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Winds of change

No one could call the large-scale changes taking place in the industry anything but wrenching. Fiscal year numbers now rolling out of publicly traded textiles companies do not paint a pretty picture. And the smart money says there is more of that to come in 2001.

But in the face of all the unpleasant news, this has to be remembered: Every time the home textiles industry has gone through contraction, it has given birth to a new generation of smaller, more entrepreneurial companies.

The powerhouse mill lineup of Fieldcrest, Wamsutta, Springs, Crown Crafts, Bibb, Cannon et al. also contracted, giving way to a new world order that spawned Croscill's expansion into bedding products and then into bath, not to mention the appearance of Veratex and Divatex on the scene.

And imagine the reaction if your average observer of the home textiles world had been told in 1991 that within the decade the top five textiles producers would include a company called Mohawk. He might have been equally surprised if someone predicted that window treatment maker Croscill would rank within the top 10 or that Franco Manufacturing would jump into the top 15.

By the same token, the current upheaval is already churning the soil that will produce the industry's next cycle of growth. Some of the companies destined to rank as tomorrow's greatest innovators are mere seedlings now. Some haven't even formed yet. But the level of activity taking place among smaller companies suggests that they sense the level of opportunity. A few examples:

Scala, the maker of contemporary bedding and soft window coverings, is greatly expanding its line, adding towels, rugs, fine bed linens, table linens, ceramic accessories and fabrics by the yard.

Arley is picking up Perfect Fit's bedding business, giving itself a broader brand portfolio and an entrée into JCPenney.

Burlington's tufted rug facility-under new ownership but retaining the exclusive rights to the name Burlington Rug Corp.-will expand its offerings to include high-end woven rugs, more printed product and larger area rugs.

La France, until very recently a fabric-producing division of Mount Vernon Mills, is now creating decorative pillows, throws, runners, place mats, tapestry rugs and chair pads targeting the mass market.

Melange, the upstairs bedding maker, is expanding into the shower curtain business, with translucent, waterproof nylon curtains that feature embroidered piecework designs.

Lacey Mills, a veteran bath rug maker now operating under new ownership, is branching out into rugs for kids and kitchens, as well as accent rugs.

Trendex, a producer of table linens and decorative pillows, is venturing outside its traditional boundaries with a new line of indoor/outdoor table linens and chair pads.

Shaw Rugs will begin importing accent rugs to extend its offerings into a new channel, gift retailers.

Regeneration is not only a natural part of the business process, it's occurring all around us.

The industry isn't disappearing. It's changing.

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