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ATLANTA-To ply or not to ply, that is only part of the question.

Whether to use a two-ply or a single yarn, to count that two-ply as one or two in stating thread counts, to note that distinction on packaging . . .Whether it is permissible to double the thread count -- ascertained by adding the number of yarns per inch in the warp and in the weft of a fabric -- when using two-plied or twisted yarns.

These questions are plaguing manufacturers in the down comforter industry -- and splitting more than yarns.

Those who are advertising ultra-high thread counts by counting two-ply yarns say it is legitimate. Those who aren't, say it is simply a marketing game that falls into a dubious -- if not deceitful -- realm.

Those who regulate the industry have not taken a definitive stand on the issue, except to rule on any truth in advertising disputes.

"Our textile rules don't address thread count," said Carol Jennings, an attorney in the division of enforcement at the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The FTC prohibits deceptive practices -- we would be looking at whether it's a deceptive practice." The commission has had no complaints thus far, she said.

The American Society for Testing and Materials' Standard Specification for Woven and Warp Knitted Comforter Fabrics does not specifically address thread count.

Hardy Poole, director of the product services division of the American Textiles Manufacturers' Institute, said, "Historically, in the United States, plied yarn counts as a single yarn, but in fabrics from offshore, labeled in their country of origin, plied yarns may be counted as two."

The manufacturers interviewed who are using thread counts over 600 do in fact use imported shells, and most have a disclaimer on package inserts stating that they are citing two-ply yarns in the thread count.

Pillowtex Corp. offers a 760 two-ply, all-cotton imported comforter shell. The item has been in the company's line for two years, said Matt Moses, vice president of marketing for utility bedding at the company. "We provide a wide array of comforter products." Hollander Home Fashions produces 780-count and 660-count cotton shells, both with two-ply yarns, and uses a footnote stating that on its packaging. "We believe we are within federal guidelines for labeling, and that we're as above board as we can be," said David Stewart, vice president of marketing at the company.

United Feather & Down's European Elegance comforter, which is 63 percent silk, is advertised as 864 thread count. Because of the finer silk yarns, it is possible to weave even more into an inch of fabric than with cotton, said Bob Hickman, vice president of sales and marketing.

California Feather & Down, which introduced a 760-count about five years ago, now advertises only a 380 two-ply shell. "That's the position we've chosen to take," said Jim Scott, vice president of operations for the company. "Otherwise, it's confusing to the consumer, and you have to have salespeople explain it."

That's one of the key issues for manufacturers who object to the practice.

Consumers, retailers and even some mill salesmen are not technically informed enough to explain the weaving process, said Dan Kral, vice president of the home division at Pacific Coast Feather, which uses only single-ply yarns. "A yarn -- whether it is single or plied -- is still a yarn," he said. "When you thread a loom, you only count the ends of yarn, whether they are single or plied."

The major frustration among manufacturers was a sense of unfair competition -- especially in an industry where high thread count is not as important as other features, such as proper fill weight, down quality and permeability. Brand and price are also critical, said Jeff Woodman, vice president of marketing at American Fiber, which markets its Wamsutta Elite comforter as a 330-count two-ply product.

"[Using the high counts] works as a wonderful selling tool," said Terry McGuckin, vice president of sales at Down Inc. He added that competitors' claims have cost the company business more than once. "For a lot of consumers, thread count is very important." "American consumers think more is better, and in the down comforter business, that's just not true. But it would take a humongous campaign to change [their minds]," said Andrew Payne, vice president of sales at Down Lite International.

The consensus among manufacturers, retailers and agencies was that the issue should have more explicit guidelines.

"I think it should be regulated; that makes it official," said Edythe Jacobs, chief operating officer of the Downtown Co., which uses only single-ply yarns.

Said Wilford Lieber, president of the International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, which has no clear regulations on thread count, "I think it would be wise to have the industry agree."

Said Harvey Kanter, vice president of Eddie Bauer's Home Division, "I think it should be addressed, as far as it is being used as a selling tool."
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Author:Musselman, Faye
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 29, 1999

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