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Showtime Buyers More Willing to Order Fabrics

HIGH POINT, N.C. - Winding up the International Textile Market Assn.'s Showtime here earlier this month, exhibitors said buyers have been making long-term fabric commitments despite continued cloudiness in the U.S. economy.
      "Our customers are thinking about growth more than just survival," said Zack Taylor, vp of sales and marketing for domestic resource Valdese Weavers. "There's not as much paranoia - which is healthy."
    He said attendance at the show was "slightly above normal" with customers visiting the showroom "with very specific shopping needs, which vary wildly from customer to customer."
     In the De Leo Textiles showroom, appointment books were fuller than usual, according to Cathy Smith, director of design and merchandising.
     "There's definitely an upswing in confidence and optimism for the future backed up by an increase in orders and an openness to new placements and fabrics," she said.
     But like Valdese's Taylor, Smith said customers aren't going too far out on a limb with their orders. "They're not wildly optimistic, but they're not pessimistic, either," she said.
     Meghan McLawhorn, assistant director of the ITMA, said the show had registered repre- sentatives from 863 companies through late afternoon Tuesday, up from the 787 from the same time during the December show.
     Two themes that dominated this week's event were confidence in the stability and delivery of vendors, and the addition of innovation and extra value to product in the face of rising costs.
     Westgate Home added new fi nishes to fabrics and got strong response to a new faux leather at $5.95-$8.95 a yard and to embroidered outdoor fabrics.
     "You've got to give people a reason to buy, and we're going after this higher perceived value," said David Li, the company's president.
    Several mill executives, including Li, said the price of raw materials has stabilized, including cotton, with the price slowly beginning to trend down. But fabric producers still have other pricing problems.
     Li said the Chinese government has a national goal to double the income of workers over five years, beginning in 2013. That could lead to higher labor costs, and coupled with inflation, the increase in demand from within China, and a decreasing number of mills, is expected to keep Chinese fabrics from returning to their former price levels.

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