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Tariff Talk Concerns Cast Shade Over Largest US Fashion Showcase

While this year's Winter Magic event had lost none of its usual vibrancy, attendees remained preoccupied with the ongoing China-US trade talks, with many concerned as to just what "no deal" would mean for the wider fashion industry.

Photo: Swatch and learn: Industry experts, exhibitors and buyers gather for a touch of Winter Magic.
Swatch and learn: Industry experts, exhibitors and buyers gather for a touch of Winter Magic.
Photo: Swatch and learn: Industry experts, exhibitors and buyers gather for a touch of Winter Magic.
Swatch and learn: Industry experts, exhibitors and buyers gather for a touch of Winter Magic.

The innocuous orange carpeting, which was ubiquitous at the recent Winter Magic event, paved the way to unusually weighty discussions this time round – tariffs, smart fabrics and the likely impact of runaway technology. As ever, though, the show – which bills itself as "the United States' most comprehensive fashion marketplace" – found space to preview the upcoming trends, while, somewhere within its 12 curated sub-shows, there was something of relevance to pretty much every aspect of this dynamic, creative and highly lucrative sector.

With 1 March – the deadline for China and the US to conclude their tariff negotiations – fast approaching, speculation as to the outcome's likely impact on the fashion sector inevitably dominated proceedings. According to Julia K. Hughes, President of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), the fear now is that a failure to agree a deal could see tariffs imposed on all imports from China, drawing apparel, textiles and footwear into the fray. With patent leather, leather handbags, leather apparel, wool yarn and cotton having all fallen victim to an earlier round of the tit-for-tat tariffs, the industry is already reeling from the inevitably higher costs and is in no mood to contemplate the situation becoming grimmer.

According to a recent study by the USFIA – one commissioned when the punitive tariffs first began to bite – many companies are already looking to diversify their sourcing as quickly as possible. Topping the list in this changed trading reality are Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh, with Ethiopia said to have seen a 92% increase in its US orders in the past 12 months, while among the other names in the frame are Kenya, Egypt and Haiti.

In her keynote address, Hughes outlined a number of the legal options open to those US companies looking to minimize the impact of the tariffs on their own operations. As well as considering classifications reviews, she recommended that domestic fashion businesses look to re-engineer products to fit into different classifications, reduce the value of the goods and consider shipping directly to consumers from overseas manufacturing facilities. She also reminded attendees that, under current US law, there is no duty charged on shipments valued at less than US$800.

Asked for her own view on the likely outcome of the negotiations, Hughes indicated that she expected the extended US government shutdown to have had a negative impact on the likelihood of a deal being agreed, especially one that met the current deadline. Expanding on this, she said: "There most likely will be an extension – and if we don't have an extension and we don't have a deal, we're most likely going to have a protracted trade war."

Even the floorplan at this year's show was not immune to the impact of the ongoing trade dispute. Hastily rejigged, it featured far fewer Chinese manufacturers than in previous years. This, however, did provide an opportunity for a number of potential new sourcing destinations to shift centre stage.

Particularly optimistic about the opportunities opening up was Eugene Havemann, Chief Executive of Madagascar Garments. With his factory based in Antananarivo, the capital of this East African nation, he did, however, remain realistic about the challenges facing his business, saying: "The trade dispute has certainly opened doors for us and there's a tremendous opportunity for us from the job-growth perspective. Our challenge, though, is lead time but, as the market grows, there will be more of a need to go vertical. Largely as a result of this show, though, we already have several US customers."

Smart Fabrics and Advanced Manufacturing

The rhetoric and sabre-rattling of the Trump administration aside, sustainability and higher-performance fabrics continue to be important topics in the wider US fashion industry. They were also among the many factors that drew attendees to the intriguing denim exhibit at this year's event.

Much of this particular exhibit focused on sustainable practices, such as the E-flow technology on offer from Jeanologia, a Valencia-based textile technology specialist, which is said to deliver dye to fibres via nanoparticles, a process that uses 95% less water and produces no waste. It was also hard not to be impressed by the intelligent jeans that, by combining Coolmax and Thermaline, stay cool in the summer and are warm to wear in the winter.

Photo: Madagascar: Setting up for sourcing.
Madagascar: Setting up for sourcing.
Photo: Madagascar: Setting up for sourcing.
Madagascar: Setting up for sourcing.
Photo: 3-D scanning: The future of fitting.
3-D scanning: The future of fitting.
Photo: 3-D scanning: The future of fitting.
3-D scanning: The future of fitting.

This year, the space was curated by Patricia Medina, Executive Director of Aztex Trading, a family-owned Mexican fabric-manufacturing business. Clearly impressed by what she had seen, she said: "With new technologies and new chemicals you can do just about anything."

A sign of what that "just about anything" might entail then came courtesy of a nearby floor-set microfactory. Here, attendees got the chance to familiarise themselves with the Styku Body Scanner, the latest high-tech offering from Tukatech, a California-based fashion-technology specialist. The system essentially creates an exact replica of the original model as a 3D avatar, after taking hundreds of measurements as part of a body scan. This virtual fit animation then allows manufacturers to bypass the need to make any subsequent physical samples.

Among the other advanced fashion manufacturing tech on show as part of the microfactory was a fabric digital printer, billed as a sustainable and clean printing solution, developed by Mutoh America, an Arizona-based printing group. There was also – again courtesy of Tukatech – a rather impressive automatic laser-cutter, which relied on the latest camera tech to maintain pinpoint accuracy.

Trends for Spring/Summer 2020

As ever, one of the highlights of the event was its extended future fashion trends session. This year led by Melissa Moylan, Women's Fashion Creative Director for Fashion Snoops, a Los Angeles based trending consultancy, the first up-and-coming fad to be identified was Ethos, a style and look said to be inspired by JOMO – the joy of missing out.

Drawing on Scandinavian design, mixed with a dash of folk, Ethos is apparently rooted in unspoiled nature and the beauty of disconnecting. In fashion terms, this translates into bark, green and rust shades, sunset-scapes and basket stripes, all on such items as baggy pants with high waistlines, linen bomber jackets with short sleeves and heeled mule shoes. Materials here tend to be plant-based, alongside Earth-friendly textures and crafty crochets.

At virtually the opposite end of the spectrum was Dose – the second big trend. Inspired by psychedelics that are (according to Moylan) "going through a mainstream revolution", the look has then been fused with virtual-reality experiences. This has resulted in very bright, almost artificial, colours such as "blazing dandelion", neon greens and purple pinks, while also requiring the use of a number of iridescent materials, high-tech PVC, trippy graphics and dreamy dyes. The key items here include see-through windbreakers, bra tops with a branded trim, sling-back sandals with colourful lacing, and harness bags worn strapped around the chest.

The premise of Genesis, the next designated trend, is – intriguingly – prehistoric-life-meets-new-technology. In this instance, according to Moylan, you could envisage a keen adherent attending "the unearthing of ancient burial sites", especially if they're wearing "brushed silk cargo pants, a campshirt with oversized pockets and a novelty purse, decked out with feathers". Nice.

Flash, meanwhile, is a nod to the 1980s and a trend already quite popular across the US. In Moylan's take on the look, sci-no-fi tech fuses with retro aesthetic and translates into disco metals, fierce feline prints and waxed denim, while garments scream with logos. If you missed out on oversized shoulders first time around, this could be your moment.

As far as colour picks for spring/summer 2020 go, Moylan singled out chicory, cinnabar and chakra (a type of purple), all of which go with hot pinks and blues, neutral "potter's clay" with pink undertones, which, in turn, goes with yellow. The key colour here is awe – a neon blend of lime and yellow.

Photo: Winter Magic 2019: The most comprehensive fashion marketplace in the US. Apparently.
Winter Magic 2019: The most comprehensive fashion marketplace in the US. Apparently.
Photo: Winter Magic 2019: The most comprehensive fashion marketplace in the US. Apparently.
Winter Magic 2019: The most comprehensive fashion marketplace in the US. Apparently.

Magic Winter 2019 took place from 4-7 February at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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