A Life Well Lived
By Tom Lassiter
Photos: © Lucky Shot productions. Cindy Burnham Photographer.
Randy Trull was already 40 years into his career of designing decorative textiles, primarily for the bedroom, when Glen Raven Mills came calling at his New York studio. Bill Clinton was in his first term as president and Hunter Green was the most adventurous color in outdoor furnishings.
Trull’s expertise was in products such as bedspreads, pillow shams and curtains. A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, interiors were his thing, though he once flirted with the menswear market. He and his staff busied themselves creating products for companies that provided goods for page after page of the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs.
They also designed wallpaper and prints for converters, the fabric houses that turn run-of-the-mill greige goods into finished yardage for home furnishings, decorative items, and other uses. Trull and his staff had plenty of work.
“I’ll be truthful,” Trull says now. “I had never even heard of Glen Raven Mills, and I certainly hadn’t heard of Sunbrella.”
But the representatives of the North Carolina textile company were persuasive. Trull recalls that Glen Raven Mills (now called Glen Raven, Inc.) wanted him to assist in developing and selling some new looks for Sunbrella, specifically prints.
Prints no longer are part of the Sunbrella line, but in the early 1990s, Glen Raven printed designs on white Sunbrella base fabric.
Trull considered the offer from Glen Raven and eventually consented.
Sunbrella’s line at that time consisted of “stripes, checks, and solids,” Trull recalls. Prints gave the manufacturer something fresh for the casual industry. “We sold prints all over the place,” Trull says. “I went on the road and sold them. They became a very ‘plus’ addition to Sunbrella.”
Once exposed to the world of casual furniture, Trull began to see possibilities in the marketplace. New concepts and fresh ideas were his stock in trade.
For example, he once convinced a bedding manufacturer to place three pillow shams across the top of a bed in advertisements. “They said, ‘Why would anybody buy three?’ Because it will look more luxurious and luscious,” Trull says he answered. “I changed their total thinking of what they could sell for the bedroom.”
(Which means that if you’re exasperated by having to move a dozen pillows before slipping into your Casual Market hotel bed – or your bed at home – blame Trull. He takes the credit.)
|Why would anyone buy more than a few bed pillows? “Because it will look more luxurious and luscious,” says Trull.|
Trull saw more opportunities to use his expertise to tweak Glen Raven’s Sunbrella line. “I want to do jacquards,” he recalls saying.
Jacquards, of course, are textiles with a design woven into the fabric itself rather than being printed on the material. The technique creates a finished product with more definition than a flat weave. The hand, or feel of the fabric, varies with the weave. Jacquards by nature connote luxury and were a staple in the bedding industry.
Weaving jacquards requires special looms, looms that Glen Raven did not own. The company once had contracted with another mill to make jacquards, but that relationship had ended by the time Trull entered the scene.
Trull, however, knew of an experienced company with jacquard looms and the expertise to create luxurious fabrics: Sunbury Textile Mills in Pennsylvania.
Trull called on a Sunbury vice president. “I said, ‘You know jacquards, and I know looks.’ We agreed it could be a great thing for both companies.”
Trull was right. More than 20 years later, Sunbury Mills remains the exclusive weaver of Sunbrella’s jacquard fabrics.
Trull’s connections in the home furnishings world, from mills to converters to major retailers, sweetened the deal for Glen Raven. “He knew everybody,” says David Swers, president of Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, which includes Sunbrella.
Trull’s good taste and knack for building collections helped broaden the Sunbrella line’s appeal within the casual furniture industry and beyond. It was during Trull’s association with Glen Raven that the Sunbrella brand grew its market share to become the No. 1 performance fabric in casual living.
Trull treasures the accolades that came his way at the retirement party Glen Raven threw for him. His favorite compliment came from Allen E. Gant, Jr., chairman and CEO. Gant told the crowd that Sunbrella products represented 10 percent of Glen Raven’s volume when Trull came on board. He gave the designer credit for helping the Sunbrella line grow to represent 90 percent of Glen Raven’s volume.
Gant remains a fan today. “Randy is one of the most creative individuals I’ve ever known,” he says. “He pushed us hard to really open our horizons. He literally opened a whole new avenue of fabrics and ideas that we didn’t have. I can’t say enough good things about Randy.”
Trull has a gift for creating collections “that always look fantastic,” Gant says.
One of his gifts is being able to weed out the good from the great. He can “see the best possibilities in a large number of fabrics and pare them down into a collection size,” says Stephanie Cizinsky, a Glen Raven marketing manager.
Trull, a gregarious, talkative character, indeed was well connected in the world of textiles. He worked with or for a number of leading decorative fabric makers, including mills and companies that made or marketed finished goods. He had a long association with Crocill, a maker of luxury products for the bedroom, bath and home décor.
“When I left Crocill, I was working all over the world,” Trull says. “I was doing fabrics in Sweden; I did some in Romania.” Other contracts introduced him to Japanese mills.
“Because of Randy, we partnered with Sunbury,” Swers says. “That partnership allowed us to enter the jobber business with very high-end, beautiful looks. Randy helped us very much get into the decorative business. He brought us into a more design-oriented program.
“We’ve come a long way,” Swers says. “It’s a different world for us.”
|Trull discussing his favorite topic – textiles.|
Trull’s knack for developing saleable looks in textiles rewarded him well. At one time he had a flat in London as well as a New York apartment. He’s a longtime owner of motor yachts. He loves being on the water, especially on a vessel large enough to socialize and entertain. He docks his 53-foot Hatteras in Southport, North Carolina, not far from his home in Wilmington.
The homes and yachts made possible by his career were not his motivation, Trull says.
“It was never about money,” he says. “It was about trying to think of something that I could do that someone else hadn’t done.” And, he says, “make it good.”
Tufted bedspreads were standard in American homes when Trull contracted with Bates Manufacturing Co. (The Bates brand name continues today under Maine Heritage Weavers). Trull pushed Bates to make printed bedspreads. They were a hit.
So was what he did with corduroy during his brief stint in menswear. Trull had designs printed on corduroy. “Nobody had ever done that before,” he says.
It was the 1960s, and cords were the rage. Trull designed some corduroy jeans. “Nothing special, except that I turned the corduroy sideways and that became a hot thing,” he says. “I will never forget that.”
Nor has he forgotten that the person who signed off on his idea ordered 50,000 yards of corduroy before the idea was presented to buyers. “That industry is wild,” Trull says, and the crazy cords were a hit. But he soon retreated to his first love, home furnishings. “I only did that for two seasons. That was enough,” he says of the clothing industry. “I said, ‘That’s not for me.’”
Trull decided to slow down about six years ago, when he turned 80 and stepped away from Glen Raven. He began spending more time in Wilmington, where he had opened a shop to sell antiques collected on his visits to London.
Trull added Sunbrella fabrics to the offerings at his shop, Classic Designs. He met other designers in his adopted hometown and, before long, he had another new venture.
“I’m always thinking of something new to do,” he says. With partners John Miller and Sherry Black (both designers) and a financial backer, MFANO, LLC, was born.
MFANO (pronounced muh-FAHN-o) designs and sells decorative performance fabrics. The company – which identifies itself as a decorative jobber – offers more than 160 SKUs, with about 80 percent being exclusive to MFANO, says Trull’s partner Miller.
The name MFANO means absolutely nothing, Trull says. He likens it to Exxon, a made-up name so unique that it could be easily registered and protected worldwide.
Most of the MFANO line is manufactured by Glen Raven or Sunbury, with a few fabrics sourced from the Italian brand Tempotest, made by Para Group. All the fabrics are made of solution-dyed acrylic.
MFANO also offers a few open-line Sunbrella fabrics.
The initial product line focused on soft goods, Miller says – tablecloths, bedding, drapery panels, and accent pillows.
“We were basically competing with Elaine Smith,” the now well-known maker of performance-fabric pillows, Miller says. “But we recognized pretty quickly that we didn’t want to sell just pillows.”
Even so, MFANO is still in the pillow business. The online merchant Wayfair is one of its vendors. Production is at a cut-and-sew operation that MFANO runs in Wilmington. That division is known as Pender Creek Design Workshop.
Over the last two years, Miller says, the company has developed a team of 15 sales representatives and has concentrated on getting placement in fabric showrooms. The line is currently available in showrooms from London to Miami to San Francisco.
Seasonal Living, the Texas-based casual living products company, has signed on with MFANO and featured the line in its space at the fall High Point Market.
Gary Pettitt, founder of Seasonal Living, says he was attracted by MFANO’s products and, much like Glen Raven, by Trull himself.
“Randy is a gentleman with a wealth of experience,” Pettitt says. “He speaks his mind and will tell you, straight up, what he thinks. And most of the time, he’s spot on. I value someone who’s been around and seen it all.”
Seasonal Living, Pettitt says, has exclusivity on a number of MFANO’s fabrics.
MFANO inventories all of its products in Wilmington, where fabric is cut and shipped to order. The company has hired a person to manage sales and marketing as well as social media.
So far, 2016 “has been a good year for us,” Miller says. “We’re excited.”
One reason, he notes, is that “everything Randy touched at Glen Raven turned to gold.”
|L to R: Randy Trull and John Miller with Queenie B.|
A Different Sort of Retirement
With MFANO moving forward, Trull has a few more projects under way. He’s about to roll out a line of bedspreads, curtains and trim made of Sunbrella fabrics. “This younger generation doesn’t want quilted,” he says.
For his bichon frise, Queenie B, he created a dog bed of Sunbrella fabric. The cushion inside is covered with waterproof fabric (accidents do happen), and the cover zips off for laundering. Two pet stores already stock the dog beds, and Trull says he’s negotiating with a chain that has 68 franchise and company-owned stores.
“It’s a natural product!” He speaks even more rapidly when he gets excited about anything new. “It’s washable! It won’t fade!”
And then there are the pet-themed tote bags, and the casual furniture brands he’s added to the product line-up at Classic Designs. So much to do.
Sometimes he waits on customers at the shop, where he’s still learning about retail.
He recounts the time a woman came into the shop looking for fabric to recover her outdoor furniture cushions. She pored over Trull’s selections and made her choice.
“I said, ‘That’s probably one of the most expensive fabrics we have in this shop.’ And she said, ‘Well, how much is it?’
“I said, ‘It’s $147 a yard.’ And she said, ‘So?’
“And I said, ‘So, if that’s what you want…’ She said, ‘Well, that’s what I want.’
“I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ And we did all of her cushions.
“That order ended up being $8,000. But I laughed and thought, I really don’t understand retail. To her, it was practically nothing.”
Trull, who published a biography called “My Life on the Fringe” in 2010, paints himself as an old-fashioned Southerner in a hustle-bustle digital world. He’s a suit and silk-handkerchief fellow, he says, who doesn’t own a pair of jeans. He’s just a simple guy, a man who enjoys the act of creating and spending time with friends on his yacht, which has doubled as a design studio for showcasing marine fabrics.
“I haven’t got a clue,” he says. “I’m not a very good businessman. I’m – what do you call me? – an entrepreneur. No. What does entrepreneurial mean?”
It’s hard to be sure in a telephone conversation, but he just might have winked.