By David Gill
For an industry that already features many highly recognizable licenses, the activity surrounding licenses at the New York Home Fashions Market in September was particularly robust.
A number of the textiles industry's key licenses officially changed hands during the market. In what was the most high-profile example, the Lauren Ralph Lauren license in basic bedding moved from WestPoint Home to Hollander Home Fashions.
Other licenses also played in this game of musical chairs. The Caribbean Joe license, once also the property of WestPoint Home, moved to Alok International. Downlite introduced its new license for basic bedding with Sealy, which once belonged to Pacific Coast Feather.
There were also brand-new licenses unveiled at the market. Louis Hornick and Co. presented its first collection under its program with the Bel-Air Association, featuring designs inspired by the historic Bel-Air community in California. AQ Textiles and Design Weave debuted their licensed collections with Brookstone (AQ in decorative bedding, Design Weave in basic bedding).
Licensing activity is common in the textiles industry--indeed, in all home furnishings categories. However, not many market weeks featured activity at the same level as was seen in September's market.
Arun Agarwal, CEO of Alok, opined that one reason for the heavier licensing activity was that vendors have recognized that what they need to do goes beyond simply making the goods. "We feel the licensing activity was so heavy during this past market because, like with us, it was a natural transition for many suppliers," Agarwal said.
Creating brands through licensing, and then marketing those brands, has become an obligatory direction for vendors to take beyond just being a producer. "Stepping outside of the traditional realm has become a necessity for manufacturers in order for them to prosper in an ever-changing retail environment," Agarwal said.
Alok's Caribbean Joe launch encompasses a wide range of textiles categories ranging from decorative bed ensembles to sheets, bath and beach towels, kitchen textiles and table linens.
Certainly, brands have become more important in home textiles in recent years. What has been just as important, throughout the history of the category, is differentiating one's product offerings from that of competitors--and licenses are among the most obvious means for doing so. "In general, licenses are used as a differentiater to add intrinsic value to a product," said Louis Hornick III, chief operating officer of Louis Hornick.
The Bel-Air debut at September market included window treatments, decorative pillows, top-of-the-bed products, decorative throws and large plush towels with coordinating bath robes and slippers.
Another goal for the licenses introduced in September is to reinforce vendors' standing and provide new sales growth within specific channels of distribution. "Our partnership with Bel-Air provides Hornick the perfect opportunity to introduce the highest-quality home fashion products, allowing for distribution at the ultra-luxury end of the textile market," Hornick said. He added that the collection will be geared toward high-end national chains and independent retailers.
Bolstering business within specific distribution channels was also a prime reason for Hollander to play for Lauren Ralph Lauren, according the company's CEO, Chris Baker. "It will allow us to continue developing our business with department stores and better specialty stores," Baker said.
Another reason for Hollander to add Lauren Ralph Lauren to an already formidable lineup of brands was that the license "allows us to highlight our current capabilities in fill and fabrication development in basic bedding," said Beth Mack, Hollander's president of sales and merchandising.
It was significant that much of the September market's licensing activity involved the moves from one licensee to another. "In general, I believe that the market is looking for newness or a fresh approach to existing brands," said Brian Parnes, Downlite's vice president of marketing. "Branding helps to fill a need and speak directly to a specific customer base with something that resonates with them."
The initial launch of Downlite's Sealy program includes a Stearns & Foster-branded line of all-season comforters and bed pillows, with fill options of down and Primaloft down-alternative fill, which has been a long-standing fill alternative for the company. Downlite will also offer a Posturepedic-branded line of comforters and pillows, with down, feather and Primaloft fills.
Caribbean Joe, once also the property of WestPoint Home, also needed a refreshing, according to Agarwal. "Our goal for Caribbean Joe is to breathe new life into the brand," he said. "Take the designs to new heights, replacing the traditional designs we have come to expect from Caribbean Joe."
Agarwal summed up the attitude of all licensees and their view of these programs when he said, "Caribbean Joe helps us to further solidify the relationships we already have in place with several retailers, allowing us to bring them the added value they want to provide to the end consumer."