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Vendors acknowledge events with patriotic merchandise

Textile suppliers have reacted quickly to the clamoring among retailers for patriotic-themed merchandise by rolling out new assortments featuring stars and stripes in a wide variety of product categories.

Just how long this patriotic-themed merchandise will be in demand is the subject of some debate among suppliers. But, clearly, at a time when manufacturers and retailers are actively seeking any added business, this latest fashion trend represents a unique opportunity.

"I see the Americana theme being hot for the next six to eight months and then becoming a mainstay as a fashion basic throughout all of domestics, with flags being the biggest singular motif," said Amy Bell, executive vp, design director and co-owner, Ashford Court. Bell said the company has had a great response to its Stars and Stripes pillow and its embroidered pillow.

"Americana themes have been growing in strength even before the Sept. 11 tragedy," said Dan Harris, vp, marketing and product development, Revere Mills, which manufactures and imports bath towels and kitchen textiles. "You will be seeing more as the months go by now, and through the fall season."

Revere currently offers a "Friends Gather Here" collection of kitchen towels and textiles with an Americana look and feel.

"I think the Americana theme will be strong at least through spring 2002 and then level off, but not disappear for the balance of the year," said Christina Plattman, sales and marketing director, Avanti Linens, which has the Warren Kimble license for embellished bath ensembles. Plattman said the company's Americana collection of Warren Kimble designs became "very timely and have been widely placed by retailers."

Despite the recent movement toward the red, white and blue, several suppliers insist the look never goes out of style and transcends the seasonality generally associated with the USA theme.

Nourison features several Americana looks on its accent and scatter rugs, with updated designs called Nantucket and Northeast Coastal, in addition to its Early American and Colonial lines. "It is a color statement that always looks good and, right now, is a look that makes people feel good," said Ed Vairo, director of creative marketing, Nourison. "The market told us very clearly that our assortment was very much on point with this trend."

"In the past, our retailers considered this patriotic look as a second-quarter summer purchase only, but now, due to recent events, our buyers are bringing this product in for year-round shop concepts," said Christine Ullman, executive vp, Elrene Home Fashions, which just introduced a Stars and Stripes collection of place mats, napkins and kitchen textiles at the fall New York Home textiles market.

While some suppliers may think the patriotic trend may be short lived, they have nonetheless still opted to take advantage of it.

"The patriotic trend will probably not last too long, unless events change," said Shannon Lucas, assistant sales and marketing manager, Bianca USA.

The company showed two towel designs at market, available in three solid colors of red, white and blue, with either a flag embroidery and a washable ribbon band, with a stars and stripes design, or with two ribbon bands only.

Several bedding suppliers are making patriotic fashion statements, in a more subtle way.

Revman Industries is a bedding supplier that owns the quintessentially patriotic Tommy Hilfiger bedding license.

"The question is, Now that there is a patriotic theme, does it carry forward into next market? Patriotic doesn't have to be stars and stripes," said Diane Piemonte, vp of creative services, Revman.

Bedding supplier Stone-Cline Home Fashions, for instance, is proceeding with caution with its novelty tier curtain named American as Apple Pie.

The kitchen-type tier is a sliced apple print with a flag imprint in the apple.

"We did not want to do any literal interpretation of flags," said Denise Stoughton, director of product design and development, Stone-Cline.

Several companies have used the trend to not only make a statement but to help pitch in to the relief efforts from the attacks on Sept. 11 by donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of these items.

"Displaying patriotic images is a great way to show support, and 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of these rugs goes to the relief effort," said Kimberly Barta, brand manager, Shaw Rugs.

The Shaw patriotic rug lineup includes offerings such as Pride, Liberty, Constitution, Stars and Stripes and USA.

Rug maker Capel is donating proceeds of its Spirit collection to the American Red Cross. Spirit is red, white and blue and is made up of three fabric braids sewn in the flag shape, an oval and a stripe.

Some companies have sought to counter the transient nature of fashion trends with more evergreen products.

Ellison, a division of Alice Mills, took sailboats and lighthouses and combined them with stars, but made them minor details and did it in a quilt form.

"Patriotism is going to be an in-and-out thing, but we gave it legs," said Marla Stuchel, vp, design.

Rug maker Orian Rugs has traditionally offered patriotic looks around holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day.

"We have found that patriotic looks have been extremely successful at all price points of rug products," said David Starr, national sales manager.

Venus Home Fashions, an importer of bedding, table linens and bath towels, has put together eight Red, White & Blue American flag-based printed beach towels at the request of customers.

Meanwhile Terrisol Corp., a table linen manufacturer, debuted an extensive lineup of patriotic-themed merchandise at the recent market, including patriotic jacquards and woven Americana stripes in traditional red, white and blue; e-toile prints in denim, barn red, golden wheat and moss green printed on 100 percent natural textured cotton; and quilted place mats combining woven stripes and prints.

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