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Weaving a tale of growth.

WITH THE FIRST OF THE TWO ANNUAL NEW YORK HOME FASHIONS MARKET ON TAP for later this month, textiles vendors believe they have reason to be upbeat about the progress of their business this year.

According to executives in the industry, one of the main reasons to feel good about 2015 is the overall shape of the U.S. economy. In one of the key macro developments, it's costing consumers a lot less to travel on the roads. In mid-February, the average price for regular gasoline was slightly more than $2.27 a gallon, more than $1.10 less than what is was at the same time last year.

The lower tabs from filling one's tank is particularly good news from a textiles industry perspective, Scott Goldstein, president of S. Lichtenberg & Co., said, "The greatest gift to our industry is coming from the gas pump. I've seen one estimate where the decline in gas prices has put anywhere from $300 to $1,000 extra income pretax into each person's pocket. That's money that can be spent on home goods."

The downward slide in gas prices has created optimism in other quarters of the industry. "I'm hopeful that the reduced oil prices will give the consumer some badly needed disposable income, which should stimulate consumer spending," said Richard Roman, president and CEO of Revman International.

In addition, more Americans are at work making money to spend on items such as home goods. The unemployment rate, which had been nearing double digits just a few years ago, has been less than 6 percent since last September. The unemployment rate in January was 5.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics--nearly an entire percentage point less than what it was in January 2014.

Wealth is being created, too. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased by 2,200 points in the 52 weeks leading up to mid-February, up to more than 18,000.

All of these numbers add up to a much more confident U.S. consumer. In January, The Conference Board's consumer confidence index reached 102.9, its highest level since August 2007.

They also add up to bigger dollar signs for textiles vendors. Dianne Weidman, vice president of design and sales for Saturday Knight, said this year "should be a great year for the suppliers." The caveat, of course, is that selling to confident consumers isn't enough. Vendors must offer "great-looking product that fulfills the customers' needs and excites them to want to buy," Weidman said.

As with all market weeks, the textiles vendors will be presenting new merchandise that they hope will excite the retailers who come to New York City for the event. "If assortments are safe and boring and if the customer already owns the product, then no need to spend money," Weidman said.

Nevertheless, the demand on the consumer side will be there, in her opinion: "I think that the economy is moving forward and housing is starting to come around, so there should be demand for home decorating products."

There could be one other caveat aside from the need to present compelling market introductions, and that would come from the ironical fact that the economy, especially where consumers are concerned, may be going along too well. Keith Sorgeloos, president and CEO of Home Source International, said it may be a while for the benefits from more consumer dollars to spend to reach the textiles industry.

Having more money in their pockets may turn consumers toward purchases of other items which they have been putting off until now, Sorgeloos said. "Big-ticket purchases will pave the way in 2015, with interest rates still low and pent-up demand for autos, appliances, furniture, etc., being the first items on shoppers' lists to buy," he said.

For this reason, Sorgeloos projected that the textiles industry will begin to see stronger sales toward the latter part of 2015. "Holiday spending this year will be strong for products across the board, continuing through 2016," he said. Next year, he added, will be the year in which the United States "finally pulls out of the abyss that we have lived through since mid-2008, with growth rates we have not seen since the late '90s-early 2000s. The seven-year malaise will be over and the itch to spend will lead consumers to drive up GDP."

A third caveat will be the ongoing labor dispute at the West Coast container ports (see separate stories). Saying that Revman has not been affected by the dispute, Roman added, "There is the issue of container shortages due to the backlog. That will have a negative impact on anyone importing goods from the Far East (where many textiles on the U.S. market originate)."

Regarding the West Coast ports, Goldstein said, "We are on the East Coast so it has still taken a little longer to get goods. The prices of containers are going up, and we (the vendors) have to absorb it."

Still, that has not tempered Goldstein's optimism about the textiles business for this year. "I like what we have in product," he said. "I've never been as excited about a year as I have been about 2015."

This year is shaping up to be a positive year for the home textiles industry By DAVID GILL
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Title Annotation:textiles
Author:Gill, David
Publication:HFN Home Furnishings News
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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