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Nuance of change

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, September 15, 2003

Well, a unique thing happened at Decosit in Brussels last week.

Exhibitors were talking about something rarely discussed in recent years at trade shows in the United States or abroad. That something was actual written orders.

And then there was the fabric bazaar reflected at TIP/ Pret held concurrently with Decosit, where a growing number of Third World fabric producers exhibited.

And just a few days earlier, the increasingly popular Maison et Objet in Paris held its autumn edition with lots of home furnishings excitement overall. Exciting presentation was one key element in the message sent by the exhibitors.

The number of countries represented at TIP this year increased as well as the increase in individual exhibitors. But more important, visitors saw a more diverse offering of products for the mass and middle market.

Assessments of trade shows typically have been based on "quality of customers visiting," lots of sampling and whether buying groups had reduced their entourage sizes because of the economy, consolidation, the value of dollar or a host of other excuses, not excluding the weather.

Even more interesting was the apparent trend toward strength in the upper end of the decorative fabric market. Some attribute this trend to the impact on the global fabric marketplace by the Third World countries, which are producing cheap goods in large quantities.

Articulated more than a few times, and not just by American fabric producers, was the belief that customers were looking variously for niche product, high quality, reorder-ability and fast delivery — a dramatic move away from the commodity products driven by the Wal-Marts of the world and Third World suppliers.

The irony of these positive elements was the seeming absence of new direction in terms of color, design and construction. There were nuances of change, including more silk, higher construction cottons, more color — but no real new direction — and an apparent increase in prints.

How all of this will affect the domestic US home textiles market will be intriguing to watch at market this week, in terms of commodity driven product dominating the scene and what color and design directions will emerge — if any.

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