Ode to Sheets & Towels
I don't want to get all sappy here - I don't do maudlin well - but I just read something that I think may help make this wonderful world of home textiles in which we all try to make a living somewhat more tolerant.
It was an article about the point-and-shoot digital camera business and what's happened to it in the age of iPhones, smartphones and other techno-wizardry.
We all know the film camera business has virtually disappeared, to the extent that Kodak is in bankruptcy and if you were running a one-hour photo processing service you have probably turned into a soft-serve ice cream stand by now.
The culprit was the digital camera, but now the same thing is happening to those products. The folks who monitor camera sales say global shipments of compact digital cameras are off 42% in the first five months of this year.
42%! That's a worse drop than JCPenney comps.
The villain this time is the smartphone, and if you've seen the most recent iPhone TV commercials you know that device is now responsible for more pictures than any other electronic gadget anywhere.
It's estimated that 1.6 trillion - TRILLION - pictures are taken annually and that those from camera-only devices represent maybe 10% of that total.
What an utterly amazing - and incredibly fast - transformation of an entire industry. Even the 8-track tape business didn't disintegrate that quickly. Cathode-ray televisions took decades to lose their dominant position to flat panel sets.
The pace of change in consumer products is just mind-boggling, and while it's most pronounced in tech merchandise, no industry is truly immune.
Which brings us back to home textiles. Some 65 years after the invention of the fitted sheet it is still pretty much the default product people put on their beds and use every night. There have been no Jetsonian automatic bed linens coming along.
The towel hasn't changed very much, and if maybe it's softer or larger or dries faster, it's still pretty much a terry weave piece of fabric. Marty McFly's self-drying jacket technology is not yet to be found in American bathrooms.
Which is not to say colors don't change, fashion doesn't evolve and designs don't come and go. But the industry's products are in no danger of becoming obsolete or being replaced by newer technologies. There isn't much chance of the consumer changing their habits and deciding not to sleep in beds at night or walk around wet during the day.
One can argue that the lack of change is one of the industry's greatest problems and that a little planned obsolescence would go a long way in driving sales. And that's a good point.
But there's some sort of reassuring feeling that the business of making sheets and towels will be around long after we're not.
And you can't say that about too many things anymore, now can you?