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Fashion and home décor fusion dominate Hong Kong housewares show

The Hong Kong International Home Textiles and Furnishings Fair emphasised the need for fresh design and following the latest colour trends, while a reinvigorated Europe was seen as inspiring many of the most stylish new offerings.

Photo: Material benefits: high-fashion fabrics on show.
Material benefits: high-fashion fabrics on show.

Nowadays, home furnishings and housewares tend to follow colour trends in in pretty much the same way as clothing does. As a result, fashion and home décor have become ever more closely connected. This particular topic was elaborated on by Nicole Bowling, Managing Editor of the US magazine Home Fashion Forecast, as part of her keynote address on the first day of the 2014 Hong Kong International Home Textiles and Furnishings Fair.

"Fashion is instant language," she said, citing the work of designers such as Miuccia Prada as having a direct influence on home décor. This, she said, was borne out by the fact that many buyers of home furnishings and housewares now look to European sources for inspiration.

Jenny Nolan, Director of Jenbarry and Associates in Australia, assists clients with product sourcing and brand development and relies on the Maison and Objet show in Paris to provide a guideline for colour trends. When asked whether exhibitors at the fair were showing the colour trends she had been expecting, she said: "Yes, absolutely – and a few are fabulous and far ahead of themselves for next year."

Nolan was accompanying two buyers from Primo Imports in Sydney, an importer/wholesaler of housewares that has been supplying large and small retail chains in Australia for over 27 years. Explaining their attendance, she said: "It is important to see what is being produced in the wider market. We have found many items that complement the housewares we are considering importing."

Summing up her impressions at the end of the event, she said: "The exhibitors from India were particularly interesting and in the future we will make sure we cover this hall in our search."

Exhibiting at the show for the first time were Nick Peters and Tom Hywood of Canvas and Canvas, an Australian company offering limited edition and custom-designed artwork on canvas, all designed in-house and produced in China. Peters said: "We pride ourselves on the quality of our designs and the fact that our in-house designers know the trends and colours that are going to be popular each season in the Australian market."

Canvas and Canvas sells limited edition pieces online and also caters to commercial, hotel, spa and serviced apartment projects in the United Kingdom and New Zealand as well as Australia. Through this year's fair, which was the first international exhibition they had taken part in, Canvas and Canvas was hoping to expand its client base to a greater number of countries in Europe as well as the US. Speaking on the final day, Peters said the company had received about 15 good leads and he was expecting further orders to follow.

More buyers, in particular, seemed to be seeking eco-conscious products. One company that has been focussing on this for the last three years is Paramount Manufacturing Group Ltd, a Hong Kong-based company that has produced home textiles and fine embroidered linens for more than 40 years. About 50% of the company's production is based in China, where embroidery and cutwork is of a high quality, and 50% in India, where the dyes are said to be particularly good.

Rishi Uttamchandani, a director of the business, said the challenge was to orchestrate the two production areas. The company was able to exhibit the "green" logo on its stand this year in recognition of the fact that its producing home textiles made of 100% organic bamboo yarn (also known as cellulose) from northern China. The cost of this yarn is 15%-18% higher than cotton but, despite this, such products are proving increasingly popular.

Photos: Buyers and sellers from across the world converge at the 2014 event.
Buyers and sellers from across the world converge at the 2014 event.

Uttamchandani said: "We support the local industry in northern China by supplying sewing machines to minority women. This allows them to produce textile products during the quiet agricultural season." As the European market has been slow since 2011, Uttamchandani is currently focussing on developing the Asian retail markets, including Malaysia and China.

Another company exhibiting the green logo on its stand was Divian Dream, a company from the Czech Republic that manufactures high quality beds, all handmade from a combination of natural fibres, including wool, silk, cotton and horsehair. Sales Director Martin Levanti said this was the first time the company had taken part in the fair, but he was now hopeful of linking up with specialised distributors in both Hong Kong and China who could as local agents.

Increasingly, it seems, customers in China are becoming more sophisticated, seeking exclusive, luxury products that are wholly produced in Europe. Divian Dream beds certainly fits that particular bill. Over 10 years of research is said to have gone into the design of its mattresses, with Levanti describing the beds as "a niche product".

He said: "Not only are they supremely comfortable and durable, but they also promote good health." The combination of natural fibres and springs allows air to circulate easily through the mattress when it is used (the springs acting as bellows) and the addition of silver thread acts to provide an anti-bacterial function.

Levanti said: "Some luxury hotel chains in China have already placed orders, sending their own fabric to us for use in the headboards for the beds." This is designed to ensure that the fabric for the headboards and curtains matched perfectly, giving a more unified effect to the overall décor of the room.

Similarly eco-conscious is Qayyum Exports, which produces a wide range of hand-woven and hand-knotted carpets. In previous years, its carpets were made of cotton and wool but, as of last last year, the company has been producing carpets made with silk yarn is over from the production of saris. This yarn would normally be discarded but, thanks to a suggestion from an American customer, Qayyum is now putting this yarn to good use via cottage industry weavers near Varanasi in the northeast of India.

A third-generation family business, Qayyum has participated in the Hong Kong show since 2000. Arshad Qayyum, President of the company, said the show gets "bigger and better" each year. Commenting on general market conditions, he said: "The European market is still slow. but the US is picking up." Fortunately, his company sells to a number of different markets including the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where they have buyers in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

With market conditions changing constantly, many exporters are more than aware of the need to adapt accordingly. Liu Xue Yong, President of Changshu Yongs Textile Co Ltd in China, has been in business for over 10 years, supplying blankets and bathrobes to Europe, the US and South America. Recent changes in import policy in Mexico and Argentina, however, have made it harder for importers to bring goods in from China and thus has affected the company's business.

Liu said that some shipments have even been stuck in transit. He is not interested in exporting to markets such as the Middle East or Southern Africa due to his lack of familiarity with their requirements. In fact, he is hoping that Europe and the US will to regain some of the buying power lost after the financial crisis – a sentiment echoed, of course, by many other exhibitors.

With the start of this year's fair coinciding with the Easter long weekend in Hong Kong, attendance by local business contacts on the first two days slightly down. Some exhibitors commented that Hong Kong companies were delaying business meetings until after the holiday, but overall there was good attendance from the city's buyers and sourcing agents.

The US and European markets may still need time to return to their former strength, but it seems that the Asian market is doing well. Leo Ng and Momo Chan, merchandisers for Spam Co Ltd, were buying for local department stores and the Seahorse brand of bedding; while Cecilie Koch Larsen was sourcing linens made of natural bamboo yarn for her local retail company, Bamboa.

Larde said: "The local retail market in Hong Kong is strong," adding she felt this year's fair was an ideal venue for buyers to view a wide range of products from various sources.

While the timing of the fair might not have suited everyone, it had to be arranged so as not to clash with the Canton Fair. Melanie Rombouts, a sourcing agent for Habufa Meubelen BV, a wholesaler of furniture and home décor products in the Netherlands, said this was the second time she had attended the fair. For her the timing was good as she had flown in from Belgium and wanted to attend both fairs.

With her client buying carpets, cushions and throws, she found that exhibitors offered a good range of products. She said: "Sometimes we buy existing ranges and sometimes we see potential in a supplier and give them our own designs."

More than 220 exhibitors attended from seven countries and regions, including group pavilions from the Chinese mainland and two from India: the Handloom Export Promotion Council and the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts. On show was a wide range of high quality products, including upholstery and furnishing products, carpet and floor coverings, curtains and window fashion accessories, baby and bedroom textiles and bathroom and kitchen textiles.

Photo: Fashion-focussed: the International Home Textiles and Furnishings Fair.
Fashion-focussed: the International Home Textiles and Furnishings Fair.

The fifth Hong Kong International Home Textiles and Furnishings Fair was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 20-23 April 2014.

Diana Rose, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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