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NEW YORK — Textile and apparel sourcing is reinventing itself once again.
As the global economic malaise continues, fashion brands are blazing new paths in the supply chain, including what firms say is an increasing emphasis on Made in America. Other key planks in the new sourcing structure include China Plus strategies, greater quality and innovation control, improved quick-response methods, risk-aversion management and increased emphasis on sustainability and green production processes.
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These issues at the heart of the sector were in the spotlight at a series of major trade shows this month in Manhattan — Première Vision Preview, Spinexpo, Texworld USA and the International Apparel Sourcing Show.
Europe’s economic woes were central at PV Preview, where Philippe Pasquet, chief executive officer of Première Vision, said, “We have many newcomers and people returning after several seasons, mostly companies from Europe and Asia looking to invest more in the American market. The European market is tough right now, especially southern Europe. Companies are suffering a bit because of low demand in some countries, but they are willing to invest in new products. The U.S. market still has many question marks, but is better than the other mature markets, Europe and Japan.”
Pasquet added that while the euro-dollar currency exchange rate is helpful right now for European fabric firms looking to export, “it’s impossible to base an export strategy on the exchange rate, because we don’t know how it will be in the coming months. It’s so unpredictable.”
Ioana Banu, director of sales at Liberty Art Fabrics North America, showing at PV Preview, said, “Business has been growing so fast ever since we opened our own office,” referring to Liberty deciding to create a corporate office instead of agents to represent its fabric sales in the U.S. in spring 2011.
Banu said sales are coming mostly from key customers, because “we’ve been able to offer them the attention that they desperately wanted that an agent could not give,” adding that, “It doesn’t hurt that prints seem to be huge right now.” Liberty has developed a strong business with Nike in its footwear and apparel divisions, and has added four people to the New York staff in sales and customer service.
Karine Van Tassel, founder and organizer of Spinexpo, said exhibitors were not focused on any specific trend “but rather a more thorough research for reliable products and suppliers with a no-risk attitude and diversification in their choices.
“Cotton companies are doing well because the prices are getting back to normal as compared to last year,” Van Tassel said. “Woolens are still on trend, although U.S. buyers are not keen on hairy yarns or supercrisp and twisted products, but are looking for items that are comfortable and pleasant to the touch.”
A broad view of global sourcing could be found in the booths and seminars at Texworld and the Apparel Sourcing Show, from the 10 U.S. mills featured in the Lenzing Pavilion to the array of suppliers and mills from countries that included China, Turkey, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan and Mauritius.
Gail Strickler, assistant U.S. trade representative for textiles and apparel, noted in a panel discussion on “Sourcing Hot Spots” that “duty savings for U.S. free-trade agreements and trade preference programs can be significant and are important opportunities. These include the countries of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement, Haiti, Peru, Colombia and the sub-Saharan countries of the African Growth & Opportunity Act.
“From a practical standpoint, we look at agreements like CAFTA and NAFTA — I think people forget that the U.S. is actually the third-largest exporter of yarns and fabrics in the world — as an extension of Made in America,” said Strickler. She added that when the Obama administration balances expanding international trade, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership being negotiated now, with creating jobs at home, “we certainly do look at making sure that we figure out strategies that help us to preserve and create those opportunities. We know we’re not going to be the best at everything, but we know there are things that we’re really damn good at in this country, and we want to make sure that in creating these kinds of supply chains and networks that we offer manufacturers a globally competitive way to take advantage of that.”
As for a reinvigorated Made in America movement, Strickler said, “There is a certain amount of apparel we can and should be making in this country, because we can make it in a matter of days, giving us quick response and test-marketing abilities. We have yarn spinners in this country that have the most sophisticated equipment in the world and that are paying 4.4 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. That’s globally competitive.”
Those U.S. yarn spinners and knitters said interest in more domestic manufacturing is high, and some new business is coming their way.
Brian Meck, president of Fessler USA, said, “We’re doing a lot of fabric development in response to our customers’ requests for new fabrics, new yarns and new constructions and finishes. As a U.S. manufacturer, it’s one of our advantages when people want things to replenish their lines and keep them updated and be innovative every season. We can handle that and turn that very quickly. When it goes back to just basic items, and focusing on making the same things over and over again, we’re not as competitive.”