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The glass is half full

Jennifer Marks, Meredith Schwartz -- Home Textiles Today, April 5, 2004

It was so good, it was actually scary.

There seemed to be nothing but positive vibrations flowing from last week's New York Home Textiles Market. Some said it was the best market in three years. Others pointed out that, compared to the year-ago market, which marked the absolute nadir of the slump, last week couldn't help but be positive.

The industry more or less shrugged off Dan River's late-market Chapter 11 filing. It didn't exactly come as a shock. And many in the industry concluded that if the worst should happen — and Dan River is insisting that it won't — there are enough resources available to easily fill the gap.

The big shocker was Sure Fit's bankruptcy filing three weeks in advance of the market. But perhaps since Sure Fit owns the lion's share of the slipcover industry, there was no talk in the showrooms about rushing to take advantage of the moment. Instead, most home textiles execs shook their heads in wonder and pondered what greater message Sure Fit's stumble might convey about the industry as a whole.

Where there were expressions of anxiety, they had almost wholly to do with the question of quota elimination in 2005. Planning is still going ahead as though quotas will drop on Jan. 1, although many in the industry believe the situation will be tied to how President George Bush's re-election looks by late summer.

For towel producers, the topic of the week was the new Royal Velvet towel, which brand manager Group 3 Design was debuting in a studio space on the west side of town. More generally, the industry is racing to add to capacity in the wake of Pillowtex's demise, with most sizable towel manufacturers reporting happily that their facilities are running flat out.

Bedding sourcers were also touting their ability to deliver solid-color sheet programs in a post-Pillowtex world. Most of those efforts took aim at private-label replenishment lines among the majors.

In terms of design, color is running strong. There was a surprisingly large assortment of contemporary and modernized retro looks on offer at all price points. Menswear fabrics showed a resurgence. Shabby Chic-inspired vintage designs were also popular. Pleather and faux suede appear to be settling into a lifestyle niche in same way animal and tropic looks did previously. Asian-inspired designs are emerging as the new niche lifestyle look. And flocking has become the new embroidery.

Moreover, there was some honest-to-God innovation to be had: bamboo towels from Baltic Linen and Sferra Brothers; Lycra-enhanced towels from WestPoint Stevens; Lycra bedding from Springs; aloe vera sheeting from Downtown Co.; seaweed-enhanced sheeting from Curt Bauer; and order-resistant throws from Huntingdom Home that also release microbeads of fragrance when the fabric is rubbed.

It's a rare market in which showrooms don't resound with complaint about a common woe — auctions, a drive toward opening price points, deflation, de-specing or margin erosion. There was precious little in the way of hand wringing this time around.

It was a rare market. Let's hope it portends a rarefied year.

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