Quilt sales soften as techniques migrate to bedding

Michele SanFilippo, April 26, 2004

While the quilt category has become a permanent component of the bedding business in the last two years, its overall volume has leveled off.

According to U.S. quilt suppliers, in the last 18 to 24 months, hand embroidery and applique techniques, formerly exclusive to quilts, have become commonplace in comforters, duvets and bedspreads as a result of the globalization of the home textiles industry. Therefore, a more intricate array of bed coverings in duvets, comforters, bedspreads and quilts is readily available today.

"You've got the influence of China and India, in particular, to thank for this trend," said Jeff Jacobs, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Keeco. "We see a lot of different subsets of quilts emerging now. There are still traditional patchwork quilts with floral prints that are heavily pieced, but on top of this we are seeing an emergence of solid-color quilts in a variety of fabrications and price points, as well as a more fashionable group, such as contemporary looks catering to several lifestyles."

Jacobs explained that there are now many choices in terms of technique and handiwork. "Quilts are now offering almost as many choices and looks as comforters and duvets," he said. "But they still have their distinct look and feel and will not disappear as a category."

Nelson Chow, vice president of sales at C&F Enterprises, said, "The quilt business goes in cycles. It can be really hot and then taper off for a while. Some people have cut down their assortments and started showing different bedding products with similar techniques. We now have more requests to do bedspreads, comforters, and duvets with the same techniques that are not feasible in the United States."

Both suppliers still believe quilts are a stable sector of the business, even if their sales have leveled off. "They are not going to go away, but you are seeing a pause in the sector as a result of all the global sourcing bringing looks from quilts to other areas of bedding," Jacobs explained. The fact that designers are showing quilts and emphasizing their importance adds validity to the category as a whole, he said.

"However, there are certain customers who prefer comforters to quilts because they are larger and seem to represent more perceived value," he added.

Where Jacobs sees growth in the quilt category is through coordination and accessories. Fashion in the solid-color quilt business is viewed as an avenue of growth for his company, he said. For example, the front rooms of Keeco's showroom at the recently held New York Home Textiles Market featured quilts, not comforters, duvets or bedspreads.

"In general, bed coverings have really matured to become a much more sophisticated and evolved category, offering embellished comforters, duvets and quilts," said Jacobs, adding that next year's numbers might reveal growth in the quilt category again.

"One of the reasons we might be seeing a break in growth is because retailers have asked suppliers to apply the same techniques from quilts to comforters, duvets and bedspreads, so most suppliers have changed their focus," he said.

Chow said that price points are getting sharper and more retailers are going direct overseas. "The sweet spot remains around $99.99, but people expect more fabrication and embellishment for less," he said. "This challenges us wholesalers to come up with more unique and better fabrications, looks, textures and fabrics."

As a result, C&F Enterprises has been experimenting with different fabrics for quilts like tapestry jacquards and chenilles, which it can produce at very reasonable prices because of its Chinese manufacturing, said Chow. He added that additional players in the quilt arena have served to dilute pricing somewhat.

"As long as you remain innovative enough with the looks, fabrications and techniques of your quilts, people will buy your product," asserted Chow. "I think consumers are changing because, in the last few years, they have gone from traditional quilts to trendy, more contemporary and fashionable quilts."

Sharon Shields, design director at Jia Li Textile, added, "We see fabrications veering from plain cotton to poly satins now, and ribbon embellishment has become really important. Layers of fabrics, such as velvet and sheer organza on cotton, are also becoming a trend."

She said quilted bedspreads have become more popular in the past six months to a year because they look like quilts but are larger, so there's no need for a dust ruffle. Lodge and country quilts are Jia Li's most popular lifestyle groups, she added.

"At market, retailers said quilts in a bag have hit a wall and are no longer popular," said Shields. "We've heard from retailers that their quilt business is up and from others that it is down. For our company, we have been growing the last few years and are still experiencing an upward trend."

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