International, P'tex cuddle with blanket, throw biz

Don Hogsett, Staff Staff, February 24, 2003

Maintaining a profile in the blanket and throw business, even after selling off its former Beacon blanket division, Pillowtex Corp. has signed a sales and marketing pact with a new company. International Home Fashions will source, market and sell blankets and throws under the Cannon, Fieldcrest, Royal Velvet and Charisma nameplates.

International Home Fashions was founded by a trio of blanket industry veterans — Kenny Hines, Tedd Smith and Tom Gibbs — who had at one time worked for Beacon or Pillowtex, and who last year founded Biltmore Blanket Co., which was subsequently renamed Asheville Blanket Co.

Heading up the new company is Hines as president; and rounding out the management team are Smith, president of sales, and Gibbs, vp of institutional sales. Michael Eiper is vp of national accounts.

Working with that management nucleus are Mike Baumann in West Coast sales; Steve Joyce, in the Northeast; Krista Milligan in the Southeast; and Ron Brinkman in the upper Midwest.

Biltmore, later Asheville, was formed as the American marketing and distribution arm of Chinese blanket and bedding producer Pac-Fung. Asheville Blanket, still owned by Pac-Fung, remains in business under the direction of John Hill and will now supply blankets, throws, and other products to International Home for sale under the various Pillowtex brands.

"We will continue to source product from Asheville Blanket and Pac-Fung," said Hines. "But we'll also be sourcing from a lot of places."

Hines said International Home has cut separate deals with Pillowtex to handle blanket sales and marketing and sourcing. "The two are covered by separate agreements."

Last year, under the Biltmore/ Asheville banners, Hines, Smith and Gibbs had supplied product for sale to department stores under the Charisma and Royal Velvet brands. "Now, with International, we will expand that to cover the Fieldcrest and Cannon brands, and move into the mass and specialty stores as well," said Hines.

Using product differentiation as a wedge, International will launch a new type of blanket into the United States under the venerable Royal Velvet brand, said Hines, "a brushed cotton in a conventional weave."

Ever since being introduced about 20 years ago in a loosely woven thermal weave construction, cottons have come to dominate the blanket market. "Now we want to try a different weave, a tightly woven conventional, but we're going to brush it to give it a low nap and a very soft hand. It's a unique product, something that launders really well, and something the market hasn't seen before."

In addition to the distinctive weave, "twill bindings will add a lot of character to the blanket," said Hines.

The new blanket, he said, will make its formal debut during the March/ April home textiles market in New York. It will come in seven colors and target a twin price point of $39.

Taking aim at the carriage trade with a supple hand, International will launch a cotton with an unusually deep pile for sale under the Charisma brand, targeting a $99 twin price point. And at the very highest end of the line will be an all-silk Charisma Select blanket with a classic Charisma Stripe reversing to a traditional Charisma dot.

Other new items in the International pipeline for sale under the Pillowtex brands include an all-purpose terry throw; a Charisma Select baby alpaca throw in knits and wovens; brushed cotton print blankets.

Also using the Pillowtex brands, said Hines, International will import products using a long-staple Chinese cotton to compete with Egyptian cotton. "It had all the wonderful properties of an Egyptian cotton or a Pima cotton, but at a much lower price point."

Hines added "We've tried to create a line that gives us a full range of fibers and weaves. We want to show new looks, real innovation in a product category that's been really unchanged, stagnant for years."

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