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Once More — with Feeling

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, February 23, 2009

"The home textiles business has not embraced fashion forwardness nor spotlighted its potential star young designers."

Had some interesting visits during the Las Vegas market earlier this month that pointed to one of the challenges confronting the home textiles world today — the apparent lack of passion for product that seems pervasive across all levels of the business.

It was an interesting eye-opener, especially in view of the upcoming home textiles market here in New York next month, which is expected to be challenging at best.

Sitting and chatting with a number of exhibitors, I was watching the behavior patterns of the retailers working the lines in each show space. Many were the run-of-the-mill "today's buyer," essentially looking and buying according to a rote pattern.

The standouts were at least a dozen different groups of buyers who actually exhibited a passion for what they were doing. Observing them was a sheer pleasure — and a throwback to when most buyers had a similar zest for product.

When was the last time you actually saw buyers having fun working out a color assortment, or working over a towel program to create a proprietary program for the store — or surrounded by piles of swatches in order to craft a style or color story for decorative fabrics?

And the players were all ages — a couple of 50-something women, a group of coed 30s confreres, and a trio of young women shepherded by an older man — among those I watched.

What made these observations even more interesting was the weekend page 1 feature of WWD during the recent Fashion Week in New York. The highlighted fashion collection was designed by one of "the fresh crop of new designers" — a radical concept for a front page feature during a major market in any business segment.

One of the problems facing this business is the replication of same-old, same-old that has created a sameness across a broad spectrum of price points and distribution channels. The home textiles business has not embraced fashion forwardness nor spotlighted its potential star young designers. The age-old copout has been: "If we spotlight our designer(s), someone will steal them."

With the industry at its most challenged level, perhaps it's time to take a look at fashion overall and develop a new focus on design innovation and design stars. Next month's market might be a good time to start.

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