Quilts Piece Together a Comeback

Moving from Heirloom to Hip

Jill Rowen, March 9, 2010

Consumers are slowly warming up to quilts, with retailers showing renewed interest in the category. But the products at retail today are not your grandmother's quilts. Fashioned with more embroidery and appliqué and in color ways that are more hip than heirloom, the latest trends in quilts may speak to the traditional arts, but have a distinct modern flavor.

In fact, many suppliers are looking to nab new — maybe even younger — customers with embellishments like beading, ruffling and intricate embroidery. There is also more attention being paid to sets, incorporating everything from pillow shams to multi-layered sets with multiple pieces.

Dubbing its development and design efforts as “Quiltmagination,” David Lueder, president, Nostalgia Home Fashions, noted that innovations in handcrafted techniques have helped move the ball forward for the company and industry, giving consumers something they haven't seen before in quilts. “Because we own and manage all the handcrafted facilities where our products are made, we are cost competitive on innovative product,” he said. “Judging by our products' success over the counter, we're offering a great value to the consumer.”

While still showcasing popular traditional looks, Nostalgia is also gaining fans through two more modern lines: Laundry by Shelli Segal and Dena Designs. A popular apparel brand, the Laundry quilts will be a “little hipper, a little more modern,” said Lueder; while Dena Designs will focus on more color and whimsical designs. Each is being introduced with four new bedding looks.

Any quilt innovation has to come with the right design as well, vendors report. “Quilts are all about the pattern and design,” noted Nelson Hedaya, Hedaya Home Fashions. “It is absolutely all pattern driven. You can have the best price in the world, but if it's ugly, it won't sell,” he noted. “As a company, our emphasis is on design. We put a lot into design and product development.”

For Hedaya, traditional looks in updated colors with a lot of piecing and fabrics are doing well right now. “We have a pretty wide assortment of looks and techniques,” he said. Hedaya added that catalogs and an online presence have been good outlets for the company as well.

C & F Enterprises is also focused on more modern looks, and is squarely aiming for a younger customer, according to Nelson Chow, vp sales. “One of the things we're doing is an argyle pattern in aqua and brown,” he said. “We're adding ruffling and other details to quilts as well. There is a customer that is interested in the heirloom aspect of it; but for both traditional and newer customers, the key is to have the right look. We want to be very fashion forward and be right on trend.”

Kevin Creegan, vp, Regency Home Fashions, is optimistic about attracting a younger customer, and about the quilt business in general. “The category is coming off a slight decline, but there is new interest and good momentum going forward,” he said. Creegan noted that in the span of the last 36 months, sets have become an increasing trend in quilts, with up to 10 pieces completing bed-in-a-bag type quilt sets. A lot more embroidery and other details are helping to update traditional quilt designs, he added.

For Westone Home, vp David Fu noted that some of its innovation has been focused on packaging quilts with various additional items. “We offer open sets; we've added pillows and tote bags to our products as a way attract costumers and give them something new,” he said.

As in every textile category, price is a prime issue in quilts. The vendors HTT spoke to acknowledge pricing pressures, but are also feeling a cooperative spirit with retailers. “We're all striving for a win/win relationship,” remarked Lueder.

“Retailers have been pretty cooperative and understanding, given our price pressures,” agreed Hedaya.

“Cotton pricing has been erratic and labor costs are increasing,” said Chow. “It's required us to really sharpen our pencils. But you don't want to sacrifice quality. Customers will notice.”

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