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International issues

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, November 4, 2002

How will the American home textiles community deal with the constantly expanding influence of the global marketplace?

The situation has moved from almost a denial point of view a scant half-decade ago, when company owners were pleading for editorial support for domestic production protection, to today when buyers and sellers are confused about their own roles — and the offshore producers really don't know who to believe at this end.

There are issues roiling the marketplace about the role of brands and private label and how these figure into what is increasingly a non-domestic home textiles supply base.

As more and more retail energies are put into offshore sourcing, one has to wonder how many of these retailers — giants though they may be — have the logistical and operational finesse to deal with minutiae that is involved with importing into this country.

And then there is the really personal issue of personnel, which is getting the right talent willing and able to make the treks overseas required to make the programs work.

It's fine to say that there are watchdogs at every overseas facility, but as those long experienced in this business will relate, as soon as the big guys from the U.S. leave, there's a marked drop in discipline.

From the suppliers' perspective, setting up on-site organizations is the way to go, and many have done that.

Then there is the issue of design integrity. The stories are legion at this point about how a design, weave or embellishment is "exclusive" — for at least a few minutes until one group can be ushered out and another welcomed.

As for design integrity, both from a pattern and product perspective, the situation is moving from bad to worse. Retailers are both perps and victims; suppliers on this side of the production wall are still looking for ways to work within the myriad convoluted regulations of each country of origin.

And for the retailers that are determined to be their own designers, suppliers and importers, there is that key question: Who eats the mistakes?

In this new world of non-supplier sourcing, shelf allotments are nil, markdown money doesn't exist and when you buy something, you own it.

For many retailers, the wake-up call hasn't yet happened. But it's sure to come, and probably sooner than later.

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