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Williams speaks out against knockoffs

Never short of a strong point of view or too shy to express it, Pillowtex president Tony Williams said the American home fashions business may be stuck in a rut, producing bland, me-too products. He thinks it needs to tune in to the multi-cultural values and tastes that make up America in the 21st century.

Offering the fresh, if sometimes jarring, perspective of the outsider — a resident here for years, Williams still filters things through a distinctly British sensibility — Williams chided the U.S. industry for its copycat ways. "It tends to make massive runs of bland, very bland, products that appeal to absolutely nobody. We had better wake up as an industry to all the demographic changes taking place around us.

"This is no longer an America of a huge, white middle class that wants the same thing in the same size and the same color. That one-size-fits-all vision of America has been rendered obsolete. That country has disappeared, and as product designers and marketers we must wake up to that fact and the opportunities that are out there.

"This is a nation of minorities and people who have all come here from someplace else, bringing their tastes and their cultures and their preferences with them. They certainly didn't check their lifestyles at the door when they came here. And we've damned well got to find a way to reach these people, designing product for them, marketing to them in ways that will reach them, speaking a language they'll understand."

And all that, he said, means that Pillowtex and the industry "have to become more adept at managing short runs and smaller inventories. That requires a massive transformation and a massive cultural change in the industry. It has to learn to fire a rifle, not a shotgun. And that means we're going to have to improve the various processes — design, marketing, manufacturing and distribution — to take the complexities out of the system, to create streamlined, efficient, nimble systems capable of reaching all the markets and all the consumers out there in a cost-effective manner."

One way to target these market segments, he thinks, may be to work with key customers to develop new brands for them. With a strong lineup of powerhouse brands already in its arsenal — Cannon, Charisma, Royal Velvet et al. — Pillowtex wants to launch even more, said Williams.

"I would very much like to develop these new brands for individual customers that don't compete with the brands already in the Pillowtex quiver," said Williams.

Under such a strategy, said Williams, "These would be their brands, not ours. And it's a powerful way to approach the issue of segmentation. We can use all of our branding expertise to help them to do this."

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