The China syndrome

Carole Sloan, January 5, 2004

It's time to take a really deep breath and start this new year.

It's one that probably will not disappoint in terms of change and excitement. As one leading home textiles executive recently remarked, who would have thought a couple of years back that this business would change so fast — and radically?

Buyers and sellers will be in High Point, NC, this week for the semi-annual Showtime fabric show. Then the mass migration moves to Frankfurt, Germany for the monster Heimtextil show of fabrics and cut and sew products.

The makeup of each show will be dramatically different from just four or five years ago. In fact, it was at the 2000 Heimtextil that the future makeup of this business became really clear.

And change is definitely the operative word in terms of product intros, value and quality. In fact, during this pre-Showtime the word "quality" has been used more than ever in recent years.

With the impact of the China equation in the home fabric world — both in fabrics by the yard, and cut and sew — price has been the dominant issue.

The result has been that virtually every price could be beat by the mill next door in China.

What wasn't included in that equation was the need to maintain or better American quality standards — whether for sheets and towels or for furniture fabrics.

The resulting need to improve quality is evident in the lines being offered at Showtime. Some of the China-based companies have made a determined effort to upgrade both the look and quality of their introductions.

There is beginning to be an understanding that differentiation is an important part of the business equation.

At the same time, there are a number of American fabric producers who are continuing to be just that — American fabric producers.

It's amazing to see what can be produced in this country — economically, competitively and with a styling differentiation. More than ever, we're hearing about technology in terms of product and production finesse.

How far these developments will take the domestic fabric manufacturing community will be interesting and essential to follow. Stay tuned.

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