the contemporary category that isn’t cooling off, he said.
Full packages at Robert Kaufman Co. churn out woven garments and sweaters made in China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The venture represents less than 5 percent of the business, but is a profitable one, said sales representative Ron Kaufman.
“We’re rolling it out to more customers and we’re happy to see it keep growing,” he said.
Connections in Japan and South Korea have paved the way for a developing full-package business, said Phillip de Leon, lead designer at Burbank, Calif.-based Alexander Henry Fabrics.
“It provides a valuable service to the customer and helps generate consistent, repeat business,” de Leon said.
The crossover home business is also sewing up sales for firms. Sales for American Folk & Fabric are up 30 percent year over year, evenly split between the rise in apparel and home goods, according to J.J. Jenkins, vice president of design and merchandising.
The focus is antique and vintage recreationals, from cabbage rose to French Indian bandanna prints in poplins, twills and dobbies at a time when retro looks are popular among consumers.
“We’re a pretty targeted company and haven’t lost momentum,” Jenkins said.
Home represents 70 percent of the revenues at World Linen & Textile Inc., which converts fabrics imported from Russia, China, Belgium, Holland, Italy and France. Its specialty is quick-turn production, since the company inventories the gray goods and can dye, print and finish them within two to three weeks. Company president Milton Jupiter said the apparel business is steady, and in a contrary opinion, believes business may actually spike.
“You can flood the market all you want, but you can’t do what we do,” he said.
For the show, Jupiter said the company will present paisley poplins and voiles, faux suede printed with florals, geometrics and abstracts, and a new lightweight bouclé.
Kaufman and de Leon both said the fall palette is all about deep, lush colors and richly textured fabrics. Velvets and corduroys, some printed in stripes and paisleys, are key items for Robert Kaufman. Greens and plums are primary hues at Alexander, often done in crushed spice interpretations. Popular prints are the arts and crafts tulip and patchwork, tattersall plaids.
“Things are ranging from modern and graphic to the romantic,” according to de Leon. “Individuality is so important. You can be a kind of hippie gypsy or go totally tailored like Jackie O.”
Show officials said the biggest change at the trade event is the rise of European vendors eager to tap into the booming better and contemporary market in the U.S. Even Angelo Uslenghi, principal consultant to the Moda In fabric exhibition in Milan, will make his first visit to the show for a trend seminar and luncheon.
The sold-out show, held at the California Market Center, will feature 300 vendors, including 20 at TexItalia, up from about 12 last year, and 15 at the French Pavilion, on par with last year.