Creating a New Casual Fabric
By Mark Brock
Hundreds of new fabrics are introduced to the casual market each season with a goal of helping specialty retailers attract consumers into their showrooms. This plethora of new casual fabrics in solid colors, patterns, stripes, and textures are all designed to contribute to the beauty, the comfort, and the durability of outdoor living spaces.
While specialty retailers and their customers revel in this wealth of luxurious fabrics, there are teams of creative, technical, and manufacturing specialists who work tirelessly behind the scenes at the leading casual furniture fabric companies to make these fabrics possible. It is truly a long and winding road for a new fabric to move from concept to retail showrooms.
We recently asked Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, the makers of the Sunbrella brand, to walk us through how one fabric was brought to life, from concept to marketing. They selected “Artistry Indigo” from their Makers Collection as an example of how new fabrics come to life.
The Sunbrella design and marketing teams find inspiration for new fabrics from many different sources, including international travel to design centers such as Milan.
For the Sunbrella Makers Collection, backstrap weaving, an ancient art still practiced in many parts of the world, inspired a fabric design that mimics the craftsmanship of handmade textiles: Artistry Indigo.
Inspirations and Concepts
The fabric creation process begins with an inspiration from the design team, and it’s more than just creative thinking on their part. Fabric designers attend international trade shows, scour the news media, analyze consumer research, and stay in close contact with specialty retailers to gain insights into the wants, needs, and desires of consumers.
From their commitment to continuous research, Sunbrella designers unearthed an emerging consumer preference for products that have the craftsman-like look and feel of handmade textiles. They were especially inspired by the ancient practice of backstrap weaving that is still practiced in many parts of the world. Practitioners of this art power their looms using a belt that taps into their own human power while carefully inserting threads by hand to craft unique fabrics.
The result of these inspirations for the Sunbrella design team was the launch of a new collection called the “Makers Collection” of which Artistry Indigo is a premier pattern.
Concept to Design
With a portfolio of inspirations that encompasses handmade rugs and fabrics, the Sunbrella design team created a fabric design for Artistry Indigo. Inspirational design elements are brought together through computer software that not only generates a rendering of the proposed new fabric, but also details how the fabric can be woven. The result is a roadmap of where hundreds of different colored threads must come together to produce the intricate pattern of Artistry Indigo.
Now to Manufacturing
The design and fabrication roadmap created by the Sunbrella design team for Artistry Indigo was then transferred electronically to the Sunbrella manufacturing center in Anderson, South Carolina. Just as there is a creative team designing new fabrics, there is also a team of fabric construction and manufacturing experts at Anderson Plant whose job is to bring new fabrics to life by creating samples and ultimately guiding the manufacturing process.
Once the Sunbrella design team sends the layout for a new fabric to Anderson Plant, it’s all about collaboration. Fabric construction and manufacturing specialists at Anderson Plant view the design team as a customer and do everything possible to stay true to the designer’s vision of the look and feel of a new fabric.
Not only must the new fabric remain true to the design concept, it must also be a fabric construction that can be manufactured efficiently and that can provide the enduring performance for which the Sunbrella brand is renowned. The manufacturing team creates samples of the proposed new fabrics for review with the creative team; tweaks are made based on the samples, and a final plan developed for how the new fabric will be actually produced.
Manufacturing Sunbrella fabrics, including creating test samples of new introductions such as Artistry Indigo, is a complex process involving multiple steps, from the opening of fiber bales to spinning, winding, and warping yarns for weaving. It’s a team effort that requires the expertise of Glen Raven associates applying the latest in fabric manufacturing technology.
When the development process for a new fabric collection, such as the Makers Collection with Artistry Indigo, is completed, attention turns to its market debut. Taking a new fabric to market involves the creation of sampling and collateral materials, followed by outreach to furniture manufacturers, designers, and specialty retailers through trade shows, the Sunbrella showroom, and one-on-one meetings. The creation of samples and marketing collateral that retailers rely on in working with consumers is a laborious, expensive, and essential step in bringing new fabrics to market.
Long and Winding Road, Repeated Many Times
Artistry Indigo is just one of hundreds of new fabrics created each year by the Sunbrella brand team and by the many other fabric companies serving specialty retailers. Casual fabrics must not only be capable of withstanding the elements, but they must also be beautiful, comfortable, and consumer inspiring.
The bar for casual fabrics is being raised each year thanks to the efforts of design and manufacturing specialists throughout the industry. The result is a positive outlook for specialty retailers and their customers in promoting the joys of outdoor living with friends and family.
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