Outdoor fabrics take center stage at summer Showtime
Susan Andrews -- Casual Living, July 1, 2008
Outdoor fabrics were among the most successful segments at Showtime 2008 in High Point, N.C. last month. Despite current economic conditions, altered dates and timing coming off a national holiday, Showtime was busy and productive for companies that showed up to play.
Major buzz was created around Libeco Lagae, the Belgian linen specialist that showed its first outdoor linen. It was marketed with a photo demonstrating the product’s water-repellency. Kathryn Richardson, vice president of sales, said the Q305 product was inevitable because upscale consumers create outdoor spaces that are extensions of their indoor rooms.
“They want quality of life and harmony with nature, so outdoor furniture has to meet higher standards in quality, sustainability and comfort,” Richardson said.
In addition to linen’s ancient story as a natural luxury fiber that is 100% biodegradable, Libeco does not use harmful products in finishing the fabric and recycles all water used in production. Richardson said the outdoor linen, also a good choice for interior applications, is 91% linen with 9% nylon added for durability. It is highly colorfast to seawater, pool water and sunlight and resistant to stains and mold.
“It’s differentiated (in the outdoor fabric market) by being a natural fiber,” Richardson said. “There’s a nanotechnology used to bond the outdoor finish to the linen fibers so it’s permanent and completely washable and dry cleanable.
“We also recycle the water that goes into the dyeing and finishing processes and the water that comes out of those processes,” Richardson added. “And we meet REACH standards, which are strict European standards for the storage and use of chemicals.”
Additional weights and patterns of Libeco’s outdoor linen are in development and will be launched in September at Decosit in Brussels, Belgium.
Also constantly humming was the showroom of fast-growing Stroup Fabric, debuting its first outdoor collection called Special Performance and Outdoor Fabrics SPF 1500, which attracted a constant crowd of buyers in attendance.
Designer Bess Rosefield Ehmcke spent six months developing 32 patterns and eight colorways for the initial line, which ranges from cool neutral palettes of cream and tan to a bright, happy colorway called Sunblue.
“Outdoor is no longer a one-season segment,” Rosefield Ehmcke said. “We’re all concerned with the world – health, ecology and political issues. Outdoors is the new frontier. Cocooning is old, but we’re healed now and it’s plain to see it architecturally in the elements used in the outdoor rooms – stone, copper – all these elements that fuse and blend fabrics and frames to create our space outdoors.”
The SPF 1500 fabrics are all-polyester, antimony free, and soil and stain resistant. The initial group features three stripe stories, with
several colors incorporated into the stripes to let designers create custom hybrid stories by using the stripes to marry several color ways.
The colorways include Mocha (chocolate and linen), Spice (red and linen), Kiwi (cream and green), Sunblue (brights including mid-range blue, daffodil yellow, apple red and bleach white), Linen (off-white and tan), Palm Branch (chocolate and green), Marble (black and tan) and Spa (chocolate and mist).
In addition to flat wovens, the collection features outdoor chenilles and boucles for added diversity, texture and dimension.
A recent reorganization at Shuford “created an enormous asset for us because now we have Stephen Shuford as executive vice president,” according to Natalie Scott, vice president, customer development for the Outdura division. “Shuford Mills is a 100-year-old family business that continues to invest in Outdura. We’ve also added additional customer service positions, and we’re growing and supporting our customers’ needs.”
Among new Outdura Premiere fabrics were collections called Rock the Kasbah, which featured multicolor effects in exotic patterns that marry perfectly with plains such as Epic and Fusion.
Swavelle/Mill Creek launched an outdoor line called Tropix, featuring prints on spun polyester and meeting industry standards for lightfastness.
Howard Ebert, recently named sales manager for Tropix, said the company “did a lot of R&D for a long time and studied colors carefully, because we are a prime print house in the industry and we intend to be a prime source for both over-the-counter sales and for furniture manufacturers with this new outdoor line.”
The initial line for popularly priced Tropix features 45 SKUs, including nine designs and five colorways.
Ebert said the line will be expanded later this year to include wovens as well as prints.
Strength of the segment
The outdoor category’s players – fabric designers, interior designers, furniture manufacturers and retailers – are building a better and stronger segment that seems to keep gaining importance, especially at the high end where consumers aren’t troubled by $4-a-gallon gasoline and fast-rising food prices.
At Glen Raven, for example, which markets Sunbrella, Gina Wicker, design and creative director, said interior designers are now playing outside.
“Outdoor fabrics are not about finding the right one-inch stripe anymore – it was a man’s world then, but not now,” Wicker said.
“We’re targeting markets better, such as upscale interior residential customers, but the line works for the outdoor customer as well because of its sophisticated patterns,” Wicker added. “In fact, we have launched Sunbrella Select especially for the outdoor market – with more color and edgier design.”
“The partnership between outdoor retailers and interior decorators is getting better and growing,” Wicker said. “Examples like Tropitone, Norwalk and Robb & Stucky show what designers can bring to the retail business.”
Thinking of outdoor spaces as rooms expands the market as well, Wicker said.
“Designers think of the space in a room as having boundaries like the ceiling, walls, floor,” she said. “In an outdoor room a canopy can serve as the ceiling, for example, and awnings can be architectural details as well as providing shade and protection from the drizzle. Outdoor fabrics in different textures help create 'walls’ like room dividers and canopy drapes.
“Having fabrics that can work for all those elements makes a big difference when you’re trying to give designers the tools they need to work outside,” Wicker said.
Another first-time outdoor line was launched by Westlake, a High Point-based converter . At Westlake, industry veteran Steve Mischen presented Vibrant, which is made of 100% Innova yarns (solution-dyed polypropylene). The group features seven colorways – Carob, Lake, Sea Glass, Granite, Mango, Pineapple and Taupe.
Vibrant is touted as antimicrobial, bleach-cleanable, and heavy-duty for indoor or outdoor use, and has an additional “green” characteristic of being made without a latex back finish. Mischen said polypropylene is the least energy-consumptive among outdoor yarns when the entire process is calculated.
The Vibrant line is produced in Mexico and offered as roll goods, cut-and-sewn seats and backs, and replacement or decorative pillows for retailers and furniture manufacturers.