Counting Down? | Textiles | Mar 2016

Sheet performance has become an important consideration in consumers’ purchase decisions, along with threat count
Posted on March 2, 2016 by David Gill

By David Gill

HomeSourceInternationalHome Source International’s bamboo sheets are answering consumer demand for higher performance sheets. homesourceinternational.com
For decades, thread count has been the number one driver of sheet sales. Retailers emblazoned the thread counts of their sheet sets on packaging and signage, and manufacturers kept raising the bar by taking thread counts higher and higher.

The perceived wisdom has been that the higher the thread count (the number of threads per square inch), the better the quality of the sheet. Correspondingly, thread counts have surged over the past 25 years. In the early 1990s, a thread count of 200 or 250 was the norm. From there, thread counts rose to 300, 400, 800, now even to 1,000.

Recently, however, consumers have shown that they are considering other factors. Thread count remains a critical touchpoint, but so are softness and feel, plus whether or not the sheet enhances the quality of sleep.

“Performance factors are becoming more important, such as temperature control and moisture control,” said Seth Stevens, lead designer for Kmart’s home department. “The performance factors are about comfort. Temperature control keeps you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Moisture control wicks away moisture so the sheets don’t feel damp if you sweat while you sleep.”

Other retailers report that texture and feel are rising in importance. “As a result, there has been a strong demand in softer and more affordable materials, such as microfiber,” said Becca James, senior category manager at Wayfair.com. Other materials in high demand include 100 percent cotton, Egyptian cotton, flannel and bamboo.

KmartThe success of Kmart’s 1,000-thread-count sheet set shows that thread count is still important when consumers consider what sheets to buy. kmart.com
New Materials and Fibers

Manufacturers are responding by including these materials in their sheets. Home Source International, for example, now carries sheets made from bamboo and Tencel—a fiber produced by Lenzing, a manufacturer of man-made fibers that are derived from material extracted from wood.

Such fibers have been shown to enhance sleep, according to research provided by Home Source. Bamboo is “superior to cotton in moisture management and ventilation control, cool to the touch and prevents stickiness in warm conditions,” the company said. Tencel has been “documented through verifiable testing to inhibit and lower the potential growth of bacteria by not providing an environment for its growth, and without the addition of harmful chemicals.”

These benefits have resonated with shoppers, said Keith Sorgeloos, Home Source’s president and CEO. “Consumers spend a third of their life sleeping, and they want sheets that provide comfort and the best night’s sleep possible,” Sorgeloos said, noting that higher thread counts in sheets produce a hotter sleep. “Thread count is beginning to lose its steam,” he said. “It is more about fiber, construction and comfort.”

Richard Roman, president and CEO of Revman International, agreed with Sorgeloos. “Thread count is still important, but not as much as it used to be,” Roman said. “Some high-thread-count product doesn’t perform the way it should, and consumers have wised up to that. They are now more interested in feel, and we are using fabrics that are given a special additional wash that creates a softer feel.”

However, not everyone agrees with Sorgeloos. “Thread count continues to play a dominant role when shoppers are deciding to buy sheets,” said Stephen Cardino, vice president and fashion director for Macy’s home department. “The higher the thread count, the denser the weave of the material. This is important because density equates to strength.”

At Kmart, while performance is playing a bigger role with its shoppers, thread count remains an important consideration. “We have had a lot of success offering high thread-count sheet sets in cotton/poly blends at a hot price point,” Stevens said. One such product available at Kmart is a 1,000-thread-count sheet set, which sells for a regular retail price of $59.99. (Sears, Kmart’s sister retail chain, also offers a 1,000-thread-count sheet set).

Whether shoppers hinge their decisions on thread count or performance, some untraditional designs have emerged on consumers’ radar. “Whimsy is popular among customers, including artistic influences, words or messages, and even exotic animal icons,” Cardino said.

“We have noticed a trend in the popularity of novelty or seasonal sheets, such as snowflakes and sheets printed in floral or coastal themes,” James said. This has led to an uptick in the number of Wayfair.com customers buying multiple units in one order, she added.

Although such designs are in vogue among some consumers, solid color sheets still hold sway. In terms of the solids that are tracking well, James said, “Neutral-colored sheets, including white, beiges and taupes, are continuing to rise as the top looked-for products in the sheet category.

James has also seen positive reactions to blue shades—as has Cardino, who said: “Indigo blues are dominant in the home. Blue as a color family has become the new neutral. Layering shades of blue with hints of coral will transition well into summer.”