On the opening day of Hong Kong Fashion Week yesterday - which is usually the busiest day of the fair - exhibitors sat at their empty booths, slowly eating their lunches with glazed expressions. 'This is our third year in a row participating, and it is definitely the worst year so far. There's no one here,' said Sabrina Zhang Wei, a saleswoman for a Zhejiang textiles factory. But her company's business on the mainland is doing fine. 'European and American buyers prefer to go directly to Chinese factories, or fashion-trade conventions in Beijing and Shanghai,' Zhang said. The relatively low turnout at the 19th annual Hong Kong Fashion Week for spring and summer fashions reflected Hong Kong's declining importance in the global fashion industry, said Polytechnic University assistant professor of marketing Chester To Kin-man. 'Hong Kong used to act like an agent for mainland Chinese textiles factories when the infrastructure in China was underdeveloped,' he said. 'Now, China's facilities are very good, so buyers can skip Hong Kong and go directly to China.' The popularity of fashion week events, organised by the Trade Development Council, peaked in the 1990s, according to research by Polytechnic University's Institute of Textiles and Clothing. In 2010 and last year, Hong Kong's Spring/Summer Fashion Week featured more than 1,300 exhibitors. This year, the number of exhibitors dropped to 1,250. A spokesman for the Trade Development Council said the number of exhibitors was down only 3 per cent from last year. 'Participation in exhibitions is still a cost-effective way for exhibitors to expand their business and reach buyers from emerging markets.' Buyers from Europe were in the minority at the exhibition yesterday. 'The economy is making this very tough for us,' said clothing designer Noemi Goureau, from French company Courage B. 'European banks won't give out large loans, and it is difficult to finance everything, even if we work with affordable Chinese textiles factories.' Hong Kong Fashion Week is still a popular destination for mainland tourists, though. 'I just came here with my friends today to look at the fashions,' said Yang Youxi, 18, a high-school student from Shenzhen. Fashion week is being staged at the Convention and Exhibition Centre until Friday.