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Unravelling the pattern of clothing supply
- report from Apparel Sourcing 2013, Paris

 Photo: Better mood at the show.
 Better mood at the show.
Hong Kong-based fashion wear producer Hongtex was established 19 years ago by Joanne Mak, and she regularly attends Apparel Sourcing in Paris to show off her wares and make contacts.  This year was no exception, despite the mood of crisis due to the rumbling Eurozone debt problems.

"The outlook for the European market is very tough, because of the unstable Euro and political situation," said Mak at the show. "But we, especially women, still want and need to buy clothes. We emphasise value and doing more for the consumer."

This somewhat guarded optimism and sense of purpose were among the underlying sentiments at Apparel Sourcing, that's held alongside the larger Texworld fabric event at Le Bourget fairground.

Hongtex's main market is France itself, providing such well-known brands as Vanessa Bruno and Gerard Darel. The firm also has Dutch customers and hopes to attract some from Italy.

The clothes, made in two factories in China, have an ethereal, feminine quality, many with soft prints like a Monet print dress, made from pure silk scarves.

Photo: Mak: into print. Photo: Massimiliano: clothes of quality.
Mak: into print. Massimiliano: clothes of quality.

Massimiliano Florio, an Italian buyer for Cris Conf spa and the Sourcing and Production Manager for the clothing chain Pinko, was studying several garments at Hongtex's booth. "The clothes are exactly what we are looking for and they can handle the quantity," he said.

Hongtex will make a prototype to his specifications, and while the deal wasn't certain at time of writing, Mak is hopeful.

Greater Asian competition to China

Lin Yun Feng, Vice Chairman of CCPIT TEX (China's Textile Industry Chamber of Commerce) - a major partner with Messe Frankfurt in organising the two fairs - welcomes competition.

Photo: China's growth in emerging countries. 
China's growth in emerging countries. 
"At Apparel Sourcing, we're seeing more exhibitors that are not from China," Lin said at the press conference. "Before, 72% were Chinese. Now, we represent only 50%. More exhibitors are coming from other countries."

Lin said the industry recorded a 2% increase over last year. Since China joined the WTO, China's textile growth has always been double-digit,  he said.

He admitted that growth in exports to the international market, particularly the US and Europe, has slowed since 2012, yet growth is continuing because China is exporting more to other countries.

"32% of our exports are to the EU. The increase in our growth came from emerging countries," said Lin.

"Last year, I visited a clothing manufacturer in Bangladesh that was producing 100,000 pairs of pants for export to the US; 95% of the fabric comes from China, so Southeast and South Asian countries have constant increases in fabric imports from China. Our growth is continuing, because of these new international markets."

 Photo: Choi: talking about prices.
 Choi: talking about prices.
Apparel Sourcing, says CCPIT TEX, is an effective way for Chinese exhibitors to meet European buyers.

Among the new exhibitors at the fair was Hilly Fashion Company Ltd of Hong Kong. Managing Director Yvonne Choi said the firm attended because it wanted to work directly with foreign customers, rather than through agents.

"With the lack of confidence in the Euro, it is not that easy," she said. "But we're trying to find a solution, because everyone is talking about price."

Two buyers from Belgium asked about the price for 500 pieces of a men's smoky-grey cotton crewneck sweater. The buyer said the US$26 price was too much. "We like your clothes, but they are just too expensive," said the buyer. "We have quality and service, but we can't say we have good prices," admitted Choi.

Photo: Florescent colours a new trend. 
Florescent colours a new trend. 
Echoing other exhibitors, she said it was not easy to keep prices low when quality and factors such as wages affect the price. "We are always willing to discuss price and can reduce it with bulk orders."

Choi said she noticed the trend toward florescent colours ("flo"), but admitted that in fashion, with the perennial tendency to wear black, such colours were not easy to sell. To adapt, Hilly would add a "flo" detail to a garment, such as a stripe or a strap.

Bangladesh, other places in the spotlight

Another trend at the fair was that Bangladesh, South Asia and Southeast Asian countries were replacing China as the primary clothing producer, particularly increasing exports to the EU, said CCPIT TEX's Lin.

Also, trade within Europe has increased, with Eastern Europe exporting more to its Western neighbours.

 Photo: Wu: greater Asian competition.
 Wu: greater Asian competition.
One Mainland company, Ningbo Bridge Auslanbo Knitting Co, noticed the competition. Sales Manager Cheryl Wu said her company has been attending Apparel Sourcing for several years.

Ningbo's main markets are the US and Europe, particularly France, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Italy. But the European crisis is affecting business, said Wu.

"Production is difficult for China, because the labour costs are increasing there," she added. Bangladesh, India and Vietnam are cheaper, while China's products are better and its factories can meet clients' deadlines.

In the Ningbo factory, the company makes men's, women's and children's wear: hoodies, pants, T-shirts and knitwear. Among its customers are such labels as Twinlife of the Netherlands, Voice of Norway and Hummel of Denmark.

Wu also noticed the trend towards "flo" colours, as well as a mix of yarns in knits and burnt-out wash effects, which, she said, made a plain garment look stylish.

Photo: B-Style with a 'creation' chain across the world. 
B-Style with a "creation" chain across the world. 
One Italian company, B-Style, manages an effective creation chain between Italy, Hong Kong and Bangladesh.

Eleonora Barbieri, Production Co-ordinator, explained that B-Style's design studio is in Brescia, Italy, while production is done in Bangladesh and the fabric supplier is Luthai, a Chinese mainland supplier managed by a Hong Kong bureau.

"This arrangement works well," says Barbieri, "because we can combine Italian taste with good quality Chinese fabrics and the cheaper production prices in Bangladesh."

B-Style's main markets are Italy and the rest of Europe. Barbieri noticed no problems resulting from the European crisis, other than smaller orders. The company's main product is men's shirts, particularly over-washed or over-dyed styles for a faded, "antique" look. Italian brands, such as GAS and Gaudi, buy from B-Style, as does Calvin Klein.

Although attending the adjacent Texworld for the first time, Patrick Lee, Director of Hong Kong-based Waford Buttons Limited, said the fair was a good one.

 Photo: Man: supplier throughout Europe.
 Man: supplier throughout Europe.
At its Guangdong factory, the company produces metal accessories like buttons, buckles, zipper pulls, pull cords, snaps and more. This fair, and the recent Munich Fabric Start fair, are Waford's main venues for selling.

"Customers like our selection," says Lee, standing amid buyers scanning panels of buttons from brass and "flo" colours in shell and bamboo.

Among the regular participants at Apparel Sourcing was Andy Man, Director of Varieta, a Hong Kong-based manufacturer, whose core business is knitwear. He describes his success here as "half/half", because the French market can be difficult,  he said, mentioning frequent strikes.

From its Dongguan factory, Varieta supplies European chains, department stores and hypermarkets throughout Europe.

Regarding prices, Man said workers' wages had almost doubled compared with three years ago.

Oversized me

One trend was in oversized items, such as tunics and poncho-style sweaters. A Christmas-red poncho sweater, in a Merino knit of polyester/acrylic, cost US$9 per piece.

Photo: T-shirt from Ningbo Bridge Auslanbo Knitting Co..
 
T-shirt from Ningbo Bridge Auslanbo Knitting Co. 
Varieta also made children's clothing, meeting strict European controls in non-inflammable garments and use of buttons and strings. "The customer is king," Man said. "Everybody wants something different."

In comments after his press conference, Michael Scherpe, President of fair organiser, Messe Frankfurt said that in strategic industry developments, sustainable sourcing and ethical fashion were becoming more significant for sales.

Another strategy was in small quantities. "Renewal will come through small companies who will work hard and innovate," explained Scherpe. "In fashion, they work in tiny workshops; which is where innovation happens."

Apparel Sourcing and Texworld ran from 12 to 15 February.

from special correspondent Marnie Mitchell, Paris

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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