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Brexit and sustainability dominate at London Textile Fair

Exhibitors reported mixed results at the autumn 19 edition of the London Textile Fair, as market concerns and nervousness were offset by the presence of good-quality buyers and a strong British showing.

The exhibition, which ran on 18-19 July at the Business Design Centre in London’s Islington, recorded an increase in exhibitors – 472, compared with 462 last season – and had stands sprawling throughout the main hall and numerous smaller side halls.

In the sweltering heat of the venue’s Victorian arches, there was a gentle buzz in the aisles. Visitor numbers were slightly down compared with the spring 19 edition, which took place in January: 5,270, against 5,790. However, several big names were spotted browsing the halls: Topshop, Debenhams and Urban Outfitters attended, as well as some of London’s top designer names and contemporary brands, among them Shrimps, Simone Rocha, Charles Jeffrey Loverboy and Cefinn.

Although some exhibitors reported lower footfall compared with previous seasons, the quality of buyers won praise.

“There has been fewer people than the winter edition, but the visitors are all high quality and people really are looking for something specific,” said Pauline Guesné, co-founder of French technical fabric manufacturer Induo. “We may have had fewer conversations, but conversations have been longer and more about actually doing business – which is positive. This is one of the most important shows for us.”

Visitors were overwhelmingly British: most exhibitors reported 90% UK buyers on the stands.

Event organiser John Kelly reported a general feeling of unease pervading the UK market: “It has not been the most vivacious of shows. What with the struggles of some of the big names on the high street, people feel like they are in a bit of a quandary, and there is a lot of indecisiveness in the market.”

This sentiment was mirrored by several exhibitors. British mills highlighted struggles around rising costs, while international exhibitors noted that the UK market had cooled in recent seasons.

“The footfall at the show is similar to last season,” said Isabel Costa, owner of Portuguese mill Burel. “However, the UK market has been decreasing since the Brexit vote, while other markets are on the rise. Nevertheless, we have to be here to show our products to our British customers.”

Kenneth Forsyth, designer at Yorkshire manufacturer Joseph H Clissold & Sons, agreed that the market is challenging: “Visitors have been designers and independents – no high street names. We find that they choose to source from overseas to cut costs. If they are coming to the show, they’re not looking for UK.”

He continued: “Brits are finding the market very challenging. For example, the price of wool has gone up by 30%, and while we don’t pass on all that cost to the end product, we have to add something. The price of wool is rising and rising.”

As sustainability becomes a buzzword across all levels of the industry, the show launched a section dedicated to sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics, as part of a collaboration with The Future Fabrics Expo. The area featured showcases from 16 sustainable mills, where visitors could discover more about the materials before visiting their official stands in the main hall. There was also a sustainability seminar programme and trends board.

Almost all – 98% – of exhibitors were from the Europe and Turkey, the latter of which increased its delegation of suppliers this season, reflecting increased demand.

“There is a strong textile market in Turkey, and a strong garment manufacturing market,” explained Kelly. “Because of the small distances people choose to do both in the same place to save transport costs, and lots of mills now are also manufacturers.”

Kelly also looked ahead to London Textile Fair’s sister show in New York, Texfusion, which will take place on 16-17 January 2019 in the middle of Manhattan’s Garment District: “People love the format of the show, as it’s more accessible and open than some.”

The next edition of London Textile Fair is on 9-10 January.




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