Worldwide Sourcing Under One Roof

By Niki Tait — June 01, 2003

The World Apparel Market (WAM), held in Brussels, Belgium, is the only trading place where buyers and sourcing executives from all over Europe can go to mix, mingle and pre-select new suppliers from across the globe - all under one roof.

Exhibitors include buying agents, international contract producers, management consultants and trade export associations covering all types of apparel from lingerie and knitwear to infants' wear and tailored garments. In theory, this is the ideal show for a wide number of potential buyers the world over - not just Europeans - to meet a large number of suppliers from a wide variety of countries, with minimal travelling, expense and effort.

Despite its potential, the number of visitors to the show is always relatively low, and this year was no exception. Poor timing - the show held April 8-10, fell in the middle of the War with Iraq and the SARS outbreak - caused more than 25 percent of the exhibitors to cancel at the last minute, and the final number of attendees fell from 1,528 in 2002 to just 573, the majority from Belgium, the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany.

Nonetheless, those who do attend WAM are very serious, have real buying power and do a lot of business at the show. Fewer visitors means more time to get to know each other, unhurried discussions and meaningful negotiations.

As Aat Van Eeden, managing director of show organizer Emap Communications BV explains: "This is a very specialized show aimed at large buyers. It is the quality of the visitors which count, not the quantity. Buyers at WAM tend to represent companies such as C&A, Carrefour, Hugo Boss, Escada, large buying agents, etc. Last year one company had filled his yearly capacity in the first day, and the large amount of orders received by Bulgaria, for example, has led to their return this year."

The view that the quality is the draw seems to have been borne out by the returning exhibitors, while new exhibitors, such as those from the Dominican Republic (DR), came to WAM to diversify their customer base. The DR, whose main customer is currently the United States, views trading exclusively with the United States as increasingly risky because of recent economic and political fluctuations. Trading with Europe might soften their exposure to these risks.

In all, the 150 exhibitors came from 20 different countries, most under the auspices of country pavilions, which included those from Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Romania, South Africa, Tunisia and Turkey. There were also individual companies/organizations from the Dominican Republic, India, North Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Pakistan, India, Thailand and the Philippines, to name a few. Countries that pulled out, en-mass, at the last minute, included Vietnam, Hong Kong (represented at WAM only by their Am-sterdam Trade Development Council), Sri Lanka, Macau, Taiwan and Egypt. Many of the Chinese and Pakistani exhibitors also did not attend.

Despite its small size, the show offered a diverse mix of exhibitors. For example, first-time participant North Korea featured the Korea Pyongyang Women's Trading and Garment Centre (PWTGC), an enterprise entirely staffed and managed by 6,000 women. As with all companies in the country, it is state owned, but unlike the rest, it is the only North Korean textile company able to reinvest its own profits, to have its own import/export license and to ship goods FOB at competitive prices. Whereas for years, its customers had to supply all materials and production components, today the PWTGC can source its own production components and provide financing to buyers. With updated equipment and well-constructed factory premises, this has resulted in business with importers and retailers in the EEC, China and Japan including Caritas, Regatta, C&A, Tiara and Dandong Trading.

In other Asian sourcing locales, Hong Kong was represented at the show by The Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (TDC). This is the global marketing arm and public service hub for Hong Kong-based manufacturers, traders and service exporters with activities especially geared to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the chief drivers of Hong Kong's trade. It can be found at

Additionally, the Council announced its new cyber marketplace for global sourcing, business contacts, business matching and trade fairs: The site brings together all TDC online marketing and partnering services, with a database of more than 100,000 Hong Kong-based companies and 500,000 international and mainland China-based companies.

Indeed, Hong Kong is not only a leading production center but also a hub for global apparel sourcing. Garment companies in Hong Kong are experienced in fabric procurement, sales and marketing, quality control, logistics arrangements, clothing designs and international and national rules and regulations. The combined services offered are not easily matched elsewhere, the Council reported. With a total of 15,355 establishments hiring 91,863 workers, they form the largest group involved in import-export trade in Hong Kong.

Another exhibitor also focusing on SMEs was the South African government, which has identified the need to create an encouraging environment for SMEs and emerging companies in the clothing industry to become exporters in their own right, a goal which is facilitated by the country's duty- and quota-free access to the United States.

Launched at the show was CMT Africa, at, which is South Africa's new accredited trade house. It offers the international clothing industry an online opportunity to source finished products and contract manufacturing services from the country.

The Trade House follows the principle of economic clustering through which South African SMEs in the apparel industry cooperate to achieve economies of scale without losing their particular advantages of individual company flexibility and entrepreneurial flair. As an independent company, CMT Africa functions as a meta-mediary in this business partnership to provide a comprehensive range of products and services that are focused on meeting overseas buyer demand.

CMT Africa was created to introduce professional trade and technology solutions to enable companies to competitively participate in existing international markets and to target trade opportunities, i.e. to provide a complete end-to-end service and supply operation to meet the requirements of international buyers.

The theme of the show, corporate social responsibility, was a topic of much discussion, while other popular subjects included the responsibility of providing clear and effective communication to contractors.

Charlie Hilm, CEO of Amsterdam-based sourcing and product management company Hilmart, with five branch offices in Asia, remarked that even within the universal language of business - English - there is still a lot of room for misinterpretation, especially for individuals for whom English may be a second or third language.

Moreover, he said, even within so-called English-speaking countries, misunderstandings arise. For instance, what does a pair of pants mean? Depending on whether you are in England or the United States, it means two very different things. What is the difference between a snap and a popper? And that modern metal jeans button that does not require sewing - is it a shank button, trunk button, T-button or stud button?

For instructions to be carried out correctly 10,000 miles away, Hilm explained, it is important to be understood. As such, together with a team of garment technicians, Hilm has developed ConfeXicon, at, which is a visual dictionary and international communications tool with approximately 2,500 illustrations.

With ConfeXicon, instead of asking a manufacturer to make the collar "a little rounder," a picture diagram can be used to show the exact type of curve required. While the use of remotely linked CAD, Web-based PDM systems and wireless application technology make it possible to work with offshore production facilities almost by remote control, using these tools can lead us to lose control if instructions are not communicated clearly, he concluded.

Niki Tait, C.Text FTI, FCFI, heads Apparel Solutions, which provides independent assistance to the apparel industry in the areas of manufacturing methods, industrial engineering, information technology, quick response, etc. She can be reached at tel./fax +44 (0) 1237 423163; e-mail:


World Apparel Market (WAM)

Aat Van Eeden .

31 (0) 30 241 1088 .


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