In curtains the textile editor is still the absolute touchstone
The challenge is a really hard one. Outline a profile, as true to life as possible, of the various downstream figures in the production chain of furnishing fabrics and curtains. Hard but exciting. You could almost say indispensable, otherwise you’d be missing the basis for starting any discussion about how the future of the sector could evolve; for customers of the industry, for the customers of customers and, finally, also for the perception that the final consumer has of the upholstered fabric or of the curtain. In such a complicated field, we seek out a slightly easier approach and therefore we start from the curtain, in other words from the product sphere that, in the world of furnishing fabrics, is more recognizable, is in some way traceable and perceptible by the final consumer almost as a finished product, an element apart, with its own profile and its own personality in the world of room furnishings. Let’s be clear, personality that undoubtedly fabric also has but that, as we will examine later, gets hidden, almost dispelled by the “arrogance” of the furniture or design element. Something that on the other hand for curtains, unequivocal filters of ambient light, and the biggest surface available in the home for textile decoration, doesn’t happen.
Let’s start with curtains then, and to accompany us on this first introductory round we have chosen Diego Vercellino, managing director of Sirio Tendaggio and president of the Consorzio Tendaggio Italiano, one of the founding and sponsoring members of Proposte.
Q. – The curtain, among furnishing fabrics, is the product that moves down the distribution chain, all the way to final consumption, almost unchanged. That is why the channels that distribute it are easier to read, but also more “ruthless”. For example, the major DIY chains, with their big curtain departments, create a lot of confusion in the market. Do you agree?
A. – Only with the first part. It’s true what you say about the fact that the curtain, among textile furnishing products, is the one most similar to the finished product. Even if the intervention of those who suggest or create pairings – usually textile editors or interior designers – and then of those who install, often and willingly change the profile. While I absolutely don’t see the “do it yourself” chains – obviously you mean importers – as competitors. That type of competition takes place on the low end of the spectrum, which is certainly not ours. More than competitors, I see them as important opportunities. Opportunities how. Because precisely the big chains we are talking about tend, especially abroad, in countries where firms have already evolved to be more organized than in Italy, orientate their focus towards increasingly more stratified consumer targets and think about the higher range of these, which given the volumes we’re talking about, could carve out an important role in the landscape of interior furnishing textiles in the future, skipping over the intermediate links in the supply chain. But even if they didn’t skip them it would still create a market and, consequently, opportunities for us producers.
Q. – Ok. So the overall landscape is coming into focus. There are the classic textile editors that are still the boss and then the reality of these large-scale distributors. You also mentioned installers, are they still an important reality?
A. – They are an evolving reality. Abroad the installer is always more tied to a major distribution firm – and we return to large-scale, because it’s not all “do it yourself” when you go up in consumer targets – so maybe they are independent but they work for third parties. In Italy, on the other hand, the installer is often still the owner of a brick and mortar showroom, so the classic craftsman/merchant. A figure that is still important in our market, but I believe with a future in decline. Or rather, in transformation; as happens abroad, they will increasingly be someone who executes by following the indications of an interior designer, an interior decorator or a large-scale distributor that provides both services. Let’s also not forget e-commerce. I believe that this channel will soon wreak havoc even in our sector: I’m already hearing talk of tons of curtain samples being sent to people’s homes.
Q. – In any case, is the trend intermediary, the mediator between production ideas and market demands, still the textile editor?
A. – Absolutely, and that is why they remain our touchstone customer. Take for example our company: textile editors represent 80% of our business. I do not foresee any major changes to this customer channel structure. The percentages may vary a little, also depending on the markets we target, but this is our outlook. But so far we have talked about residential, what I really believe will grow will be contract. In that world, really large numbers are at play and the supplier/customer relationship could even develop without intermediaries.
Q. – Would you say that European curtain manufacturing exists, or is Italy the only place left with a strong manufacturing presence in the sector?
A. – We have to agree on the concept of Europe. If you’re talking about the current geographical composition then I find it hard to still think of “European curtains”. There are good companies in Spain, Belgium, France, in the characteristic and particular world of German curtains, but the truth is that Turkey has taken on a very big role due to its ability to respond to the requests of customer partners. We Italians are still the most creative and ingenious but they are much more structured in terms of size and very aggressive.
Q. – A nod to the global market. Where are curtains done well and where could the future be?
A. – Today markets are relatively simple to read. Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States are where it’s at. In Russia the geopolitical situation is a challenge and then it’s a market that is not very reliable. China was everyone’s great hope but it turned out to be disappointing and very difficult to follow. The only possible condition is to find a local partner and stand your ground in that market for the long-term. What’s left is Asia and Australia: interesting markets with good potential, but far away, complex and very expensive to deal with. But we should get there. Fortunately, more or less in a general sense, I can say that everywhere people have understood that the unbridled battle over price, on this product range, does not pay in the end. It is an attitude that is changing: whatever your target market is, if you want to do high-end editing, you must have different, original, creative and difficult to imitate products. All that has a cost.
Q. – Last question. There is a lot of talk about sustainability. In early October Sistema Moda Italia held a conference on the subject in Milan presenting important initiatives underway in the related clothing sector. Do you think it’s also an issue for curtain customers?
A. – I am absolutely certain of it. In my experience major editors are starting to look for collections that carry guarantees and certifications in terms of sustainability, both for the products and manufacturing. It will be an increasingly important topic, even becoming an indispensable condition for working in a certain range of consumer and of sensibility. It is definitely demanding and expensive for manufacturing, but I am convinced that it is indispensable and even in the rather short time.