retail watch | Mar 24, 2022 |
Technology defined New York Home Fashions Market Week

It still wasn’t back to normal—whatever that is—but the just-completed New York Home Fashions Market Week, where major companies show their new bed, bath and soft home products to big retailers, was closer to pre-COVID-19 conditions than it’s been in more than two years.

And as the home textiles industry rapidly adapts to customers’ demands for sustainable, eco-friendly and performance-driven products, an almost overwhelming assortment of new technologies and materials greeted big box buyers visiting the various showrooms scattered throughout Midtown.

For an industry that jokes that the greatest technological advancement in its history was the invention of the fitted sheet, the turn to tech clearly represents a shift in focus from fashion and thread counts to more substantive qualities.

The new products were displayed in a show environment markedly different from the fall of 2019, the last time the industry gathered for its usual twice-yearly market week. In the interim, Zoom sessions and the occasional in-person meeting took the place of shows canceled by the pandemic. The closing in early 2020 of the key showroom building at 295 Fifth Avenue in New York further hindered business. The nearly two-thirds of exhibitors who showed in the building were forced to relocate, and it was only this week that the industry began to form its new footprint.

While showroom buildings at 230, 261 and 267 Fifth Avenue continue in operation and have picked up some of the tenants displaced from the closed main venue, many other companies have leased individual spaces in a stretch along Fifth Avenue from streets in the low 20s up through the high 30s. With the hub that was 295 Fifth now gone, buyers and sellers alike have been forced to contend with a brand-new market geography.

But at least they were in town. Absent the past two years, nearly every major retailer with a stake in the business was on hand to work the market. The only no-shows among big box accounts were Walmart and Target—neither of which attends regularly anyway due to different buying cycles—and Costco and the TJX group of brands, which still have restrictions on employee travel.

For those in attendance, the technological offerings were impressive:

  • Recycled products: Described with various terms, including “circularity” and “secondhand,” bed and bath products made at least in part with recycled materials were on wide display.
  • Fabrics and fibers: While cotton and polyester are still the mainstays of soft home products, other options in a variety of materials are increasingly available. From hemp to linen to inorganic fabrications, buyers had their choice of alternatives.
  • Performance products: Sheets and bedding that cool, warm and wick away moisture were also stars this market, using technologies both new and tried-and-true. As usage goes up, prices for some of these goods are starting to come down, making them more accessible.
  • New tricks: A notable number of manufacturing techniques made their debut at market, giving the industry new stories to tell the next generation of consumers.

The home textiles industry continues to grapple with the same supply chain delays, raw material costs, component shortages and inflationary pressures as the rest of the home furnishings sector. Many at the market also voiced concerns about business slowing down after the boom years of 2020 and 2021. But with people meeting in person again and taking the opportunity to touch and feel the goods, the general buzz was positive.

Homepage photo: ©Photographee.eu/Adobe Stock

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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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