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Jennifer Marks

The shopping list

Kmart. Fingerhut. Ames. Ay, ay, ay. — what a way to start the year.

But let's step back from the roiling mess of the January news cycle for a moment and consider life in the real world where real customers live.

One of my sisters called last week after she'd just returned from store-hopping in Indianapolis, where she was looking for baby bedding (specifically) and adult bedding (out of curiosity). The day proved to be a disappointment, she said, because everything she saw on display six months ago was still standing right where it had been. "There are no new interesting things out there. It's all about sales, and everything's picked through. It seems stagnant." Consider that a reminder that price-conscious shoppers are just as hungry to be delighted by something new as the cost-is-no-object customer.

A friend in Chicago just finished decorating her new lake house. She has pretty free rein with the bank account in such matters, and she's got her share of designer-brand bedding and towels stocked in her city apartment. She considers their quality vastly overrated, so for the new place she sought out "my favorites": Royal Velvet towels ("They get softer with washing") and Wamsutta sheets ("Designers sometimes have more interesting color choices, but these sheets feel better"). And here we all thought that brands didn't matter in home textiles anymore.

A relative traveled to The Great Indoors in mid-January — and I do mean traveled. She had to journey five hours to get there — to buy some things for her new home. She picked up a bed-in-the-bag ensemble for her master bedroom and wanted an extra set of sheets to back up the set that came in the bag. Of course, the only alternatives available were solids, and what she wanted was a patterned sheet set exactly like the one she already had. Since that was not an option, she instead bought a patterned Croscill sheet that could work with the bedding, and the add-on sheet sale did not go to the supplier that made the bed set that inaugurated the purchase in the first place.

Speaking of Croscill, anecdotal evidence from the heartland suggests that the brand-awareness campaign is beginning to make an impact. I've had a few acquaintances mention the label over the past couple of months as they've shared shopping stories. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know how to pronounce the name. What I usually get is: "Cro…Craw…that Cross-kill, or whatever you call it." Maybe it's time for in-store display video monitors. Or maybe it doesn't matter, as long as consumers keep buying.

One last thing. The February issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine included a short section on how to dress a bed. Among the suggestions: sew together sheets to make a duvet, recycle large tablecloths into bedspreads, and rework other textiles pieces from around the house to make shams, toss pillows and other accent pieces.

As the editor of a newspaper serving the home textiles industry I had just one thought: Thank God nobody sews anymore.

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