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Quilts make appeal to fashion for increased sales

Marvin Lazaro -- Home Textiles Today, May 20, 2002

The growth of the quilt business not only hinges on the category's ability to keep price points at an affordable level but also on its look and style.

There is no doubt that quilts have come a long way from the myriad collection of fabrics that made up the original quilts of yesteryear. Many point to catalogers for leading the way. Others see the category making strides because it brings freshness to an old bedding equation.

"We believe the market has become saturated with bed-in-a-bag and comforters telling the same story over and over again," said Keeco vp of sales Dan Stengel. "And we think that quilts have clearly identified themselves as an alternative business that is healthy and sustainable."

Quilts now, according to many manufacturers, are more fashion driven and borrow looks from popular apparel trends. Novelty quilts, too, have become a staple of the marketplace, as retailers ranging from small specialty boutiques to gift stores have capitalized on the look that can now be tailored to fit virtually any occasion.

"Embellishments have certainly enabled us to push the retail higher," said Jane Bognacki, vp of Sunham Home Fashions. "We've adapted a lot of looks from the ready-to-wear apparel category when it comes to embellishments."

What was once common on top-of-bed ensembles is now becoming more and more common on quilts — more elaborate stitching, ribbon, chenille, beads, and scalloped edges. And instead of the plain white back seen on many older quilts, printed reverses are being now offered, increasing the versatility of the quilt, not to mention the amount of coordinates that can be introduced.

Like their predecessors, the quilts of today may also tell a story. From Americana statements to wedding rings to juvenile looks, quilts are rapidly becoming just as adaptable as fashion comforters.

The construction of the quilt is also an important factor. According to Al Whiten, senior vp of sales for Griffin, GA-based Fashion Industries, "cotton, cotton, cotton" is the most preferred construction of them all. Cotton front, cotton fill and cotton reverse make the quilt more comfortable and ultimately more consumer-friendly.

"Quilts cross all sorts of design approaches," said Eunice Day Smith, design director, Phoenix International. "They are very flexible and can be used for contemporary or traditional looks."

Quilts by Donna sees a good deal of interest in extras. "We do better with more detailed quilts — fancy edges, a lot of extra quilting, all cotton," said president Donna Sharp. "Quilts are an alternate top-of-bed. But quilts are also multi-usage. They're functional accent pieces. Some people use them for table coverings."

In fact, quilts are more often being used as an alternate to comforters and duvets than as a complementary layer, many suppliers said.

Many attribute that to the quilt's diversity in decorating the entire bedroom. Since several patterns and colors are often seen on one quilt alone, the look lends itself to different seasonal motifs, as opposed to the overall dominating color offered in comforter and duvet ensembles that may be geared toward a specific season.

"It's fashion," Bognacki said. "It's not this big, bulky thing but something that has a lot of value and is very decorative-looking."

Springs Industries solidified its commitment to the category in April with its acquisition of Ultima Enterprises, a business that sources quilts and other home textiles from Asia. "What was a supplier to fill a niche has blossomed into what we think is an enhancement to a broad product line," said Ted Matthews, vp, corporate communications.

Among younger consumers, there is some evidence that quilts replace not only traditional top-of-bed but sheets as well. Responding to feedback from consumers, CHF is introducing only quilts and duvet covers for one of its collections.

"Quilts are the linchpin of the On My Own brand," said Joan Karron, executive vp. "Through our research we found that 20-somethings didn't want a bulky comforter for their bed."

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