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  • Jennifer Marks

Micro-marketing

Eighteen months ago, hardly anyone knew that a MicroCotton towel existed — much less what it was. By last fall, towel makers were showing off products under various names that they described, when pressed, as "like MicroCotton." This past January at the Heimtextil international home textiles trade fair in Frankfurt, it seemed like every other towel-maker was trotting out their own version of the low-twist towel.

The sudden explosion of ultra-soft/high-absorbency towels offers an object lesson in the dizzying trajectory that product innovation now takes in the textiles world. It is the story of how revolution and devolution now seem to occur almost simultaneously in the realm of product development. A brief (and by no means complete) history:

  • The year 2000: Venus Home Fashions starts selling a low-twist, MicroCotton towel in Europe. It debuts the towel in the U.S. in mid-2001, primarily targeting moderate department stores.

  • Spring 2001: HomeSource International brings to the New York Home Textiles Market representatives from the Indian mill Sharadha Terry Product Ltd., the developer of the trademarked MicroCotton low-twist towel, to extol the virtues of the technology.

  • Spring 2002: MicroCotton towels debut at Federated Department Stores and Dillard's.

  • June 2002: Real Simple magazine names WestPoint Stevens' top-drawer Seduction by Grand Patrician towel — which has dropped its original modal/cotton construction for low-twist — "the best luxury towel priced at $20 or less." The only branded towel in the test, Seduction bests 14 designer and retail label towels measured for their softness, absorbency, colorfastness and shrinkage after 10 washings.

  • Early spring 2003: Low-twist towels ready to debut in the mid-price channel.

And coming by the end of 2003: Low-twist towels arrive at discount stores.

Okay, no big surprise. The swift migration of innovative product from better department stores to the marts has become a matter of course. And we all know that the towel sold at better department stores boasts more robust specs than the towel sitting on a discount shelf. And that each retailer's customer has her own understanding of the price/value equation.

What stuns is not the rapidity with which this is all taking place, but with how little is being done to romance a truly wonderful product along the way.

I've seen a lot of low-twist towels in a lot of showrooms and on several retail shelves, with none given even a scintilla of the showmanship I experienced on my first encounter with a low-twist.

If ever there was a chance to miss an opportunity to trumpet a really neat product, I fear we are upon it. And I sincerely hope everybody's planning to do a better job with their signage, their hangtags and their consumer ads.

In a world of bewildering towel walls, all of them boasting towels that are soft, softer and the softest yet, carpe diem, people.

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