Fabric business

New players and new applications are changing the performance fabrics business

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a significant change in the fabric industry. As more manufacturers and retailers enter the outdoor business, the demand for fabrics that will work in outdoor rooms has grown exponentially. And these fabrics have crossed the threshold into the home, appealing to consumers who demand a high level of durability. While we used to call these textiles “outdoor fabrics”, this nickname is now outdated. Performance is the most precise term to define these versatile materials.

“Performance means something different to everyone,” says Greg Thomases, vice president of Swavelle, parent company of Bella-Dura Home. “But whether it’s a retailer, a manufacturer or a wholesaler, the idea really is cleanability and

With this broader definition, innovations in materials that create a softer hand and greater style that leads to increased application of these fabrics both outside and inside the home, many companies seized the opportunity represented by performance to develop their business.

“Consumers see performance fabrics as one big category and don’t divide it between outdoor and indoor spaces,” says Lori Jo Shea, design director for Richloom Fabrics Group’s Fortress Indoor/Outdoor performance fabrics brand. “We often see customers mixing indoor and outdoor performance fabrics in the same environment. We leverage these diverse sales channels from all product divisions using design and trend information for the benefit of all.

And with this mix, fabric companies create performance textiles that are essentially interchangeable, both in style and function, inside and out. “From an evolutionary perspective, we see that people don’t just want fabric that performs well, they want fabric that performs well and has a strong sense of design to allow expression through texture, contrast and color. visual interest,” says Steve. Pawl, Marketing Manager, Sunbrella. “People want soft, fashion-forward performance fabrics that apply to indoor and outdoor spaces.”

New players
Culp added its first set of outdoor-suitable fabrics to its existing collection of performance textiles last November during Showtime. The company launched a limited initial offering of just five to six washcloths and seven to eight mix-and-match pillow prints in four color stories. Tammy Buckner, senior vice president of marketing and design at Culp, said the first set of LiveSmart Outdoor fabrics has been very well received. But why did the company decide to go into the outdoors? Buckner says that’s largely because the company felt primed by the success of its just over four-year-old line of Livesmart interior performance fabrics.

“A lot of our residential customers are now doing outdoors,” she says. “It’s just a market that has really exploded. Ever since we launched Livesmart, we’ve been asked, “Can this be used outdoors?” so this expansion just answers that question with fabrics that go with our already successful Livesmart interior pieces.


Buckner says the blurred lines between interior and exterior trends also made it easier. Citing trends she and others from Culp spotted at Maison Objet and more, Buckner says it’s no longer about “crispy” and rough outdoor fabrics in traditional designs like stripes. neon awning which are all functional and without design. Instead, she says Culp is able to apply the company’s indoor trends directly to Livesmart Outdoor.

“We really wanted to bring our Livesmart line outside and also give customers the ability to take the outdoor capabilities indoors if they need it for areas like game rooms, game rooms and things. like that,” Buckner explains.

To make that easier, Buckner says Culp didn’t change the Livesmart color scheme for its initial outdoor launch. Now that Livesmart Outdoor’s soft launch has gone well, Buckner says the line will also expand to this indoor game, offering more bodywear choices and build options. The idea is to offer Livesmart Outdoor in “as many versatile builds as the usual Livesmart brand offers”.

“We’re trying to make the transition easy and give the lines some versatility with the same combination of quality and price that we offer,” says Buckner.

Much like Culp, Revolution Performance Fabrics spent nearly four years in the indoor performance textiles business before moving outdoors recently as well, and for many of the same reasons as Culp.

“Getting into the outdoors is a natural move for a successful brand,” said Anderson Gibbons, vice president of marketing at Specialty Textiles Inc. (STI), Revolution’s parent company. “Especially since the design differences between the interior and exterior are starting to fade, and we’re starting to see people want some of that exterior protection as well, like water resistance, on the interior as well. .”

Revolutionary performance fabrics

The brand’s fabrics, made from polypropylene, a recycled by-product of petroleum refining, have several inherent performance characteristics, such as stain resistance and strength, but lack the water resistance and the light fastness often associated with outdoor fabrics. So, to launch Revolution Outdoor, the company incorporated more UV stabilizers into its material and added an optional water-resistant wax-based finish.

Revolution completed the full launch of its outdoor collection in September at Casual Market Chicago, but the brand continued to push the category hard, devoting new promotional and instructional videos to outdoor fabric topics and transforming the facade of its showroom during the November Showtime Market into an outdoor vignette with furniture from its partners like Polywood and Braxton Culler.

“There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to the outdoor industry,” says Gibbons. “But, it was interesting to discover a new category and learn about the buying cycle and some of the style differences between indoor and outdoor upholstery. Despite the overlap, the trends differ and you need to know your audience. You can’t just rely on the blur between inside and outside to get you through this.

Outdoor expansion
Swavelle entered the outdoors in 2018 with the acquisition of Al Fresco Functional Fabrics. They doubled down on that investment in the performance fabrics business by acquiring Bella-Dura in 2019, renaming and refocusing the line, shifting primarily from hospitality to the Bella-Dura residential home. The new collection debuted at November’s Showtime Market.

Home Bella Dura

“We’ve seen the industry continually demand fabrics that perform, and that’s one of the reasons we acquired the Bella-Dura brand, which was already known for its contract-grade fabrics for the hotel industry,” explains Swavelle’s Thomases. “We wanted to get into performance fabrics where we believe the indoor/outdoor trends are not just in hospitality and contract, but are moving towards residential.”

Swavelle has capitalized on Bella-Dura’s reputation for high-end design and combined it with its own production capabilities to create a new product that can work not only in the garden, but also inside the house. House.

“Bella-Dura has a high level of design and style, and we wanted to bring that into the residential space,” says Thomases. “We take the capabilities of factory and other domestic resources and produce for the residential market textiles with a softer hand and decorative looks, all aimed at the world of residential performance, both for exterior and inside.”

Inner look
One of the most lucrative new avenues for performance fabric manufacturers has proven to be interior applications on upholstery, drapery and more. For high traffic areas frequented by children and pets, sunny locations near windows and anywhere a high level of durability and ease of cleaning is required, performance fabrics have become an attractive choice.

Sunbrella has certainly led the charge in this movement. The company has focused on innovating its fabrics to have the same look and feel as interior textiles only, but it has also made a major investment in marketing the interior applications of its products. .


“We have invested heavily in the development of cozy and comfortable fabrics for application inside the home,” says Sunbrella’s Pawl. “For example, our Chartres fabric is a multi-dimensional plain that uses our chenille yarn, delivering all the performance attributes you know and expect from Sunbrella with superior softness and comfort for residential indoor use. We continue to push the boundaries of indoor performance comfort with the development of chenille, bouclé and heathered yarns, as well as felted and brushed finishes that put interior aesthetics first.

And Sunbrella isn’t the only company capitalizing on this increased demand for performance materials for interiors. Valdese Weavers’ InsideOut performance line has expanded to include performance velor and leather looks, and Ultrafabrics has a long history of producing performance leather looks that reflect real skin.

At Richloom, the company’s interior and exterior design teams work closely together to help capitalize on the synergies between its interior and exterior ranges as indoor demand for performance fabrics increases.

“Over the past few years, the concept of performance fabrics has grown exponentially, moving from outdoor fabrics to being a key part of any outdoor space, while indoor performance fabrics are now seen as a staple,” says Jeannie Corey, Director of Upholstery Design at Richloom. .

Whatever the application, however, one thing is clear: the performance fabric industry is changing and this evolution gives furniture manufacturers, interior designers and ultimately consumers the creative freedom to create the outdoor and indoor spaces of their dreams.