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Jennifer Marks

Good vibrations

A refreshing sense of optimism showed up last week at the New York Home Textiles market, and not a moment too soon. After three consecutive markets distinguished by an ever-darkening outlook about the direction of the business — most painfully punctuated last October by the fallout from Sept. 11 — it was a welcome change.

In the aggregate, suppliers reported that the first quarter ran better than expected — at least for the top line. And while few expect significant improvement over last year for the second quarter, the majority said they anticipate steady improvement in the third and fourth quarters.

The supply chain issue continues to grow in complexity as retailers demand shorter delivery windows and suppliers broaden their network of overseas sources. Suppliers are increasingly occupied with bringing their outside resources up to date with current retail technology. And the evolving intricacies of data interchange and inventory tracking raise the barrier of entry ever higher for small players and novice home textiles companies.

Happily, the April market brought forth a great deal of newness — new showrooms, new participants, and new licensing agreements. And there was a tremendously strong showing by a number of companies that within the last 24 months have been written off as dead or dying.

CHF launched a snappy line of bedding for the 20-something who's setting up home for the first time, overhauled the Peri bedding collection and inked a licensing deal with tropically flavored Ocean Pacific to produce bedding, bath and home décor.

Pillowtex brought focus and fresh fashion direction to its waffling Royal Velvet bedding line and unveiled the new licensed Tommy Hilfiger basic bedding program with a collection of launch items that show strong Back-to-School potential. The company plans to come out of Chapter 11 by early summer and promises to revivify both its venerable Cannon and luxury-oriented Court of Versailles brands before the year is out.

Perfect Fit borrowed some great ideas from the mattress industry, which has managed to consistently trade up consumers at both the top and bottom end of the spectrum. Tapping research from licensing partner Spring Air, the utility bedding maker turned out an array of products that emulate the quality-enhancing features of top-of-the-line mattresses.

WestPoint Stevens served up a staggering array of product, including its silver-laced X-sheet, which reacts to body temperature. The real news here, however, was a crackling presentation across all categories that focused on sharp merchandising ideas. The showroom looked like the kind of store consumers love to shop.

And there's more to come. Springs in October will unveil a fully revamped showroom that incorporates the fruits of its recent acquisitions from Beaulieu, Burlington House and Ultima Enterprises. Hollander Home Fashions reset its showroom this market as part of its new brand-building campaign and will push the envelope even farther in October with expanded space and its new Karen Neuburger license. Dan River plans to extend the Alexander Julian license into a host of home product categories and will probably begin talking in more detail in the fall.

So fasten your seatbelts, kids. This industry's put its foot on the accelerator and we're all in for wild ride.

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