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Fabric colors signal rebound

Textures reflect homes' blurred boundaries

Chris Schultz -- Casual Living, July 20, 2010

Outdoor performance fabric makers and casual furniture retailers are looking to mood-lifting bright colors, novelty yarns, decorative accessories and a slowly rebounding economy as key signs of life for the industry.
"We see colors for the casual industry continuing to be cheerful, brighter, but not garish," said Howard Ebert, sales manager at Swavelle/Mill Creek. "Times have been tough for the entire country the last two years and we're slowly coming out of it. The colors are bright, but they are all done in good taste. We're seeing blues, yellows and even blacks-and-whites, but in a stunning, eye-popping way. There are also tangerines, mango and spices ... but all happy colors."
"People are ready for color again," concurred Gina Wicker, design and creative director at Sunbrella fabrics maker Glen Raven. "Consumers were conservative last year and if they spent, they did it grudgingly, but they spent on something they thought would have a long life, meaning they didn't take risks with colors or patterns. What we're seeing now is a return to consumers who are ready to have some fun again. I don't expect furniture manufacturers to put flaming orange all over an entire sofa, but I do expect some pops of color with accent throw pillows, side chairs and umbrellas. Those aren't necessarily crayon brights like red, yellow, blue or green, but more secondary colors. Some oranges, but more toward the peachy side - softer - and we'll see the same thing with blues and greens. It won't be that bright apple green, but a more sophisticated, softer color."
"Consumers are coming in and asking about color and they want to see it on the floors," said Jayson Friedman, merchandising manager for retail chain Carls Patio. "Brighter colors like reds and terra cotta have remained popular and we're doing well with accents of yellows, blues and oranges. In fact, we're seeing some real play with bright orange." He said he expects these colors to remain strong for 2011 as well.
Pops of color are being shown with pillow packages, umbrellas and even on the showrooms' walls, Friedman said. "We have painted the walls in our showrooms, which used to be plain white to brighter colors," Friedman said. "And we're using teak furniture as a great way to show off our bright colors like aqua."
Although Phifer Inc. offers orange and other bright colors in its eco-friendly GeoBella Collection, National Market Manager Hugo Benitez doesn't look for quick acceptance from customers. "We expect traditional looks to continue to be strong with a move to driftwood gray finishes," Benitez said. "Neutrals will be sophisticated and textured with color shifting to murky tones."
According to Bew White, president of Summer Classics, various shades of green have been selling briskly. For 2011 he expects shades of gray, tan and what he names "naturals" to be top sellers with his customers.
Twitchell's Bud Styles, business manager for outdoor lifestyle products, also pinpoints naturals as a key color trend for 2011 along with oranges and rusts inspired partly by the uncertain economic times. "These are safe choices strictly because it is such a questionable market," Styles said. "There will be more splashes of lavender in 2011 - a strong influence from Europe - that will start to creep into the industry. But I also expect to see more textural elements like with our twist yarn category. We see growth in that added textural element, and we're already seeing some activity with it now."
Texture, said manufacturers across the board, is important in current collections and will be increasingly so for fabrics in development now for 2011 and beyond. Al Fresco Functional Fabrics has added more than 15 new yarns to its color palette for this season as well as several slub yarns and larger novelty yarns to create new and exciting textures, according to President Todd Nifong. At Sunbury, there will be more mixing of textures like boucles and chenilles, designer Michelle Clark said. Outdura is seeing movement with its linens and silks that are residentially inspired.
"We've taken that look and carried it to the outside with our novelty yarns with one in particular, our boucle," said Natalie Scott, VP Shuford Mills, casual furniture sales and marketing. "It is a proprietary yarn made exclusively for Shuford Mills and the two patterns we're doing well with are Rumor and Hotshot. What I like is that they are beautiful outside of the home, but they do have that linen-like feel, and that can work inside as well."
Swavelle's Tropix line for 2011 will include something entirely new. "This is the first time we will be bringing out eight new fabrics including indoor/outdoor faux leather in a new line called Xposure," Ebert said. "We're very excited about it as it has taken us three years to develop it properly. We'll be offering 21 colors."
The faux leathers are UV resistant upwards of 1,000 hours and are suitable for outdoor rooms that aren't actually fully exposed to weather, but covered by an overhang or with a screen. Ebert expects the line to do well with the contract market particularly with hotels that have bar areas, patios and lobbies that go indoors to outdoor. "This line has expanded our company's customer base to those we haven't sold before and it is allowing us further penetration to customers that we have had, but didn't have this product for them," Ebert said.
Not surprisingly, the faux leather and textural fabrics are creating outdoor performance collections that are also now viable as indoor residential options. As consumers look for upscale fabrics with staying power, stain resistance, water resistance and durability, deep seating outdoor performance fabrics, which continue to evolve in softness and style, are primed for living rooms, great rooms, sunrooms and dens as well as for their already established outdoor use.
Sarah Keelen, senior stylist at Wearbest, agreed that the outdoor market is getting much more sophisticated. "We are now using techniques on outdoor fabrics that we would typically use on indoor fabrics," she said.
As manufacturers continue to expand their designs for either outdoor or indoor use, the challenge will be educating the consumer. "There is no way for a consumer to understand the value of a fabric being offered that passes 1,000 light hours, and passes 15,000 double rubs versus a fabric that passes 2,000 hours and 30,000 double rubs," Nifong pointed out. "This type of information is not trickling down to the consumer so they can make an informed decision on how they would like to spend their hard-earned money."
Because getting the consumer to spend again is a major issue the casual furniture industry faces now and in the immediate future. Accessories, said some, could be a bright spot.
"The pillow business for us continues to explode," said Luis Hernandez, director of sales and marketing for Richloom's Solarium brand. "It's an easy buy and, relative to other product categories, a less expensive buy. The accessory market is an easier pill to swallow, if you will, as the purchase is not a big ticket."
Outdura's Scott agreed with the power of accents. "When you have a room, you get your core pieces. But absolutely it is trending where people want a lamp outside, they want drapes, a rug which has to be weather resistant, and consumers might not want matchy-matchy pillows so there really are a lot of a-la-carte items, if I can call it that, that are being added to the meat. It's huge and we're just seeing the beginnings of it."
Still, the questionable economy has left consumers reticent to spend and cautious about any non-discretionary items.
"Even in the economy that we're in, even though we are recovering slowly, the consumer is still very price-conscious," Ebert said. "You've heard the word ‘staycation' and that is all well and good, but the retail customer is still watching their pocketbook."
"In the last six months, things have loosened up a bit," said Friedman. "Before that, customers were coming in and everyone wanted a deal. People wanted to negotiate. It's more positive now, and they're not as conservative as they were a year ago, but we're not fully there yet."
"We're definitely seeing the consumer going for lower price points - even with new merchandise," confirmed White, Summer Classics. "Yes, the economy is rebounding, but people are not spending on non-discretionary product. If you want a watch, you can buy one for $25 or you can buy a Rolex for over $3,000. And we're selling Rolexes here. It's tough because consumers are trading themselves down. My store managers are telling me that customers will come into the store and spend an hour looking, but they don't want to take out that credit card."
"People are paying off their credit cards, not charging on them," said Styles. "That is why warranties, performance and getting the consumer educated is so important. Today, the consumer is shopping for something that is not disposable. They don't want to buy something and then throw it away."

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