Storm clouds on the horizon

Carole Sloan, January 12, 2004

Overall, Showtime last week was a positive. But as one who constantly questions forecasts, I wonder how much of the upside sentiments are based on hope versus the real world.

The home textiles fabric world — a flea on the global textiles elephant — across the board is searching for a way to be heard on the world stage as well as within the confines of the American bureaucracy.

It was clear at Showtime that there was a definite swing away from the "pit is bottomless" approach to fabric constructions/pricing in many categories. The one that stood out as a deviant from the trend was the microdenier faux suede category where there seemed to be no bottom in pricing — and, in many cases, quality was suspect.

This stuff is coming in from all corners of the globe, and one wonders who is going to be catching the flack when this bubble pops.

As far as the global scenario is concerned, the issues are varied and significant — from intellectual property rights to dumping to stuff that is made out of compliance with American manufacturing regs.

As for off-shore production, it's now beyond who eats the stuff that doesn't sell. The issues now go way beyond, like who gets the chargebacks for delivery delays and on and on. Customs is being put on a high alert to apprehend shipments from known violators in the design piracy arena. Even the quota scenario, threatening as it may be, pales by comparison with some of the other upcoming stuff.

The more serious stuff involves liabilities in the flammability arena, and all sorts of twists and turns in consumer protection issues. Don't think the mad cow scare won't affect home textiles, if only from a consumer awareness perspective.

The seemingly awesome lack of interest by the home textiles community in terms of all these issues does not bode well for the marketplace. The flammability issue alone is one of the most critical ever to face this business — like the decades ago TRIS chemical fire retardant for babies sleepwear — and this industry is essentially paying it no attention.

It will be interesting to see how many companies will help support, on one level or another, the decorative-fabric mill effort to make flammability regs compatible with consumer needs and industry survival.

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