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Who eats it?

This has been a tag line question in columns in this space since the late '90s — the time that offshore sourcing began to emerge as a serious issue in the world of home textiles.

But the question has reached a crescendo pitch — and one of considerable urgency — in the last few weeks as suppliers called in about whether or not last week was a mini-market, and conversations moved from that subject to the larger issues of offshore sourcing.

And the issue of a mini-market viability became a key part of the conversations as timing issues were added to the typical equation of product development, manufacture, forecasting, delivery, reorder potential and — who eats it?

As things now stand, there is another, previously unthought-of scenario — security. With the heightened security alerts, there is the potential that lots of home textiles may be sitting on the water waiting to be declared "safe."

Anyway, back to the original challenges.

As more and more retailers assume they are design mavens, and move ahead to do "their own thing" wherever, they open this big box of potential markdowns, late deliveries, less-than-quality product and a host of other stuff that typically would be an automatic chargeback to a domestic supplier.

Then there is the challenge of U.S. suppliers with sophisticated design studios which are increasingly reluctant to let even the biggest of the retailers walk through the fashion-forward part of their show floors and least of all, allow photos to be taken.

Then we get to the manufacturing issue. Even though some majors have ramped up their production/manufacturing teams, these are not nearly enough to compensate for decades-long experience in seeing how a ribbon or a yarn twist is working — right or wrong.

As for forecasting, from the reports we get — even the best are amateurs in this arena. We're hearing things like first shipments are direct, follow-ups go to the supplier and who knows what happens from that point on. A 50 percent full-price sell-through seems to be an acceptable norm. And forget about the reorder opportunity.

We seem to be moving into a ready-to-wear cycle — design and make the stuff; get it into the store; mark it down and move to another look.

As I asked at the top of this column — who eats it?

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