The American Home Furnishings Alliance traces its history to the North Carolina Case Workers Association, formed in 1905 by 14 Southern furniture manufacturers in Gainsboro, North Carolina. James T. Ryan was the first executive director and served the group in that capacity for 54 years.
Soon after NCCWA was established, manufacturers outside North Carolina began to join the organization. In 1911 the name was changed to the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association to more accurately reflect the growing membership.
Throughout its early years, the purpose of the SFMA was to disseminate the newest management and technical information to members and to act as a watchdog against burdensome regulatory requirements and government intervention.
In 1928, a similar organization, the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers, was formed in Chicago to provide these same services to furniture manufacturers in the north. Although much of the residential furniture production shifted to the south after the Depression, Chicago remained the home of the largest furniture market, held each January at the American Furniture Mart.
During World War II, when raw materials used for furniture were in short supply, many manufacturers throughout the south converted operations to making bunk beds, ammunition boxes and other equipment needed in the war effort.
By 1947, the south was responsible for 33 percent of the nation’s total furniture production. During the 1950s, SFMA focused on government controls affecting prices, materials and labor. The 60s saw continued sales growth – and a corresponding expansion in the association’s services. Ryan retired in 1965, and the association established the James T. Ryan Award, now known as the Distinguished Service Award, which has been given in his honor every year since 1966.
Meanwhile, NAFM was also expanding in the north, establishing the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association in 1959 and organizing an associate member division for suppliers in 1964. Later, when NAFM and SFMA merged in 1984 to form the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, the SCFMA and Suppliers Division became key components in the new organization.
In 1993, imports represented roughly 25 percent of all wood household furniture sold in the United States and approximately 6 percent of upholstered household furniture. By 2002, however, imports had jumped to nearly 48 percent of the wood and 14 percent of the upholstered household furniture markets. In 2003, the AFMA Board of Directors began discussing potential changes to the Association to reflect the shifting business models of many of its member companies.
On November 5, 2004, the Board voted to change the organization’s name to the American Home Furnishings Alliance and to expand the membership criteria to embrace a broader cross-section of the U.S. furniture industry. Membership is now open to all manufacturers and importers of residential furniture for the U.S. market, as well as to all suppliers to this industry.
SCFMA followed with a similar expansion in 2008, changing its name to the International Casual Furnishings Association and opening membership to all entities involved in the casual furnishings industry, including manufacturers, importers, retailers, designers, sales representatives, suppliers and media associates.