Decorative Fabric Makers Rally at Showtime

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, December 3, 2007

Decorative fabric suppliers, whether mills or converters, are approaching Showtime this week on a more positive note than seen in recent seasons.

For many, whether domestic producers or those sourcing off-shore, there is a significant spillover of business coming from the demise of both the Joan Fabrics divisions and Quaker this year.

But a number of companies are citing organic growth as well, the results of new directions in distribution and an intensification of hospitality efforts as well as new product categories such as eco-friendly fabrics and new technologies.

For Sunbury, "business is very good in all market segments — they're all extremely strong," said Rocco Simone, svp. Overall, he said, "We'll have a very good year."

Looking at the total business, Simone observed, "I see the jobber market getting stronger and stronger and we're putting in more specials for them, and we're a niche business." As for furniture, he said, "Manufacturers in the upper-middle to better end are getting stronger."

For Showtime, Sunbury is emphasizing its Next program of 100% post-consumer polyester that boasts all new warps, eight new fills and 35 to 65 colors per fill in straight or novelty yarns. Next already has been launched in the contract and jobber segments and this week will debut for furniture.

While early efforts at the mill level in decorative fabrics produced more basic looking goods, Sunbury's offerings emphasize design and color first.

At Valdese, "business is very strong" with sales to all distribution segments up strong double digits, said Mile Shelton, president. "We have a lot of momentum internally and we had stronger than anticipated response from our acquisitions."

While the most momentum for Valdese is in the contract segment, he said, "We're seeing a lot stronger business in the jobber and furniture segments and we see a significant opportunity going forward in the jobber segment with our creative lineup."

As for eco-friendly fabrics, Shelton explained, "We have a very strong background in contract" where these fabrics have been in demand for some time. "We're now broadening our offering for the consumer area but it will take longer. It costs more and this industry is so price-driven and everyone is reluctant to emphasize anything other than price. But the upper-middle and above consumer levels are aware of the value of green."

From a different perspective, Mark Aizawa, president of Chris Stone, said his customers "understand the price differential and they don't seem to mind." The company has expanded its eco-friendly fabrics to include a range of hemp.

Overall, Aizawa said, "Business is strong but my concern is next year. I think home furnishings is soft at best, but we're a niche player and our eco fabrics are increasing steadily."

"Domestically business is tough, but we had the best-placed market in October," said Mike Czarnecki, svp marketing at Microfibres. "Specialty products are really strong, a plus-60% increase over 2006; it's a good niche business."

"All Microfibres fabrics are Oeko-Tex certified, and we reuse fibers, and package and sell them vs. dumping them," Czarnecki added.

"We're on a par with our best year," said Irwin Gasner, ceo of Wearbest Sil-Tex, and "our biggest growth engine is the Bella-Dura collection that customers have embraced as a performance fabric and outdoor fabric as well as cradle-to-cradle."

For Wearbest, the introduction of window fabrics for Bella-Dura "has really taken off," Gasner added. But looking ahead he sees "business very challenging, probably the most challenging of all my years in the business. But then challenges create opportunities."

"Overall business is growing slightly — jobber and contract are up and furniture is getting better," said Jack Eger, svp, Craftex. In addition to its conventional fabric line, Craftex is introducing 20 new styles in post-consumer polyester blends with cotton or linen under the Meridian Green umbrella, and 12 organic cottons with solid warps and straight and novelty fills.

"It's a touch dicey," said Roger Berkley, president of Weave. "Business is out there but it's harder to come by and there's a circle-the wagons-mentality." But he added, "I'm really optimistic about next year."

Weave is making a major presentation here this week of its Green Weave eco-friendly fabrics "that have really been making inroads in the hospitality market," Berkley noted. "There's a burgeoning interest by jobbers."

Like most of his competitors in the eco zone, he emphasized, "We're styling these like real products with a fashion thrust."

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