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The year ahead II: Waiting for the wreck

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, December 22, 2003

As we contemplate the year just ending and look ahead to 2004, one thing becomes very clear.

The fate of the home textiles business has little to do with whether department stores are relevant, the boxes can wring more out of the vendors, reverse auctions, plied thread counts or how many coupons a store can give out to lure people to buy yet another towel, sheet or comforter.

Instead, this marketplace is increasingly faced with national issues and global issues where a sheet or towel is of minimal interest.

It looks like '04 will be the year when folks in the home textiles world have to get a better grip on what is going on around them.

First and foremost, there's the issue of flammability regulations. This is real and will happen in one mode or another. Last year at this time the industry association, Home Fashion Products Association, held an update informational meeting. There was a pathetic attendance of industry members — some 20, excluding yours truly.

I don't know whether there is a term for more pathetic, but this year's update drew a paltry 11 individuals.

Bedclothes, including all the fabrics that go around a filled comforter, now appear to be part of the game plan either for the feds or the California folks who must put flammability regs of one kind or another into effect, by law.

And the California regs, typical of that state's legislative logic levels, are not allowed to factor in an important element — toxicity of whatever procedure is adopted. This despite the fact that the state has legally banned two major fire retardant chemicals.

Folks, this is a train wreck about to happen — and no one seems to give a damn.

Then we move on to the home textiles world as a minor pawn in the global trade scenario.

Put sheets and towels up against the priorities of steel, banking, wine, chickens in China and a host of financial pressures from countries — large and small — then it's easy to see where the world of bed and bath fits into the equation.

Then there's the whole intellectual property rights issue — more commonly known as knockoffs. What with new- fangled gizmos like cell phone cameras, surveillance at trade shows becomes an even more fuzzy thing.

It's time for the home textiles world to become more active in these areas.

But before you do — have a great new year.

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