Exhibitors at Korean Preview New York were hoping to make inroads into the U.S. market with fabrics that generally focused on function or novelty. But they noted that the challenge was somewhat daunting given the troubled state of American retailing and the uncertain trade climate under President Trump, as well as the continued pressure on price.
The situation back home isn’t as promising as it could be, either. According to the Korean Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), South Korea’s domestic fashion market continues to grow, despite sluggish domestic demand. The growth is attributed to the rise of online and mobile shopping, with casual wear a key trend. However, KOTRA said production volume has been on the decline since 2012 due to cheaper foreign competition and weak domestic demand for locally produced goods. While exports of fashion apparel to countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan and Indonesia have increased 4.4% since 2010, textile shipments “showed a downward trend,” KOTRA said.
AT KPNY this week, fabric firms from South Korea’s Yanju district were grouped together to showcase their diverse fabric offerings. Exhibitors explained that Yanju is poised to become a key hub for the textile industry. In 2011, a complex called G-Textopia broke ground and is now home to the Korea High Tech Textile Research Institute, the Textile Startup Business Incubation Center, the Green Knit Research Center and the Gyeonggi Textile Center, which was established to promote the area’s textile and apparel industry following implementation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.
Chungham Textile Co. displayed its woven jacquard prints aimed at high-end ready-to-wear. Executive Richard B.H. Lee explained that the company uses 10 different techniques to achieve its breadth of jacquard fabrics, from sheer overlay materials to burn-out effects, as well as more traditional prints.
“We’re an established company in Korea and we’re trying to get more customers in the U.S. by showing in New York,” Lee said.
At Senlin Tex Co., president Paulina Park said the company was aiming to grow its specialty flame retardant fabrics business for children’s wear. Park demonstrated how the fabrics are resistant to fire, and have also developed a feature where they change color under heat to indicate how they might have been near a fire source.
Senlin also makes performance fabrics with features such as thermoregulation, UV resistance, quick dry and odor management, and a group called “Yummywarm,” which is a wearable blanket made of polyester fleece that’s also heat and flame resistant.
Steven Woo, assistant manager at Young Won Corp., said his company focuses on research and development to create specialty fabrics. Woo noted that Young Won has 48 weaving machines, half dedicated to more basic goods and the rest set up to make specialty fabrics using mostly polyester and viscose.
“We’ve been showing here for three years and our business in the U.S. market has grown,” Woo said. “We’re trying to expand the business, but with what’s going on with trade in the U.S., it’s difficult.”
Roselia Choi, director of strategic planning at Youngwoo T&F Lead, showing for the second time at KPNY, said the company focuses on better fabrics such as kupro and nylon blends, Supima cotton, Lycra spandex.
“We do classics with a twist,” Choi said. “The show is like plating for good food. That’s why we have a video explaining what our company is about and take extra effort to have a booth that gets attention and bring a lot of fabrics with us.”
Choi said she’s trying to make connections with emerging designers in New York, since local manufacturing has grown here and the higher-end market is still important.
“Our focus is to lead the trends and emphasize creativity,” she said. “We want to lead the customer into something new that works for them and not just give them the same old thing.”
At KPNY’s Trend Forum, the extensive range of quality fabrics were on display, from textures goods and piles to jacquards and performance materials. Outerwear and activewear were the focus of an apparel display meant to show the expertise of Korean manufacturers.