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HIGH POINT, N.C.-Despite a New Year's blizzard that stranded buyers from coast to coast and dropped local temperatures into the teens, the Showtime Winter 1999 fabric exposition opened here Jan. 4 to an enthusiastic reception that warmed exhibitors' hopes for a strong year to come.

A roster of 180 mills, converters and other fabric and related suppliers braced for a flood of executives representing the more than 500 companies that had preregistered for the 18th edition of Showtime, which runs through Jan. 8. A total of 562 companies registered for the Winter 1998 edition, with a confirmed attendance of 432. Showtime is organized by the International Textile Market Association here.

Soft constructions led most fabric offerings as chenille and velvet looks continued to exert influence in the market, while exhibitors focused on adding value to the supplier-customer relationship.

"You either have soft fabrics in your line, or you're not going to be a competitive player in the market," said Tom Muzekari vice president of marketing for Quaker Fabric Corp. "Velvets are still going to sell."

To leverage the popularity of the soft trend, the mill is featuring its Quaker Plush finish across a variety of fabric collections, from the $15 jacquards of the Whitaker group, to the higher end antique velvets with a chenille feel rendered in blends of rayon, acrylic, polyester, linen and cotton. "The Gallantry collection has been of our best so far, with an acrylic chenille and polyester warp, priced around $9.95," Muzekari said.

The mood of Showtime buyers depended on who one asked. "Among the people we have talked to, business conditions are ranging from `booming' to `O.K.'," said Muzekari. "Retail sales seemed to have slowed up a little during the end of fall. But now, everybody feels very good about '99. After all, '98 was a very good year."

"The mood has been wonderful," said Linda Long of Guilford Mills. "Buyers seem to be optimistic." The good feeling, she noted, has been fueled by a wealth of positive economic indicators. "Housing starts and home sales have been on a roll for some time, and interest rates continue to be low, and that all carries into our customers' businesses," she said.

That's good news for Guilford, which, while ranking as one of the largest warp knitters in the world, has been playing catch-up in the home business. "For us, we aren't starting so much from a position of strength, as in apparel, but from a position of great potential," said Long. "We want to be narrow and

deep, and think `outside the box' when it comes to upholstery."

The new selection unveiled at Showtime included Charisma, a 100-percent polyester velvet made from an exclusive DuPont yarn with a special cross-section, for a silkier hand; Obsession, a crushed polyester velvet with a latex backing, to prevent fiber migration in pillows; Sea Island, a heavyweight cotton jersey fabric -- an outgrowth of its knitted sheet business -- for the slipcover market, and Millennium, a microdenier polyester velvet in 12 colors. Tahoe, a polyester warp upholstery fleece that is more dimensionally stable than standard apparel fleece, will be available at the end of January.

`Finish' was the buzzword at Valdese Weavers. "People still want the fabric soft and drapeable," said Zack Taylor, design manager for home furnishings. "It is still crucial." Valdese is employing more chenille and boucles, such as a proprietary boucle in rayon with a polyester wrap, to meet the demand.

Similarly, washed finishes for a casual/formal look are also important. Valdese is incorporating design elements, such as sewn-in puckers, to simulate a washed effect but without the shrinkage. "That saves people money since they can still cut the goods at a full 54-inch width,' Taylor noted.

Careful targeting dictates fabric design at Valdese. Said Taylor, "Our focus is key placements with furniture manufacturers. We know the best- selling frames and where the key slots in a showroom are, the two or three setups near the front of the showroom that drive the business. That's what the retailers will gravitate to."

An upbeat tenor among buyers was tempered, Taylor said, by concerns that January furniture sales could be soft. Moreover, "some manufacturers think that the U.S. economy is a big balloon that is going to pop. We'll see."

Prices were mostly stable among fabric suppliers, although one executive noted that perceptions in High Point has contributed to increased price pressures.

"The furniture manufacturers here have been more likely to squeeze on price," said Jack Eger, vice president of marketing for Craftex Mills. "That's because when you buy fabrics off the rack in a showroom, you're more likely to buy based on the fabric's hand and feel, rather than from an upholstered sample, as they do here, where the differences in fabrics tend to disappear."

To avoid such pitfalls, Craftex unveiled unique products including a colorful triple-beam tapestry fabric in rayon and cotton that employs 27 separate components in the warp, for $21.75. Also new is Melange, a chenille made from space-dyed yarns spun in the U.K.

"The hope in the market was that chenille would not go on forever and be replaced by boucle, but it so far has only been supplemented by textured yarns," Eger said.
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Author:Chirls, Stuart
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 11, 1999

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