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How Green Was My Fabric

It looks like it's time for a whole new vocabulary for the home textiles world.

There's an apparent groundswell taking place in the home furnishings arena, home textiles will not be exempt. It's the whole eco movement, whether organic, friendly, sustainable or renewable — the buzz words are increasing on an almost daily basis.

After a couple of days at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York late last month, it seemed that if stuff for the home were not eco-sensitive in some way or another, it was no good. That went just as well for textiles products coming from countries with little reputation for compliance with any kind of regulations. And the exhibitors were generally comfortable with the assurances they received from their suppliers.

Over the last week or so as we were previewing Showtime exhibitors, it became clear the buzzword for this week's event certainly will be the eco story.

That this theme will be so pervasive across the decorative fabric market is one that should raise questions — and pause. There's virtually no one who maintains that business in any home furnishings sector is strong, Yes, some individual companies for specific reasons are doing well. But the mood across the board is one of concern — and certainly price driven.

To date, fabric suppliers are talking about an up-to-20% premium for fabrics in the eco family. Considering the pressures being exerted by their customers in every home product segment, this appears to be an approach out of economic reality — especially now that Chinese suppliers are publicly acknowledging challenges as Wal-Mart, their single best customer, tightens its order-writing belt.

The marketplace is full of anecdotal stories of how one design or construction migrates from its first manufacturing home in China to many others — all at a deflationary price spiral. Think of the cycle for eco-compliant product!

The folks in the contract segment of the business have long been sponsors of eco-friendly products, but they are dealing in a different economic and aesthetic world. Their influence is obviously penetrating the residential market, but it appears that there will have to be major alterations to their formulae. Hopefully their standards will prevail at least in part in the residential community.

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