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Cotton Comes Down, Sheets Go Up

Jeff Linville, Jill Rowen -- Home Textiles Today, July 19, 2012

Sheets and PillowcasesNEW YORK - Cotton prices have come down significantly, but the raw material cost is still on the minds of suppliers of sheets and pillowcases.
     The influx of more poly in cotton/poly blends, the use of all--microfibers and other alternative fabrics, and the use of varying qualities of cotton that became part of the landscape in the last few markets are still in play and not likely to disappear too quickly. In fact, makers faced with rising costs got busy tooling with blends and constructions and taking a look at solutions-based design to keep the category alive and find their niche in the marketplace.
     In the end, after the roller coaster ride for cotton, results for sheets and pillowcases show a 1.4% increase in sales, closely mirroring other bedding results in HTT's Database series.
     "In the last few years, we put a lot into designs using alternative fabrics and looking at cotton quality," said Shay Zamir, vp, merchandising, Divatex. "You have to be more creative." For Divatex, part of that was delivering on color and translating ready-to-wear accents such as lace.
     "Retailers are working their way back to 100% cotton in 200 thread count programs," noted Frank Snow, vp, merchandising, Royal Linens. "But you're not going to see the high jumps back to 600 to 700 thread counts." According to Snow, the promotional goods in microfibers "hit the high watermark." For Royal Linens, recent market successes included its Vintage Comfort line of 100% cotton prints, as well as its growing kids' lines.
     "Our estimates show sheets as a category was up ... and business at Alok was very strong," said Arun Agarwaal, ceo, Alok Industries. "As basic a category as sheets are, when raw material prices went up, the technology aspect become more important," he said. "We at Alok used our apparel knowledge and introduced features to enhance hand, feel, color. We also created patented fit technologies." Another thing on trend, according to Agarwaal: a return to bonus pillowcases.
     Working on the higher end of the marketplace, Jim Vivacqua, director of marketing, Legacy Linens, noted that the company "adjusted prices for cotton very late in the game" and didn't run to change its constructions. Embellishments, trims and new colors that combine brights with neutrals - corals with warm greys, for instance - are gaining ground. The company is also focusing on more "user friendly" products that are softer and in lighter weights.
     Some suppliers are navigating the sheets category with performance and solutions as the focus of their product story. As temperature control has captured the utility bedding category, it is now moving into sheets and pillowcases.
     "We're doing a lot about temperature control; there is an emphasis on overall health and wellness and sleeping in a comfortable environment," noted Jeremy Wooten, coo, HomeTex. HomeTex produced microfiber offerings, rayon/nylon blends and other constructions as cotton soared. "We continue to push the constructions and believe there is still opportunity there, but do see blending cotton back into the mix," he said. Home-Tex plans to open a New York showroom this coming fall, he added.
     "The category for performance and solutions based attributes is strong and growing," noted Dan Harris, vp, marketing & product development DesignWeave. The company has two licenses at the core of its offerings: Outlast technology that works in balancing temperatures; and Cocona, which absorbs and controls moisture to help keep sleepers comfortable.
     Fiber producer Lenzing is also seeing growth in its business as sheet makers continue to look at new options for blends and constructions. "Everyone one has a 300 thread count offering but there is little flexibility in that offering," said Nina Nadash, home textiles merchandiser, Lenzing. "With a product like MicroModal with the Edelweiss process, it brings additional features to sheeting and is uniquely branded to really distinguish itself." Nadash noted that Lenzing's growth has also come from non-traditional retail sectors, including the military and hospitality arena.
     As HTT's research shows, for retailers sheets and pillowcases were a mixed bag. On everyone's mind is JC Penney and how its changes will ultimately impact not only sheets, but all home textile categories. Offpricers and e-tailing continue to do well, as do warehouse clubs. "[Off-pricers] love the tough times," noted Snow.
     The dot-com business is still flying on all cylinders. "It's a big part of our marketing," noted Harris of DesignWeave. "The internet makes it easier for retailers to test products; they don't have to make as large a commitment. If it does well online, they will often move it to brick and mortar."
     Despite an economy that is still moving slowly, for the most part, sheets and pillowcase makers are looking forward to the year ahead.
     "I'm very optimistic going forward," said Nadash of Lenzing. "There are still a lot of constructions and blends that have not been executed with our fiber portfolio. There is still a lot of opportunity for makers to really stand out."
     "Our mantra is ‘keep producing quality product," noted Agarwaal of Alok. "A same thread count sheet can differ in many ways in quality. In 2012 we are acquiring substantial brand rights and that should help us extend our distribution channels."
     "Given the economy, we're not expecting a barn burner year," noted Harris of Design Weave, but we're confident about the year going forward."

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