• Cindy W. Hodnett

Performance fabrics popular

High Point - When Sunbrella hired Joe Ruggiero to design performance fabrics for interior furnishings 11 years ago, consumers had not yet hopped on the performance bandwagon. A longtime staple of outdoor furniture and awnings, performance fabrics were often dismissed as too stiff in hand or unimaginative in style for indoor residential use, and the number of consumers who requested them for furniture was minimal.
     Fast forward to 2014. Today, performance fabrics are used on one-third of all stationary sofas.
Additionally, a median of 30% of sofa units are sold with aftermarket protection.
     In the world of validated consumer trends, the numbers speak for themselves, and Ruggiero expects the numbers to continue to grow.

Sunbrella’s Artisan collection incorporates hand-made style and vibrant colors paired with textured neutrals.
Dusted collectionThe Dusted collection by Sunbrella combines soft pastels and textured solids for a monochromatic palette.

     "In the past four years, we have seen an explosion of people who are finally ‘getting' performance fabrics," he said. "People are tired of their fabrics fading or of telling their kids to keep their feet off the furniture, and the light bulb went off. People want to really live in their rooms and be comfortable."
     Ruggiero introduced several new collections for Sunbrella at Showtime in December and he applied the same design principles to the performance fabrics that he would use for any textile. Exotic was inspired by a document he discovered in Kyoto, Japan, and Country Color was patterned after an Amish quilt design. For the Flower Garden collection, Ruggiero looked to his own outdoor areas, as well as to the runways.

     "We're influenced by so many things when we put a collection together," Ruggiero said. "I start with Milan, New York and now, London is coming on strong. I also constantly look to fashion. For example, we saw silhouetted florals everywhere in fashion, and we incorporated that into the Flower Garden collection."
     The successful integration of fashion designs with performance function is a natural fit for consumer households with pets, children and active lifestyles, according to Ruggiero.
     "The important thing for performance fabrics is that we want people to select them for their patterns and colors," he said. "The fact that they are performance is just a lucky extra strike."

The Country Color collection by Joe Ruggiero for Sunbrella features strong geometrics and muted neutrals.
Joe Ruggiero
Flower GardenFlower Garden by Joe Ruggiero for Sunbrella highlights botanical designs.

     Increasing consumer demand for performance fabrics played a role in a double-digit sales increase for Bella-Dura in 2013. Sarah Keelen, senior Bella-Dura stylist, said the company had a strong response to the Lifestyles collection.
     "People are investing in better quality items, that will last rather than being disposable," Keelen said. "This is why indoor performance fabrics are becoming popular. People are realizing that you can have a beautiful, soft fabric and not worry about getting it dirty or pilling."

Bella-Dura's Lifestyles collection includes natural home, new traditional, transitional and urban terrace styles.

Flexsteel chairConsumer demand for performance fabrics continues to grow; one-third of all stationary sofa units are now covered in performance fabrics, according to F/T research. This Flexsteel chair features Crypton Home fabric.

     Randy Rubin, chair of Crypton, agrees that the more consumers learn about performance fabrics, the more they embrace them for indoor use.
     "We have been running focus groups in regions across the U.S. and it's very interesting that everyone who has participated in the focus groups has said emphatically that they want performance fabrics, which of course, is logical," Rubin said. "We have learned that people are happy to pay more for true performance fabrics, and we are working closely with manufacturers and furniture retailers to be graded in at popular and accessible price points."
     Crypton and Sunbrella have developed specific point-of-purchase materials to help retailers tell the performance story. Additionally, Bella-Dura, Crypton and Sunbrella offer a domestic fabric story that attracts many buyers.
     "We are currently conducting a beta test at Gorman's in Southfield, Mich., learning more every week about how to communicate our message to consumers and to the salespeople at retail," Rubin said. "Moving into 2014, video and social media will play a large role in our residential and consumer-focused planning."

Left: Valdese Weavers partnered with Crypton Home in 2013 to introduce Macklemore. Right: The partnership also unveiled, from left, Dicaprio, Addlestone, Robshaw and Rampone.

     And while telling the performance story to the consumer will continue to be a focus for each company, Ruggiero is confident that the ultimate selling points of performance will mirror those of all other fabrics.
     "People buy color, design and texture," he said. "The folks at Sunbrella are terrific at keeping up with the technology that allows us to create interesting colors and patterns, and making these collections comfortable continues to be my primary design goal."

Cindy HodnettCindy W. Hodnett | Upholstery/Style Editor

As the Upholstery/Style Editor for Furniture/Today, I spend my work hours studying the sloping curves of sofa frames, the intricacies of fabric and the nail head trim and button accents that function as jewelry on a piece of upholstery. I research the companies that bring these things together for retailers, and ultimately consumers, and interview industry leaders about their business strategies and where they think furniture is heading in the future. And when traveling, I provide a sneak peek at what I'm seeing, whether at international markets or in High Point or Las Vegas.

I look forward to sharing what I see and I hope you'll feel free to do the same. Email me at chodnett@furnituretoday.com or follow me on Twitter @CynthiaWHodnett.

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