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Jennifer Marks

Splitting Hairs

I first heard about it early in the New York Home Textiles Market when an industry vet passed along an e-mail message he'd received from a colleague.

It was pretty cryptic — something about ASTM, a thread-count ruling, and a comment that the ruling looked like good news.

I confess to not knowing then whether the ASTM was a government committee with enforcement powers or some other type of entity. The industry vet was unclear on it, too.

It turned out that the ASTM is a group made up of suppliers, academics and laboratories, all of whom work together to come up with some voluntary standards for the industry to follow — a gentleman's agreement, if you will.

That group recently agreed to a standard for thread counts, the bottom line of which was that two-plys must be counted as singles. Under that ruling, a two-ply, 600-count sheet would have to be labeled as a 300-count.

But by dint of being voluntary, of course, such agreements have no real teeth. And even the ASTM acknowledges that its recent thread-count standard isn't mandatory. At best, it can be wielded as a piece of evidence in civil cases, but it carries no regulatory weight.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb to suggest that this standard will be blithely ignored by the 600-count-and-up crowd.

Clearly, the retail community doesn't care. One-ply, two-ply, so what? Many suppliers feel the same way. This is an industry that happily peddles pleather, microsuede, poly “silk,” poly “linen” and all other manner of tarted-up synthetics as luxury fabrications.

But the crux of the matter here is that the consumer doesn't care, either. She may have a jones for thread counts, but when it comes to decision-making time, she sticks her hand in the bag and gives the sheets a grope. She either finds the texture appealing and puts the item in her cart, or she doesn't and moves on.

Over the past few months, several members of the industry have demonstrated they're trying to move on, too.

Whether they're adding Lycra, bamboo, silk, anti-microbial finishes or scents to their sheets, manufacturers are seeking their own release from the thread-count treadmill. It's definitely the smarter play. At this point, thread count has come to mean everything — and nothing.

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