My Turn

Fabrics That Stand the Test of Time

There are few individuals more passionate about fabrics than Irwin Gasner is. As president and CEO of Wearbest Sil-Tex Mills in Garfield, N.J., for the past 28 years, Gasner has seen fabrics evolve from something beautiful for the interior of one’s home into something that is equally stunning (and more durable) in any outdoor room. Wearbest Sil-Tex Mills has been a venerable name in upholstery and fabric manufacturing since the 1940s. In 2005, the company broadened its focus from high-end interior fabrics to include outdoor performance fabrics under the brand name Bella-Dura™.

“When we entertained the idea of manufacturing performance fabrics, it was decided that we were only going to move forward if we could create something that no other manufacturer was doing,” Gasner says. Bella-Dura has since come to stand out from the crowd for its beauty, durability and earth-mindedness, and it has garnered more industry awards than all other U.S. textile mills combined. Through the process of developing Bella-Dura (alongside textile experts, designers and weavers), Gasner says that one thing became clear: All outdoor fabrics are not created equal—not by a long shot.

Performance Details

Solution-dyed yarn is the gold standard for today’s performance fabrics, including Bella-Dura. What sets the fiber apart is the fact that the color goes all the way through the yarn (a difference similar to that between a carrot and a radish). It can even be cleaned with bleach and will not lose its color. Gasner explains that Wearbest has developed a solution-dyed fabric that is unmatched in the industry, standing up to the toughest standards.

Gasner encourages retailers to look at the fine print when they are deciding which fabrics to offer to customers, because there are differences in performance. One detail to look for is resistance to stains, mold and mildew. He explains that many solution-dyed fabrics are coated with Teflon®, so they tend to lose resistance over time. Gasner says that the resistance properties should be built into the fiber.

“That was a must for Bella-Dura,” he says, noting that the company has even added a state-of-the art water-repellent feature to its fabrics (called GreenShield™) that is safe for the environment when the fabric is recycled. Other details to look for include lightfastness (which should exceed 1,500 hours) and abrasion performance. “If fabrics are going to last in the outdoor elements for many years, the performance details are important,” he adds.

Design, Color and Style

When customers walk into a specialty retail store, they do not want to see furniture and fabrics that look the same as those in the big-box store; they expect something a cut above that. Gasner encourages retailers to offer more than the tried-and-true fabric if they want to set themselves apart from the competition. “Otherwise, your showroom floor is a big yawn,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to step away from the pack to excite your customers.”

Bella-Dura has become a trendsetter in fabric design, introducing inspirational styles, designs and colors every season. Gasner says that color is big this season, and that it’s being used everywhere, not just as an accent. Bright oranges, greens and fashion colors are emerging as popular. Straw and honey hues are dominant, as far as neutrals go, but cool taupes and grays are moving into transitional and contemporary patterns. Classic colors such as rust, dark brown and black continue to be an important part of the mix.

In weaves, large-scale patterns are highly dominant. Previously, large-scale patterns were used as accents with solids; now, patterns are everywhere. Gasner adds that the biggest change in outdoor fabrics, over the past few years, has been that they have gone from flat to fluffy. Soft fabrics, such as chenille and bouclé, are no longer reserved for indoor applications. “Great fabric with a soft hand brings furniture to the next level,” Gasner says. “Don’t underestimate the power it has in closing a sale.”

Going Green

Today, the state of the environment is on consumers’ minds more than ever before. Companies are starting to take a hard look at how their products interact with the environment, from the way they are manufactured to the manner in which they are disposed of after use. Wearbest is fully committed to manufacturing performance fabrics that are not only beautiful, but are 100-percent sustainable as well.

According to Gasner, Wearbest is ahead of its time when it comes to being earth friendly. “We developed Bella-Dura to be kind to the environment, from the beginning to the end of its life cycle,” he says. Bella-Dura is the only fiber, synthetic or natural, that starts out as a byproduct of postindustrial waste and ends its life as a fully recyclable product. It requires substantially less energy to manufacture, and only a small amount of water is used during the process. Most important, it produces no harmful industrial waste.

In 2007, the company created a reclamation/recycling program (available to consumers and retailers) that converts its old fabric into resin pellets that are used to make other consumer products, such as automotive parts, truck-bed liners and plant containers. Gasner cautions retailers that some manufacturers claim that their fabrics are green when, in fact, they truly are not. To be certain, look for some type of laboratory third-party certification, such as the MBDC Silver Cradle to Cradle™ logo, associated with Bella-Dura, that indicates its environmental status.

The federal government is currently working on creating standards and regulations that will spell out what constitutes a green product. Gasner admits that while the environmental story itself may not be compelling enough to sell a consumer on a fabric, it is an attractive part of the overall package. “If the fabric has great color and design, has a luscious feel and comes with an outstanding warranty, the green aspects will seal the deal,” he says.
As for the future of fabrics, Gasner states that there are no limits. “What creates warmth inside a home is having beautiful fabrics and draperies, and the same holds true for today’s outdoor rooms,” he says. “What better backdrop is there to highlight a beautiful garden than beautiful fabric?”


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