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A World Apart

As more and more folks in the home textiles world become virtual commuters between the United States and the Far East, some things have already come into sharp focus.

The first is that doing business in China is radically different from doing business domestically.

Even the folks working for Chinese owned and based companies are marveling at the differences in how they now do business.

For folks in the fabric and related segments of the home furnishings business, this is brought home quite clearly as suppliers, suppliers' customers and retailers are soliciting the same sources.

The issue of who owns what design now is coming to the fore. One American supplier was shown a fabric, liked it, asked if it was "free" in terms of confinement, bought it — only to find that a competitor had purchased it under the same terms earlier, but had not laid down enough yardage to satisfy the Chinese mill for exclusive rights.

An exclusive commitment appears to be good only so far as the size and opening — and often only — order goes.

And let's not even go into the issue of American design copyrights on offshore produced fabrics. That's an area that will make a lot of lawyers rich — and frustrate the owners of the designs with the legal entanglements.

Then there's the question of quality in terms of color accuracy, finishing and performance.

A major mill executive reported being expelled from a Chinese dye house because his company insisted on their shade of red in the trial sample, to be told they would get the right color in production. No go, said the American.

While some of the more basic finishing processes are currently available, the finessing of finishes made into a singular advantage by a few American suppliers has not yet been achieved, say many looking for the top-of-the-line technology.

As for reliable certifying of things like light fastness, color fastness, seam slippage and myriad quality standards that are taken for granted here — they just are not part of the equation as yet.

And this is just the beginning. Stay tuned.

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