A Common Thread
By Mark Brock
Fabric options for specialty retailers today are expansive and growing rapidly as each season debuts new colors, new patterns, innovative constructions and advanced levels of durable performance. One of the leaders in this growing diversity of offerings is Phifer Incorporated, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama-based company that is best known for its Phifertex sling fabrics, but also for being a leader in deep seating with its GeoBella fabrics that are woven from recycled yarns. The common thread for Phifer with both of these casual market offerings is a relentless focus on performance and aesthetics.
“We are continuing to grow steadily each season with additional fabric placements with casual furniture manufacturers,” said Hugo Benitez, National Market manager for Phifer’s Designed Fabrics division, which includes Phifertex and GeoBella fabrics. “The secret to our success is our ability to work closely with our customers and to offer them the colors, the designs, and the durability that consumers are looking for in performance fabrics. While Phifertex represents our core competency, the Green story behind GeoBella is being well received in the marketplace.”
|Phifer Tuffscreen heavy-duty insect screening.|
It All Began with Insect Screening
Phifer Incorporated was founded in 1952 as a weaver of aluminum insect screening, and today is the world’s largest manufacturer of both aluminum and fiberglass insect screening. Based on its expertise in weaving screening products, Phifer has also expanded steadily throughout its 65-year history to become a highly diversified, technically-based manufacturer.
Phifer’s engineered metal and textile mesh products are integral components for residential, commercial and industrial applications. These applications include interior and exterior sun control fabrics for homes and commercial buildings, filtration, commercial and marine flooring, awnings, fireplace screens, ventilation and reinforcement.
In 1980, Phifer entered the casual furniture market with the launch of its Phifertex woven sling fabrics. This new vinyl-coated polyester product, which drew upon the company’s strength in weaving engineered materials, was launched in two colors, yellow and white, and has since grown into an expansive offering that is considered an industry leader in innovation, style and performance.
Phifer later added the GeoBella brand to its Designed Fabrics as an option for cushions, deep seating and upholstery. Not only is GeoBella comfortable and stylish, it also has an environmental story, woven from recycled Olefin yarns. Both Phifertex and GeoBella are GREENGUARD-certified as supporting indoor air quality and feature three-year warranties. Phifer serves customers throughout the U.S. and also has international operations.
“We’re a third generation, family-owned company,” said Gregg Terry, director of Marketing for Phifer. “One of our greatest strengths is our ability to develop long-term relationships with our customers based on the quality of our products and on our responsive customer service. We form deep relationships with customers who depend on us to respond to their needs quickly.”
|Beautiful all-weather stock fabric, Phifertex Tweed Indigo.|
Phifertex Redefined the Sling Market
Sling fabrics, by definition, are a highly engineered product. They must support a person’s full weight, retain their original shape over time and endure the ravages of Mother Nature. But that’s not enough. Consumers expect outdoor seating to be beautiful, comfortable and easy care, and they have no appreciation for the technical challenges represented by these expectations for sling fabrics. The team behind the Phifertex brand understands these challenges and has over many years redefined the sling market with offerings that are as beautiful as they are comfortable, stylish, durable and easy care.
“We are continuing to invest each year in research and development for the Phifertex brand, not only to enhance performance but also to create new and interesting looks through different fabric constructions and innovations in the yarns we use,” said Benitez, who has more than 20 years of experience with Phifer. “One of the most important aspects of our product development program is input from our customers. We ask them to work with us in reviewing prototypes of new styles, and their input is invaluable in creating fabrics that consumers will want to buy.”
|A new stock Jacquard Introduction, Phifertex Echo Luster.|
Leading the design team for Phifertex is Monica Thornton, Design director, who has more than 25 years of experience in the outdoor industry. Her experience spans both textile and furniture design, which is invaluable in providing casual furniture manufacturers and specialty retailers with sling fabrics that resonate with consumers.
“Designing sling fabrics is absolutely the most challenging assignment a designer can have,” Thornton said. “Sling is predominately an industrial material, but you have to make it warm, friendly, comfortable and fashionable. We never stop exploring ways to improve the performance, look and feel of sling fabrics.”
The Phifertex design team meets this challenge by drawing upon a large tool kit that includes the expertise of Phifer people who have many years of experience with advanced weaving techniques, including jacquard and dobby. Phifertex is also adept in the use of innovative fabric constructions and specialty yarns, including elastomeric options that offer exceptional strength and recovery. More than 200 new Phifertex designs debut each season from this team of sales, marketing, design, customer service and manufacturing specialists.
“One of the unique advantages of our design team at Phifer is that we have a full-time textile artist on our staff,” Thornton said. “A customer can describe a certain look they want to achieve and our textile artist can take this direction and digitally create original artwork that can be viewed on the screen or as a printout. From there, we can transmit the finished design to manufacturing for sampling and production.”
Sling fabrics have enjoyed a resurgence in customer popularity in recent years because of innovations in design and comfort and because sling furniture is durable, fast drying and easy to maintain. Phifertex fabrics have taken the easy care aspect of sling fabrics to a higher level by infusing Microban antimicrobial product protection to help prevent the growth of stain and odor-causing bacteria, mold, and mildew on the fabric.
Also accounting for the growing popularity of Phifertex sling fabrics is out-of-the-box applications from furniture manufacturers.
“We are seeing a growing number of customers who are wrapping entire furniture frames in Phifertex for a sleek, fully-upholstered look,” Thornton said. “This is a technique that has been an important trend in Europe and is growing in the U.S. These types of innovations are helping to make sling furniture an appealing addition not only for decks, patios and Outdoor Rooms, but also for inside the home.”
|GeoBella Aqua/Teal Collection.|
GeoBella Fabrics – Good for the Home, Good for the Planet
With Phifertex clearly established as a market leader in sling fabrics, Phifer is continuing to gain placements for its GeoBella fabrics for deep seating. These woven fabrics offer the look and feel of fine interior fabrics and have an additional advantage of conveying a Green story because they are woven from 100% recycled Olefin fiber content. In terms of pricing, GeoBella is a value offering within the casual market where acrylics maintain the premium price position.
“Even though GeoBella is a performance fabric, we are not limiting its marketing as just an outdoor fabric,” Benitez said. “With a soft hand and fresh designs each season, GeoBella fabrics are ideal for both contemporary and traditional settings inside or outside the home for pillows, cushions and upholstery. Our cut-yardage program has been successful in encouraging furniture manufacturers and small upholstery shops to work with GeoBella. This program has gone a long way in helping us establish the GeoBella brand.”
The design team behind the Phifertex brand also supports GeoBella fabrics, again offering more than 200 new selections each season. While GeoBella is a radically different product offering from Phifertex, the design objectives are the same – market-ready colors and styling, easy care and durability under extreme conditions.
“Our design team at Phifer has been given a lot of freedom to be creative, so we are not afraid to try new things and illustrate to the casual market that we are intent on being a design leader,” Thornton said.
The overall design direction for GeoBella is to create coordinated design packages so that furniture manufacturers and specialty retailers can create unique looks that bring solids, stripes and patterns together in a layered effect. Collections include base fabrics, along with what Thornton calls “punctuation pieces” for adding splashes of color and design.
A focus on design and color coordination exists not only within the GeoBella and Phifertex lines, but also among offerings that encompass both lines.
“A consumer can select a GeoBella fabric in a certain colorway for cushions and then find a Phifertex fabric in the same color family for a sling chair to create a coordinated look,” Thornton said. “This feature can be very powerful for furniture manufacturers and for specialty retailers as they set up showrooms. It’s an opportunity to show how deep seating and sling can work together to personalize an outdoor setting.”
So, what is it like for a design team that works with such diverse products as Phifertex and GeoBella?
“Phifertex and GeoBella are at opposite ends of the fabric spectrum, but we know our strengths in each area and how our design team can go about capitalizing on those strengths,” Thornton said. “Our focus is on how we can achieve the next level with each brand, and it’s this focus that makes us better each year.”
|Phifer Incorporated state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It occupies approximately 2 million sq.ft. of space.|
Customer Marketing Support Expanding
Phifer is also continuing to expand its marketing support for furniture manufacturers and specialty retailers through merchandising programs, fabric sampling and point-of-purchase materials. The company’s “Color Box” of fabric samples has proven to be popular with furniture manufacturers and specialty retailers as an effective tool for making fabric selections and for creating coordinated offerings.
Phifer’s fabrics are also available for purchase in cut yardage quantities on many online sites. While customers value these tools as essentials, it’s product quality and performance, along with service, that’s built the loyal following of Phifer customers.
Texacraft, a division of Winston Furniture Company, is a leader in commercial outdoor furniture, including applications for multi-family housing, hotels, resorts and country clubs. It’s a long-time Phifertex customer.
“Great designs. Quality products. Great customer service. These are the reasons Phifer has been part of our fabric program year after year,” said Tommy Moore, director of Product Development for Texacraft.
Moore credits much of the success for its relationship with Phifer to close working relationships with members of the Phifer team, including Benitez, Carol Wilkin (Phifer vice president of Design) and Joan Worthy (Phifer sales representative.)
“We sell a tremendous amount of sling furniture, and Phifer has always been an integral part of that program,” Moore said. “Not only are their designs and quality top notch, but the Phifer team is also very intuitive and easy to work with on special projects. The results are always spot on.”