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Exclusive Fabric Prints Woo US Fashion Buyers But Not At Any Price

While unique, showy prints were keenly sought out by buyers at the recent New York Texfusion fabrics and materials showcase, quality was far less of a major concern than price, at least according to many of the assembled vendors.

Photo: Down with the kids: Stylish synthetic insulation courtesy of Thermore.
Down with the kids: Stylish synthetic insulation courtesy of Thermore.
Photo: Down with the kids: Stylish synthetic insulation courtesy of Thermore.
Down with the kids: Stylish synthetic insulation courtesy of Thermore.

With US tastes running to showy, conversation-piece prints, bold and distinctive patterns were predictably well represented at the New York City edition of Texfusion – North America's take on the UK's longstanding global textiles showcase. In addition to this range of distinctly striking styles, eco-friendly textiles were also all but ubiquitous, a growing sign of the local love affair with high-performance fabrics with a low environmental impact.

On the print front, one of the many specialists opting to exhibit this year was Germany's Gera Gmbh. Outlining both New York's tastes and the way his company looked to cater to them, Marketing Director Richard Nissan said: "The kind of thing we'd term 'conversational' prints, things like very scenic designs, are what tend to sell well here. New York designers, in particular, are looking for that kind of thing.

"For our part, we're known for engineered prints – prints that need to be placed in a certain way, basically a patchwork of designs that needs to be engineered. Our florals in a patchwork arrangement are currently very much on trend and are set to be one of the key looks for the spring / summer 2020 season."

Although eye-catching prints were also on offer from another European exhibitor – Lyon-based Ercea International – it seemed to be having more of a problem when it came to appealing to US buyers. Outlining the challenges facing the company, General Manager Patrick Favier said: "Typically, Americans look for more feminine designs. Of course, prints are mainly for women, but in France – and in Europe in general – they are bought by an older demographic, primarily those aged 60 or above, many of whom love our designs.

"In the US, though, they are favoured by younger buyers. This makes it difficult for us because we do not have the kind of designs that appeal to younger women. We'll have to work on that in order to be successful here."

Despite the General Manager's reservations, the company appeared to be having some success with its range of high added-value print-on-pleat products, which are said to reduce the workload of garment makers while still delivering a distinctive finished piece. Acknowledging the growing interest in this particular segment, Favier said: "The industry seems to be waking up to the possibilities offered by printed-on-pleated material. For our part, we buy the original fabric, make the piece and then print, with the customer then able to buy something that is virtually complete. They just have to add elastic, for instance, and they have a ready-to-wear skirt."

Inevitably with a more finished product, pleat-printed fabric has a higher price tag than more conventional fabrics, although Favier maintained that the additional cost should be more than offset by the customer's perception of its higher value. Explaining just what producing such items entails, he said: "Creasing is a very long process and it's quite expensive – you put three metres into a machine, but only one-and-a-half metres come out.

"The customer, however, only wants to pay for one metre, even though that actually equates to two metres of fabric. Then, on top of that, you have the time you have invested in creating the piece. It's all added value for the customer and, when they get the fabric, all it requires is one cut, a small amount of sewing and the dress – or whatever – is done."

For some, the US preference for distinctive prints seemed to be segueing into an emphasis on exclusivity, with many buyers looking for a unique offering to take to American consumers. Seeing exclusivity as now pretty much a must in the US market, Maxime Serayet, the Export Manager for L'Atelier Deveaux, a Lyon-based textiles company, said: "Here, they only go for the more unique items we have on offer.

"Sometimes, buyers here even ask us to work to their own proprietary designs. Frequently, they have very exacting requirements – such as precisely matching an original fabric with a specified Pantone colour. Thankfully, this is the kind of added value that gives us an edge over many of our Far East competitors."

Photo: Ercea International: Competing by pleating.
Ercea International: Competing by pleating.
Photo: Ercea International: Competing by pleating.
Ercea International: Competing by pleating.
Photo: Gingham style: Baird McNutt’s best-loved linen.
Gingham style: Baird McNutt's best-loved linen.
Photo: Gingham style: Baird McNutt’s best-loved linen.
Gingham style: Baird McNutt's best-loved linen.

Overall, though, Serayet was just one of many to maintain that price would always trump design quality when it came to actually winning over buyers. Spelling out his concerns, he said: "At this event, there's a considerable number of different print suppliers and we all sell, more or less, the same thing. In fact, the only differences come in terms of price and design, but it's the former that is always the key criteria, especially in the US."

Serayet was not alone in seeing the US as an especially price-sensitive market. It was a concern shared by Alp Hamzagil, the Sales Director of Rabek Fashion Prints, an Istanbul-based print specialist, and something he saw as a major barrier to the company finding success in the US.

Detailing his concerns, he said: "While we can and do sell globally, our main market is Europe. We have had very little success in North America and we're still really trying to find a foothold here. We know it's a good market and, clearly, it's a big market, but pricewise it's tight, very, very tight. You have to be hugely competitive, otherwise you're a non-starter.

"Customers, here, though, don't really take into account the quality or the beauty of fabric – it's just all about price. If you want to do volume business, the big corporations tell you the price and you either accept or they go with someone else."

Price sensitivity was not the only transatlantic difference to strike Hamzagil, as he also noted the differences in fabric preferences between the US and Europe. Summarising these from his company's point of view, he said: "In Europe, we sell a lot of knitted fabrics, but in America the demand for them is negligible. Here, it's more about wovens and polyester."

As well as bold, large format prints, many exhibitors also cited checks and gingham as perennial favourites in the US market. For Shane Kinsella, North America Sales and Marketing Manager for Baird McNutt, a County Antrim-based producer of traditional Irish linens, ginghams are the cornerstone of the firm's US business. Outlining their significance, he said: "We service a lot of brands here that major on check or gingham shirts. Those styles are big in the US but tend to be far more niche in the UK or Germany."

As with many commercial sectors, sustainability has become increasingly important in the textiles market. Whereas, in the past, consumers – and the buyers that try to second guess their preferences – may have been attracted by the novelty value of an eco-friendly product, today products have to flaunt their green credentials if they are serious about appealing to a young demographic.

Explaining how the market has evolved, Joe Digirolamo, North American Sales Manager for Thermore, a Milan-based manufacturer of insulated fabrics, said: "Recycled products used to be seen as interesting. Companies liked to have a recycled product, with its wearability being almost incidental. Now, the story is that something looks great and happens to be recycled. So, there has been this shift from recycled being the hot button to the overall performance and look taking the foreground, with sustainability almost taken for granted."

A low carbon footprint alone, however, may no longer suffice for many green-minded consumers, with concern over the ethical nature of the whole production chain ever more frequently cited as a purchase criterion. Acknowledging how important this has become, particularly for younger customers, Digirolamo said: "It's on account of this that synthetic down products are now doing very well. There is an increasing awareness among consumers that the process of harvesting down feathers might not win many ethical awards. This has seen them turn to artificial options that probably didn't exist 10 or 20 years ago.

"The fact that they can have a synthetic alternative to down, as well as a recycled synthetic option, is very appealing to the younger demographic, which is very much driving demand in this sector. Although it started with what I would term the outdoor technical companies, it's now going mainstream for the younger fashion consumer."

Photo: Sustainable sourcing and production practices: Once gimmicks, now givens.
Sustainable sourcing and production practices: Once gimmicks, now givens.
Photo: Sustainable sourcing and production practices: Once gimmicks, now givens.
Sustainable sourcing and production practices: Once gimmicks, now givens.

Texfusion's summer 2019 edition took place from 24-25 July at New York City's Penn Plaza Pavilion.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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