Long since evolving from its outdoor-only roots, the performance fabric category continues to innovate and marry color, texture and design with the ability to withstand the everyday wear and tear of life.
The category in the U.S is still a small sector of fabrics overall — about 8-10%, according to MarketsandMarkets, which estimates the U.S. performance fabric market (for all industries, including home textiles) in 2021 to be $15.58 billion.
Performance fabrics are “definitely the fastest growing category of our residential business,” said Christy Almond, vice president of product development and marketing, Valdese Weavers, which includes a longtime partnership with Crypton Home as well as its proprietary InsideOut brand, among other brands. Nowadays, one wouldn’t instinctively know they were performance fabrics, as they are soft, decorative, colorful and textural, she said.
Sunbrella has seen “a significant increase in demand for our entire portfolio of fabrics” over the last two years, said Sarah Dooley, director of upholstery. As people are spending more time at home, “they’re requesting dynamic and textured fabrics that are comfortable and soft yet still made to last through all the inevitable spills, messes and activities.”
The definition of performance fabrics — what specific properties the fabric offers — ranges from company to company, but can include features such as resistance to stains, fire and/or mold, UV protection and many more.
“The performance fabric category is such a huge umbrella,” said Nicole Meier, director of branding, Ultrafabrics. For interior designers who are overwhelmed by the options, she recommended “understanding what pain point you’re trying to solve and dial in on the product that can serve that.” And become educated on how the fabrics are made; Ultrafabrics’ products are coated, while other companies offer solution-dyed acrylic for their performance features, she added.
“Thinking about the end use of how client is going to use it is key,” Almond agreed; will it be exposed to the sun or pets or will it be in a high-traffic area, for example? But also there is a misconception that these types of fabrics are self-cleaning — they are not. “You still have to care for them,” like storing outdoor furniture in the off-season. “They’re designed to help with the everyday expected messes, but they’re not indestructible.”
The category uses the measurement of double rubs — with one back and forth motion counting as one double rub — to determine durability. “It’s a good barometer, but you’ll get tired of [the fabric] before it wears out on you,” said Almond. Valdese lists double rub measurements and other terms on its website.
“We have been observing a growing importance of functional textiles in the home textile sector for years,” said Sabine Scharrer, director of international trade show Heimtexil. “In addition to the benefits of durability, strict fire safety regulations in hotels, restaurants and offices are also contributing to the increased demand.” Heimtexil supports buyers with its Interior.Architecture.Hospitality program, which offers guided trade fair tours, lectures and networking opportunities, and more than 400 exhibitors in this category can be found on its website, “helping visitors to easily identify the right suppliers for their needs.”
Messe Frankfurt also offers the Interior.Architecture.Hospitality Library, a material library for functional textiles launched in 2020. The next updated edition is scheduled for January 2023, in time for the Heimtextil show.
With sustainability top of mind these days, performance fabric suppliers say they’re addressing the issue where they can, including improving the manufacturing process, such as reducing water usage, and adding more recycled and renewable resources. Ultrafabrics recently announced its partnership with
Lenzing AG, which produces sustainable wood-based fibers under its Tencel brand, to use Tencel as a backcloth in its collections with 100% reinforced rayon. And Valdese Weavers’ InsideOut brand and furniture supplier Taylor King partnered with Seaqual Initiative — which reuses marine plastic — to offer performance-covered upholstery. InsideOut fabrics are also PFAS-free and GreenGuard Gold Certified.
Through its Recycle My Sunbrella program, which collects Sunbrella fabrics and finds them a new life, Sunbrella recently hit one million pounds of recycled fabric and has a goal to recycle one million more pounds by 2025, Dooley said.
The next generation of performance fabrics continues to push the fashion boundaries as well. In the past, whites were a no-no — not anymore. Ultrafabrics recently debuted its Hush line of whites and off whites, for example, while Outdura’s Tranquil collection brings on the hues of water. In addition, Sunbrella’s upcoming Perspectives collection will showcase new textures and constructions, and Supreen looked to menswear for some of its newest items.
“There are so many different opportunities to show off design aesthetic now,” said Valdese’s Almond. “You can have pattern and color and texture” in a performance fabric.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Designers Today.
Andrea is passionate about home design, and has covered the home furnishings industry for most of her journalism career. She is the Executive Editor, Design, of Designers Today; in addition, she also serves as the Managing Editor of HFN and Lighting Editor for Home Accents Today. Andrea lives in beautiful Brooklyn, where she could very well be the only person without a tattoo.