By David Gill
The United States remains a highly tempting, and highly challenging, market for exporters of home textiles based in Asian countries.
That the opportunities are still here for Asian producers is clear from a look at some of the results. Welspun, an India-based manufacturer that exports towels, bathrobes, sheeting and decorative bedding to the United States, has doubled its revenue base in both 2005 and 2006, according to Bob Hamilton, director of marketing for the company.
Exporters in other Asian countries have enjoyed success in bringing textiles products here, too. “The USA remains the number-one market for home-textiles exporters in [Pakistan],” said Muhammad Ayyob, chief executive officer of Reach Expositions, a firm that represents Pakistani textiles exporters.
Americans’ appetite for home textiles produced in Asia covers the whole gamut of product categories. As explained by Manju Shrinagesh, director of Design 45 Exports of India, exporters to these shores are bringing all of the top-of-the-bed categories—sheets, pillowcases, standard shams, Euro shams, quilts, duvet covers, throws, decorative pillows and bed accessories—plus table linens and window treatments.
To pursue the potential business to be had in the U.S. market, Asian manufacturers need to face down a number of challenges—one of which is determining what U.S. consumers need in textiles. “If you’re sitting in Mumbai with bright young engineers and product-development experts, they can identify manufacturing issues in their own countries,” Hamilton said. “In order to succeed in other markets, you need people educated in the country’s culture, who know the infrastructures, personalities and rhythms of selling to major U.S. retailers.”
Some of these challenges are logistical in nature. “U.S. buyers [of Asian-made textiles] mostly work through buying agents from the sourcing country,” said Arpan Chaturvedi, director of India Covers Textiles. “Most of them do not visit the [international home textiles] fairs, and prefer to work through these agencies. So it is difficult for new companies, like ours, to contact and start a business relationship with U.S.-based companies.”
Chaturvedi added, however, that he considers this “a momentary issue, as we are already participating in a lot of international trade fairs, and our global presence will help us overcome this problem, with time.”
Marketplace realities can also throw up roadblocks to exporters. Vietnam-based Hung Quang Co. is entering the U.S. market with a range of hand-embroidered home textiles. “Our products are handicrafts and their costs are expensive,” said Dinh Van Quang, an executive with the company. In addition, “delivery times of finished products are quite long, and the quantities are small.” Like Chaturvedi, though, Quang has high hopes for building a U.S. business nevertheless. Hung Quang’s products “are quite familiar with end users in Italy, France, Spain and other European Union countries, so we hope they are also realized by Americans,” Quang said.
The fall in the value of the U.S. dollar has thrown up some difficult issues for exporters located abroad. (See separate story.)
Of course, the political situation in their home countries can create difficulties for these exporters. Pakistan, for example, is still in what many consider to be a crisis situation stemming from the crackdown on opponents to President Pervez Musharref. “With military interventions and political problems aggravated due to U.S. and Western meddling, Pakistan is unlikely to get stable and richer,” Ayyob said. “U.S. buyers hesitate to visit Pakistan, and they are concerned over disruptions in supply because of this instability.”
Setting up the right company infrastructure is another way exporters can overcome these challenges. “In addition to manufacturing facilities, [Welspun has] a pretty broad network of marketing and sales personnel both here and in India,” Hamilton said. “We also have a showroom [at 295 Fifth Ave., New York]; a design facility in Charlotte, N.C.; a new manufacturing facility in Juarez, Mexico; and our Christy brand division in Hyde, England.”
“Our company is a small producer,” Hung Quang’s Quang said. “We have 20 permanent employees and workers who are in charge of designing, sampling, cutting, production managing, inspecting and export management.”
According to Hamilton, most of the bigger players from Asia employed middlemen—U.S.-based distributors and other agents—in the early stages of their effort toward the U.S. market. “They knew they couldn’t come over themselves because of the language barriers,” he said. “They’re now moving away from this step and building their own infrastructures here.”
Another way is through product quality and uniqueness. “As a company, we are particularly proud of our design sensibility,” said Design 45’s Shrinagesh. “It helps us to inspire our clients. Above all this, we bring the ability to understand our client’s requirements along with the ability to make them into a reality. We specialize in the ability to use old-world documents and techniques, at the same time giving them a contemporary twist.”
Maintaining a constant presence at world textiles trade fairs can also go a long way toward penetrating the market. “We are participating in more than seven trade fairs worldwide,” said Chaturvedi of India Covers, “including Heimtextil Frankfurt, IFFS Singapore, Heimtextil Tokyo, IMM Cologne, IHGF New Delhi and Global Home Textiles Las Vegas.”
China and India have been the dominant exporting countries in recent years, but in the years to come, the field of Asian countries shipping textiles here could expand, due mostly to the cost equation. “In the next 10 years, India and China’s manufacturing costs are expected to go up as these two nations get richer,” Ayyob said. “Also, the sheer population size of these countries means that they will be consuming most of their home textiles at home as people have more and more money in the coming years.”
Hamilton said the rising costs of manufacturing in China and India could actually lead to a revival to some textiles manufacturing in this country—“not to the scale it once was,” he said, “but it could lead to the growth of cottage manufacturers here.”