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Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, July 7, 2003

As we move into the newest round of fabric showings, Showtime — along with the American decorative fabric market in its entirety — are undergoing seismic changes.

A quick scan of the exhibitors listing for next week's Showtime reveals how dramatically the landscape of fabrics for home furnishings has changed — and how quickly it has happened. Though a microcosm in its breadth of exhibitors when compared with Heimtextil in Frankfurt, Showtime is now truly an international fabric event. This is causing some angst among a goodly number of fabric producers as the future health of the American textiles world comes under increasing debate and scrutiny.

The debate derives not just from the exhibitors who come from off shore — be they the Europeans, who for the time being appear to retain their cachet of style and quality, or the increasing number of eastern fabric producers — from Turkey, India and Pakistan, to the Chinese.

It also originates from the ever-growing cadre of American mills who have established relationships, in China and elsewhere. As the head of one of this country's largest mills recently observed, American mills will segue into the role of converters — designers and marketers of fabric with the production coming from all around the globe, probably including this country.

The newest twist is the rapidly emerging role of cut and sew operations in China for all forms of home furnishings products, from shower curtain liners to elaborate bed coverings, as well as furniture covers that are then applied to frames here.

It's a dual-headed trend with American fabric suppliers either operating on their own or developing joint ventures with Chinese firms as well as the Chinese-based firms with strong outposts in the United States.

And American bed and window coverings suppliers already are taking the cut and sew scenario to a higher level, going direct or challenging the Chinese operations primarily on price.

There are a bunch of "what ifs" that must be addressed as the marketplace wrestles with this new situation, and Showtime could well be the place for it to happen. It should make the mere selection of great design and construction a lot more complex — and interesting.

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