Performance fabrics find solid foothold indoors
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, March 4, 2013
HIGH POINT - Fifteen years ago, interior designer Martha Lowry came up with an unusual solution for one of her custom residential projects. After meeting with her client and learning more about a busy household that included kids, dogs and frequent elementary and middle-school sleepovers, Lowry recommended that her client consider an outdoor performance fabric for custom indoor slipcovers in a casual dining area.
It was an unconventional proposal at the time, and although the client was initially skeptical, she decided to go with the designer's recommendation. Lowry said the resulting chair grouping exceeded the client's expectations for a stylish fabric that would hold up to the rigorous routine of the household, and the project proved to be a precursor for a trend that has become prominent in the upholstered furniture category.
According to Furniture/Today and FurnitureDealer.net's Consumer Survey in November, 25% of the respondents between 25 and 34 years old reported buying furniture with fabric advertised as stain, fade and/or mildew resistant for indoor use. In the 35-44 demographic, the number increased to 36%, and in the 45-54 range, 33% reported buying furniture with performance fabric for indoor use.
Advances in the production of performance fabrics have exponentially increased the category's desirability and the potential for unlimited indoor applications. From a softer hand to a rainbow of colors and a smorgasbord of textures, performance fabrics now offer characteristics traditionally associated with dedicated indoor materials, along with the consumer-favored trait of durability.
"Twenty years ago, consumers didn't have performance textiles; they simply had a spray-on remedy available at point of purchase," said Randy Rubin, co-owner of Crypton Fabrics. "Today, the consumer is much more sophisticated and research oriented and knows that they have options, and they request performance products in textiles and other facets of their shopping activity. Performance is a key differentiator and is, in fact, a search word that consumers use when looking for a product. We see it daily on our website."
"Twenty years ago, the term performance fabric was primarily attributed to vinyl," said Irwin Gasner, CEO of Wearbest, parent company of Bella- Dura. "What was once an industry secret - performance fabrics - is out. Consumers are now aware of the category and they know they can now ask for fabrics that resist spills and stains. It is an exciting time for our category."
Glen Raven's Greg Rosendale said that product advances have transformed the performance fabric category.
"The evolution of the design, texture and style of performance fabrics has attracted consumers to use them as they would ‘normal' fabrics inside of a home," Rosendale said. "Consumers want more than just stain resistance. They also want fade resistance, a soft and supple hand and something that is easy to clean and stylish."
The rise in popularity for performance fabrics has been substantial. Rubin said the first yard of Crypton was sold in 1993, and by 2012, more than 100 million yards had been sold. As the company prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, Rubin said the positive trajectory reflects the diverse product capabilities of today's performance fabrics.
"The biggest misconception about performance products is that they are limited to spill resistancy," she said. "In reality, they can provide anti-microbial protection, stain resistancy, and odor and moisture resistancy and protection. Consumers really don't understand the category yet, and one of the biggest challenges is at the retail level and educating salespeople so they can in turn educate consumers on what they can and should expect from a performance fabric."
At Wearbest, sales increased more than 52% in 2012. Gasner attributes the strength of the Bella-Dura line to the fabric's dual functions of "beauty and durability."
"Performance fabrics have come a long way, making great strides from the dull and stiff fabrics of yore," he said. "We made it our mission to create clean, bright, fresh colors that were not available years ago. Our technology and sustainable yarns enable us to create these vibrant colors and patterns that possess a soft hand. Consumers want fabrics that look and feel great first and perform second, and it has been proven that they will invest more in a fabric that performs, but offers the look and feel that dictates their ultimate purchasing decisions."
Crypton is planning a major new product introduction later this year that company officials said is certain to surprise retailers and consumers. Rubin said interest in the performance fabric category continues to grow.
"Crypton works with United States mills, and every mill we work with is showing an increase in the Crypton demand," she said.
"We know the category is starting to explode based upon demand for our products - both to the trade and to the consumer," Gasner said. "We think consumers will continue to demand outstanding performance while also looking for clean, safe and sustainable fabric solutions."