LA Textile wholesale fabric show

I told Kathleen that after attending the textile show in Los Angeles(TALA), I would write a bit about whatever I saw at the show. I rarely get to attend the entire trade show (it’s during the week) and I don’t get to visit every type of showroom but I do have some information for you. First let me give you some background; the Los Angeles Textile Show is an industry show for apparel designers and manufacturers. It is not a home sewing fabric expo for the independent crafter who only needs five yards per fabric. This show features exhibitors from around the globe and many have high minimums (hundreds of yards per fabric). Having said that, many cater to DEs (designer-entrepreneurs) but not the type of DE who primarily shops at fabric stores and who wants to luck out and be able to buy very small quantities at wholesale prices (this point will be important later).

One of my favorite parts of the show is the trims/embellishments and trend forecasting section. First and foremost, picking quality and/or unique trims can make a tremendous difference in the value of your product. Trims are -I’m sure Kathleen has a good definition somewhere- “everything else” on the garment such as buttons, zippers, piping, embellishments, lace, ribbon -all that good stuff. Many trims are purely functional and necessary like buttons while others are decorative and value enhancing, like piping.

Anyhow, the issue that arises with trims is that usually any company that sells them, sells thousands of them. It’s just not common to find a trim company with a small selection. Even a company that specializes in one type of trim such as ribbon, may have hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of ribbons. The reason this becomes an issue is because DEs want and/or expect the supplier to have a catalog. Apparel manufacturing is still very old school and so are many suppliers. I tell you, there are great trim companies that have online catalogs such as Global Elastics and Trims, Kagan Trims, M&B Trim but there are so many great companies that don’t or if they do, they don’t have most of their products online.

So I’m standing in the booth of Mokuba NY -one great trim company, and they have -literally – some of the most fantastic trims I have ever seen. Granted, maybe that’s not saying much because I don’t go to the New York fabric shows, the MAGIC fabric show or Premiere Vision in Paris, so admittedly my field of exposure is limited. Regardless, this company has some truly unique stuff. Another thing people don’t realize is that you must pay for sample cards. A sample card means that for a given trim (in 20 colors); there will be a (really nice) card that has little sample pieces of the trim and all the color codes. The one great thing I liked about Mokuba NY is that their cards listed the fiber content and washing/care instructions for all their trims (Kathleen would love them). You wouldn’t believe how many trim companies couldn’t tell you what an item was made of or how to care for it. This is important because you don’t want to put a dry clean only trim on a garment that will be machine washed.

Anyhow, I’m rambling but I am going to make a point which is Mokuba NY charges for their sample card -$12 each. Since the sample cards of most companies I’ve seen range from free to about $3 per card, $12 was the most expensive I have encountered. I think this serves two purposes. First, it stops the non-serious designer from going crazy and ordering everything under the sun and second, it keeps their costs down. Also, while other companies send out color copies of their sample cards, you’d get a real one upon placing a real order. The latter policy is a great alternative when exact color matching is not absolutely crucial.

Well, I’m in this booth -ordering my $12 sample cards- and this woman comes up and asks a few questions. Do you have a website, well they don’t because of copyright issues. The line is from Japan, and they are just awesome on the design so they don’t put their line on the web to protect their intellectual property (and even thought you might not agree, it’s actually a very good reason and I’ll write about that later). Well, since they don’t have a comprehensive catalog (they have a huge line) and they don’t have a website with products, and the sample cards cost money, this designer says very sternly, “there is no way I can work with you” and puts the business card back and walks off.

Now, I get her point, I think she wanted them to know that they weren’t exactly making it easy but her approach was wrong. The chances of one prospect -not customer- making a company change the way they do business is slim, especially if you’re not big enough to constitute serious volume -because if you were, you wouldn’t balk at the idea of $12 for a sample card- so when people do that, it comes across as arrogant as though you expect suppliers to bend over backwards to accommodate you. You know the saying, you catch more of something with honey, the truth is you’re better served by saying “how can we make this work” than by being bratty and declaring that it won’t work and acting as though you expect for sales reps to come running after you to get your business.

I don’t care who you deal with at a trade show; any company’s big customers are usually making one-on-one appointments and coming to the showroom, or having a sales rep visit them. Most large customers don’t visit their vendors at trade shows because the hustle and bustle of new buyers interrupts their one-on-one time. Trade shows -by and large- are for smaller customers or new customers who will initially transact smaller orders as their volume grows. While it is common for large companies to attend trade shows, they don’t usually do their buying there and suppliers know this. So trying to act like you’re oh-so big and important is usually not a good strategy, even if you are. People who really are big and important don’t need to act that way because they are big and important and everybody knows it.

So, moving along after that tidbit, trims are great because they are usually very inexpensive ways of enhancing the perceived value of an item. You can put a $1 trim on something and make it look like it should cost $20 more and that’s not an exaggeration.

If you’re interested in getting a Mokuba sample card (they also have huge 4 color glossy catalogs costing $75-$100), you can order one via fax (212-869-8970) , phone (212-869-8900) or email. They accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Lester Silverman (their business manager) invites you to visit their showroom at 55 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018. Their next trade show appearance will be at the National NeedleArts Association Winter Trade Show, January 21-23, 2006 in San Diego CA (Mokuba also sells retail).

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