Textile manufacturers blamed Brexit and tough trading conditions for “disappointing” footfall on the first day of the London Textile Fair, but were glad to see it pick up on day two.
The annual two-day event on 16-17 July at the Business Design Centre in Islington hosted 515 exhibitors from across the UK and Europe.
Exhibitors said the difficult retail market had led to fewer buyers attending the show on Tuesday.
“We’ve been here since the beginning  and this is the quietest the exhibition has ever been,” said one manufacturer.
“We haven’t had any new custom yet, just meetings with existing clients. There’s lots of trouble on the high street, however. Arcadia – one of our biggest customers – isn’t ordering as much and that’s having a knock-on effect.”
Marketing manager at Middlesex-based textile manufacturer GNK Trading, Jaymini Mahidharia, agreed: “It’s nowhere near as manic as January, so either lots of buyers are on holiday or it’s a sign of more troubled times ahead for retail.
She added: “Retailers have smaller budgets and margins are tighter, which means that orders are shrinking and businesses aren’t taking risks design-wise. If you look on the high street, there’s nothing interesting. Everyone is playing it safe and producing the same thing because they know it works.”
Sam Boardman, managing director of velvet manufacturer Denholme Velvets, blamed too many trade shows for the lack of visitors on the first day: “There’s too many shows nowadays, and people are being fussier about which ones they attend. It’s oversaturated.”
He added that Brexit is impacting trade: “Everybody seems to be holding back on spending this edition.
“I think they’re probably holding back until the Brexit decision in October. It’s definitely affecting us and has knocked a lot of our European business, especially in Italy. There’s too much uncertainty.”
However, Karen Levy, director of London textile agency Klic Fabrics, which was exhibiting on behalf of Biddle Sawyer Silk, John England and Hainsworth, said footfall improved on Wednesday and praised the quality of the buyers in attendance.
“The first day was quiet but we’ve had a great second day and have seen some good quality customers, so I don’t mind that it’s not as buzzy.
“We’ve seen some of our high-end customers and a buyer from Dubai, who was very interested and placed an order, and have had a really good flow of accounts and new customers on the stand [on Wednesday].”
George Bonas, partner at Leicester-based manufacturer ABG Arts, was also pleased with Wednesday’s influx of visitors: “We haven’t had a quiet moment today. It’s been really busy, and we’ve met all sorts of interesting people, including Samantha Cameron [former prime minister David Cameron’s wife]. We’re very pleased with [Wednesday’s] results.”
Admitting the show got off to a “slow start,” founder and organiser John Kelly expects 5,000 visitors across the two days – the same as July 2018 – and said buyers from retailers and brands including Gucci, Zara, H&M, Reiss, Ted Baker and French Connection were in attendance.
Kelly said the change in timing of the show to a Tuesday and Wednesday, instead of a Wednesday and Thursday, had impacted footfall: “We were a couple of hundred people down on the launch day year on year, and I have a feeling the date change impacted that, because today [Wednesday] it’s heaving. Exhibitors are very happy and numbers have picked up.”