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Jennifer Marks

Not your father's Heimtextil

The Heimtextil international trade show has reflected the changing nature of global home textiles trade for several years now. But this year's show, which took place in Frankfurt last week, seemed to mark a true break from the past, at least from an American viewpoint.

U.S. suppliers, of course, have not exhibited at the show in significant numbers for some time. However, they now constitute the bulk of U.S. buyers working the show.

Their ranks range from large suppliers to the mass market to niche suppliers of better product. Among those spotted in the first two days were Springs, WestPoint Stevens, Mohawk, Dan River, Franco, CHF, Divatex, Veratex, Revman, Perfect Fit, Thomasville, Next Creations, Custom Comfort and Michele Sinai.

Halls traditionally featuring European and South American exhibitors were noticeably roomier at the 2003 show as the number of stands from those countries eroded.

At last week's show, the amount of unused space in those areas had grown exponentially.

And as has come to be the norm at many U.S. shows, vendors with major scale had customers coming out of their ears, while many small exhibitors seemed to have only occasional traffic.

Meanwhile, the scale and sophistication of exhibits has improved enormously in the so-called Asian halls, populated primarily by exhibitors from Pakistan, India and China. In many instances, the displays match the best Western efforts. These suppliers have learned rapidly how to visually communicate an international standard.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable changes in terms of traffic at last week's show was the drop-off in major U.S. retailer attendance. Only couple of years ago, the world's largest home textiles trade fair was a must for even U.S. discount store buyers.

Last week, several of the volume retailers stayed home. Buyers now deal directly with the factories in Shanghai, Mumbai or Karachi, suppliers said, so they no longer feel compelled to make a visit to Frankfurt.

That in itself reflects yet another aspect of the international show as the international industry finds itself in transition: The conclusion by some retailers and suppliers that Heimtextil is no longer de rigeur as an indicator of fashion direction.

The sentiment is not ubiquitous, and there were certainly a lot of fresh, fabulous new products on display. But as large-scale retailers and suppliers have developed their own in-house design trend expertise, the U.S. industry no longer pants after European manufacturers to point the way.

For all the shifts, Heimtextil is still very much worth the trip for anyone who is attempting to keep pace with how the industry is changing on a macro scale.

There is no other single event that brings together so many suppliers from so many regions of the world, each with his or her own point of view about how the disparate players in the world can work together.

But the times, they are a-changing.

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