Crisis in Decorative Fabric

Carole Sloan, July 16, 2007

That the decorative fabric business in this country is in turmoil is not a subject for challenge.

But whether — and how— it will survive is truly the critical issue, as the home furnishings marketplace assesses the impact of the unbelievably negative dynamic of the Big Three fabric guys on the overall business.

The marketplace is now faced with the reality that No. 1 and No. 2 — Joan Fabrics/Mastercraft and Quaker Fabric — are history. And Culp Inc., No.3, has become a totally different entity from what it formerly was — now predominantly a supplier of mattress ticking and a lesser volume of off-shore fabrics.

The decline and contraction of these companies is to be mourned, since each over the decades has had enormous impact on the design direction, the product and yarn developments, the selling techniques, and broader effects on the rest of the marketplace in terms of supply, from the back end, and distribution, from the front end.

This needs to have everyone's attention.

With Quaker's demise, the industry also loses a yarn specialist that over the years has been noteworthy for innovation. Quaker set the pace in many parts of the decorative fabric business — especially in the chenille and texture arenas.

It's amazing that while many think the entire decorative textiles business has migrated off-shore, the extensive customer base of both Joan/Mastercraft and Quaker is scrambling to find new domestic suppliers with the diversity to tap into the market's needs for innovation.

Now as the vultures — aka those domestic companies with lots of available production — descend upon the marketplace to "help out" their customers, many issues arise.

First and foremost is the clear issue of intellectual property rights, aka IPR, since many of the fabric creations have been copyrighted and are part of the asset base of their respective companies.

Stories already are plentiful about competitors offering to "translate" an IPR design for a customer, or just downright knock the bloody thing off. After all, business is business.

It now appears that the worst hit are the decorative jobbers that have books with a three-year minimum lifespan.

The domestic mills that have been invited to help provide solutions need to have their offers tempered by what they can reasonably produce — not what they hope might happen.

The way these companies react to this challenge could well spell the longevity of the American decorative fabric business.

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