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Uncommon threads

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, February 18, 2002

After at least a decade of slipping into the background as the Asian flu overcame the U.S. textiles market, it seems that at least a few fiber companies are looking to re-establish their long-vaunted, but recently abandoned leadership in the marketplace.

It's unlikely, and probably unneeded, to even think of returning to some of the flamboyance that the fiber producers exuded a couple of decades ago.

But it's refreshing to see that there's definitely life stirring in the fiber community.

And we also have the news of a new fiber generic category and lots of potential in PLA, the new generic that is being launched by Cargill Dow under its trade name NatureWorks.

And a couple of virtually back-to-back announcements by Wellman and DuPont appear to be serving notice that the American fiber community has not given up the fight.

The common thread between the two corporate strategies is differentiation in product, as well as crossing merchandise lines to bring the benefits of one fiber product to another type of merchandise.

Essentially, it is the tearing down of walls that traditionally separated, for example, the automotive fiber folks from the sheet and towel folks or the floor covering folks. And the apparel and hosiery and lingerie mavens were a class all to themselves — not communicating with the lesser entities.

The operative concept today is to get them all talking to one another, all the time.

Just think what could happen. A high-tech, high-performance fiber designed for sporting goods or luggage could have potential for furniture fabrics or outdoor home fashion uses. Maybe a lingerie construction could work for window coverings or top-of-bed. And just the idea that a cowhide can be treated for stretch and recovery as smaller hides for shoes and accessories can open entire new vistas for the home.

Of course, not all of this is going to happen within the U.S. Much of it will be translated off-shore, but with the impetus developed and executed here.

The key apparently is moving out of the commodity arena, a move long overdue by the American fiber producers that spent the last decade trying to beat the Asian epidemic of low-price, low-cost fiber production.

For home textiles, it is a welcome change. This business needs to move away from commodity merchandising, which has become the norm.

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