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Changes in store for fabric industry

HIGH POINT - Imagine pulling up an image of a plush velvet fabric on your tablet or smartphone and then running your fingers over the screen to feel the texture - no physical sample required.
     In its annual "5-in-5" list - five innovations that will change our lives in five years - IBM predicts that technologies like Disney's Revel system will eventually allow individuals to experience the sense of touch via the screens of mobile devices, distinguishing fabrics, textures and weaves through virtual tactile interaction.
     "It's already possible to recreate a sense of texture through vibration," said Robyn Schwartz, associate director of IBM Research Retail Analytics, and IBM Software Group Industry Solutions staff members Dhandapani Shanmugam and Siddique A. Mohammed on the IBM Research website.
     "But those vibrations haven't been translated into a lexicon, or dictionary of textures that match the physical experience. By matching variable- frequency patterns of vibration to physical objects so that when a shopper touches what the web page says is a silk shirt, the screen will emit vibrations that match what our skin mentally translates to the feel of silk."
     Disney's reverse electro vibration process would be a groundbreaking evolution for the textile industry.
     However, upholstery fabric suppliers aren't waiting on the possibility of this future technology to create enthusiasm for their products. Recent cutting-edge innovations in several areas have the potential to augment an already robust stationary upholstery category.

Woven steel
     At the Feria Habitat home furnishings trade show in Valencia, Spain, in September, one of the textile showstoppers was a steel-based woven fabric presented by Naturtex. Available in gold-tone, silver and black, the fabric has been used in roller blinds at the Tribeca Grand hotel in New York. Naturtex's sales manager, Fernando Belso, said the development of the steel weave was the result of a customer request.
     "We were producing rugs called Tamilux, made of wood fiber and Lurex (a metallic yarn)," Belso said. "One client wanted real steel instead of shiny Lurex, so we developed our Tamiferro collection."
     Customization options are the new norm in upholstered furniture, and Naturtex embraces an identical ideology for fabric. In addition to the steel weave, the company manufactures a cork fabric that can be used for wall covering and upholstery.
     "We are always challenging ourselves, doing what we know the most - experimenting with both materials and productive processes," Belso said. "This passion for the product and our flexibility help us bring new products to the market, and this is how we made the first sample of the stainless steel."

Self-cleaning yarn
     TWD Fibres GmbH is introducing a super-hydrophobic filament yarn with permanent built-in self-cleaning properties at this month's Heimtextil show in Frankfurt, Germany. The company's Diolen Clean project was developed in collaboration with the Institute for Textile Technology and Process Engineering in Denkendorf, Germany, and contrasts with the external refining processes used for traditional self-cleaning fabrics.
     "A botanical phenomenon, which can be observed for example in lotus plants, gave the impulse for this innovation - leaves with a rough and water-repellent surface structure self-clean, as dirt and microorganisms roll off with the rain," said Karsten Lips, sales manager for TWD Fibres. "The Diolen Clean Project achieves a permanent self-cleaning effect by using a specialized spinning process that integrates the self-cleaning effect into the yarn. It is expected that Diolen Clean will be available as polyester filament yarn in raw white, package or dope dyed in various yarn counts once further development work has been completed."
     Lips said TWD Fibres is planning to collaborate with fabric suppliers to conduct trials on potential uses for the yarn.
     "We would like to start in deeper fabric trials with some pilot fabric producers to learn more about typical end uses, like fabrics for home furnishings," Lips said. "If all the results and feedback are positive, then early in 2014, we can start offering to potential customers like weavers for home furnishings. Our first fabric samples will be available at Heimtextil, but not explicitly for home furnishings."

Domestic quilting
     In the past, the process of quilting fabric was a time consuming craft that produced inimitable results. Valdese Weavers is bringing the craftsmanship of quilting to the factory floor with a new machine that produces artful interpretations of quilted linens for $12 a yard, quilted velvets for $16 per yard and quilted silks in the mid $20 price range.
     "Quilting has always been a staple in the home furnishings market," said Mike Shelton, the company's president. "Valdese Weavers opted to invest in this machinery to maximize our creativity and to honor our service commitment to our customers.
     "A critical factor in maintaining this commitment is our vertical manufacturing operation, which gives us complete control of the ability to deliver exceptional service and a high level of value," Shelton added. "We are the only decorative jacquard weaver that has added quilting/embroidery to our array of finishing options."
     According to Furniture/Today research, 2012 sales of stationary upholstery were estimated at $14.5 billion, a growth of 5.3% from 2011. Additionally, 93% of consumers choose their furniture based on style and design, and 82% update their living/family rooms by purchasing upholstery, according to a recent Furniture/Today and Apartment Therapy Survey.
     The latest fabric innovations are stimulating supplements to the starting point of a vibrant category and will allow suppliers to create additional demand for their products.

A changing industry
     Whether at trade shows Showtime, MoOD or Heimtextil, fabric suppliers and buyers are noting significant developments in the textile industry. In an informal questionnaire from Furniture/Today, industry professionals discussed the innovations and market shifts that captured their attention:
     ► "The quality and value of fabrics from China continues to improve with better construction and yarns, in vivid colors, without significant price increases. Also, the range of innovative textures and colors in polyurethane fabrics and bonded leathers (is an important innovation)." - Steven Kahan, Regal Fabrics
     ► "I believe that the single largest change has been in what the manufacturers that see themselves as traditional have come to expect. With the downplaying, and in some homes, elimination, of a formal living room in favor of open, multi-use family spaces, we have seen a demand from those manufacturers for fabrics with classic design, but a cleaner, more open look, devoid of fussiness. We have also seen an openness to new colors from these same manufacturers." - Cathy Smith, De Leo Textiles
     ► "We are seeing a huge trend in performance fabrics for interior use. So many customers that we saw at Showtime are now using fabrics typically used in outdoor for interior use as well." - Joan Worthy, Phifer
     ► "Some (innovations) to mention are embossing of all types of product, embroidery, laundering and quilting. In the trim world, tapes and banding are hot. They go on pillows, bottoms of skirts and bottoms of sofas. I think applications to fabric like embroidery, sticking and appliques will continue to be strong." - Bob Patton, P/Kaufmann
     ► "Performance fabrics with cleanability/stain repellency, high abrasion and UV protection now have amazing hand and style. Quilting has added another dimension to the products that we weave or import, and we are doing amazing things with 100% polyester goods. We are weaving with novelty warps for the first time, which give our product a fresh new look. Our linen and our chenille warps are new to our mill, offering an innovative approach to both textures and patterns, and we continue to evolve our tapestry warps through both fiber type and color." - Zack Taylor, Valdese Weavers
     ► "Over the last five years, we have seen significant progress with synthetic fibers such as polyester and polypropylene. Synthetic yarns have improved and now have a better hand and softer finish. Additionally, we have experienced advances in the realm of new fabric finish technology, such as finishes using nanotechnology for stain repellency and abrasion resistance. These finishes are not just a staple of commercial markets these days and regularly cross over into residential furniture applications." - Greg Tarver, Covington Fabric
     ► "Keep an eye out for digital prints; I think they need to be watched. Also, embossed and flocked vinyls are going to be important, as are metallic and shimmers. I am spending a lot of energy developing and sourcing edgy and trendier fabrics - metallic, ‘bling' embossed and embellished, high drama, impact, digital and statement fabrics." - J.J. Jenkins, American Folk and Fabric

Disney’s RevelDisney’s Revel
IBM is predicting that technology like Disney’s Revel system, which allows users to “feel” what they touch on the screen of a mobile device, will be a life-changing innovation.
Naturtex’sNaturtex’s Tamiferro collection is a stainless steel weave fabric available in three finishes.
American Silk Mills introduced Chanel at Showtime.
Silk Mills
Valdese Weaver’sFrouFrou in Peacock showcases Valdese Weaver’s new quilting capability in fabrics priced from $12 to mid $20s per yard.
Covington Fabrics’ Tarzan combines a rainbow of colors with an animal print design. The fabric was one of the company’s top introductions in 2012.
Folk and FabricGraceful by American Folk and Fabric is $10.95 per yard and illustrates the company’s focus on edgy fabric designs.

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