BY GARY JAMES
Just like the mattresses they cover, ticking fabrics continue to grow more sophisticated, from the fashionable designs on the outside to the increasingly complex engineering and technology on the inside.
The goal, regardless of price point, is to provide features that complement the “story” — or key sleep quality marketing messages — conveyed by the mattress and foundation. Ticking, once a low-key element, is playing a bigger role in that process as mattress manufacturers fight harder for position and attention on today’s highly competitive retail floors.
“Every bed these days has to tell a story,” says Lorne Romoff, vice president of sales and marketing at Maxime Knitting in Montreal. “Whether it be through the overall look and appeal of the mattress or in the actual construction of the product, the fabric must support the story.”
Specialty bedding applications are where most of the styling and performance innovation is taking place, suppliers agree, but even the innerspring arena is becoming more design-oriented as producers look for new ways to spark sales.
Mattress styling — the coordination of a bedding set from top to bottom — is one trend that has taken hold in the marketplace in the past year, ticking suppliers agree. When developing collections, bedding manufacturers now focus on the total look, not just the top panel.
“Manufacturers can now coordinate perfectly the top panel, border, gusset and foundation,” Romoff says. “The components can be coordinated by color or pattern, ensuring consistency throughout the product.”
While whites and muted pastel tones such as lilac and violet remain the key colors for mattress panels, border colors are becoming bolder, darker and, in some cases, bigger.
“The trend is to put more emphasis on the borders,” Romoff says. “The borders are bolder than ever, in color and pattern, and the top panels feature softer, more subdued looks. Mattresses are now fully coordinated — the borders match the top panel through color or by incorporating elements of the top panel design.”
Pattern designs used on borders, where tiny motifs had been a dominant look, also are getting more daring, Romoff adds. “We’ve been creating dramatic, out-of-the-box patterns that are conducive to 12- and 15-inch borders.”
At Bekaert Textiles USA in Winston-Salem, N.C., the hot colors in panel ticking are saturated neutral shades, including taupe, gray and blue, says Stefan Hoffman, vice president of sales and marketing. “Alternatively, colors that portray a cooling story are popular in contrast to warmer hues.”
Bekaert also is seeing increasing interest in lofty transitional patterns. These styles take three key forms: transitional patterns of grandeur scale, traditional looks being made more modern, and all-over patterns with visual movement.
At every price point, bedding manufacturers are paying more attention to border design, Hoffman says.
“With the rise of specialty bedding, there is more demand for upholstery-style borders and foundations,” he explains. “We have also been experimenting with different zipper configurations, alternative trims and combining knit fabrics as borders. We’re always thinking outside the box.”
Bedding manufacturers are looking for improved aesthetics even at lower price points, he adds, “since bed design can be greatly improved through better border looks.”
To achieve the maximum bang for the buck, ticking suppliers are developing new approaches to border design and construction.
“There’s a lot of value engineering going on with borders, as every dollar counts,” says Craig Dunlop, president of Deslee Textiles USA in Inman, S.C. “Value engineering of fabrics can save money, and a dollar saved is a dollar earned.”
While a variety of different looks perform well for Deslee, clean, sophisticated whites with a balanced amount of profile “reign overall,” according to Dunlop. “We are seeing a continuing strong demand for understated elegance,” he says.
In border applications, there is “a definite movement towards a fine broadcloth look as in menswear,” Dunlop says. “However, there are just as many combination looks with bolder presentations of spacer type fabrics and combined with sharp contrasting colors accenting the panels.”
Ticking producers’ ability to mix and match fabrics on a cover has expanded dramatically in recent years. Dunlop says Deslee now combines as many as five different textiles on a single cover.
“Manufacturers have to create so many new models each year, and they’re looking for anything that can give them an edge,” he says. “There’s a new spirit of reinvention, where everybody is pushing the limits of what’s possible.”
In Dunlop’s opinion, one major factor driving this creativity is the manufacturers’ need to stir enthusiasm among retail sales associates.
“At the end of the day, the fate of many models is in the hands of the RSAs,” he says. “If they’re excited and motivated about the features of a product, that’s where they’re going to focus their energies. A stylish, eye-catching cover can help differentiate one mattress over another.”
While consumers are unlikely to make a purchase decision based entirely on ticking, they are paying more attention to styling, ticking producers agree. But the largest element — the panel — isn’t always the most important. In most cases, consumers notice the border first, says Mike Cottonaro, senior vice president of sales and marketing for High Point-based Culp Inc.
“Our studies show that the mattress border is the element that makes the first impression,” Cottanaro says.
Borders and other trim give mattress makers an effective way to convey fashion without having to step away from the mostly white and muted panel colors to which the industry — and consumers — have grown accustomed.
“Trim is where you play the color up,” says Steve Bond, vice president of innovations for Culp. “The trim is designed to complement the panel designs but with richer colors and more weight or texture to create contrast. We’re engineering our borders and all the other decorative elements so they work with the panels to create a complete package.”
This approach also involves the use of more fabrics within a single model, Bond adds. Where in the past, Culp used a single fabric for both the mattress border and boxspring, it now uses two coordinating fabrics. The gusset also may feature a different fabric, and decorative trim may be used above the border and beneath the panel. Culp also incorporates fabric from its upholstery division to enhance the fashion quotient of mattresses.
“It’s not unusual for us to have four or five fabrics on a mattress,” Cottonaro says. “We’re turning the mattress into a piece of furniture, helping manufacturers create distinctive looks that communicate key brand values.”
In some cases, he says, the fabric used on the border of one model may appear in eight different SKUs within a collection, providing continuity across the line that builds brand recognition.
Regarding color, Culp also is seeing growing interest in bold accent tones, particularly browns such as Mahogany, Mink and Ghirardelli and blues such as St. Lucia and Twilight, used selectively to create a pop of color.
“We’re weaving a heavy layer of color into the design element for an embroidery-like effect,” Cottanaro says. “Instead of just off shades of white, we’re now using select touches of complementary colors, including jewel tones, and lots of texture. We’re flexing our creative muscles in new ways but also staying true to our roots.”
In most cases, Culp continues to use a white or off-white ground for the knitted fabric. But engineered panel designs — “where there is a clear top, middle and bottom to the design element” — are gaining importance, Cottonaro adds.
Contemporary on the rise
Also showing signs of rising popularity are contemporary-style panels, says Johan Cleyman, managing director of Innofa USA in Eden, N.C.
“A number of our customers featured contemporary designs in their introductions at this summer’s Las Vegas Market,” says Cleyman. “That shows a willingness to try something new.”
One new panel pattern doing well for Innofa is Bubbles, which features a curved, circular motif. “We’ve evolving our line with more modern-looking styles, and the response so far has been very positive,” Cleyman says.
Along with livelier patterns, texture also is playing a more prominent role in panel design, according to Cleyman. “We’re seeing bigger, heavier weight ‘blisters,’” he says. “This texture gives the fabric added appeal compared to a flat-woven damask.”
The trend toward enhanced border treatments is opening up new design possibilities, Cleyman says. “A few years ago, the market was limited to mostly woven borders. Today, upholstery fabrics are being used to create a signature design that can carry over into the panel. It’s making the cover of the mattress into a much more decorative product.”
As design capabilities have increased, mattress makers have begun thinking of ticking fabrics as a “canvas,” says Adam Lava, owner of A. Lava & Son in Chicago.
“You start with an engineered panel design that fits the center of the bed,” says Lava. “To create this rectangle, we’re now cutting all kinds of curved and angled shapes out and putting them together. Then, we’re taking segments of that design — a flower, medallion, logo or other motif — and pulling them out for borders and box covers and other aspects of the bed. It’s a very coordinated story.”
When it comes to color, chocolate, teal, silver and platinum are popular border and accent tones, Lava says. “We’re seeing more texturized colors that have more definition and depth, not just something shiny — maybe a herringbone look, for example, rather than just a piece of beige fabric,” he says. “We’re also seeing more decorative thread, used in a way that the stitching becomes part of the design.”
Trim materials also have become more diverse. “A couple of years ago, trim was mostly cording and piping,” says Lava. “Now, we’re using imported Italian ribbon and other fancier trim.”
Lava believes that bedding consumers are paying more attention to style. “The look of the bed is becoming more important than in the past, when everything was a shade of white, including the borders,” he explains. “Now, mattress covers are a drawing card to help close the sale. They make the bed a piece of furniture rather than a basic white rectangle.”
The ongoing enhancements in ticking go way beyond style. Performance also is a major area of innovation. From cooling and breathability to anti-bed-bug and anti-aging treatments, fabric suppliers offer a myriad of design and construction features to improve the sleeping experience.
“What is ‘cool’ is ‘hot’ for us in mattress ticking right now,” says Cleyman of Innofa, which offers a new Thermogel finish, an exclusive endothermic technology that it says is less expensive than other phase-change cooling materials. The technology incorporates an active cooling ingredient, an elastic urethane polymer with similar chemistry as gel foam, and a moisture-wicking component.
“It’s cooling on demand, which is triggered when heat or humidity from perspiration contacts the active ingredients. Since the finish is right on the surface next to the body, it provides cooling relief whenever you need it.”
Another technology that has made its way from Europe to the U.S. this year is Innofa’s AirVent fabric. The unique fabric has four-way stretch and knit patterns with “air grids” that act as portholes for the mattress foam core, allowing it to breathe. The technology helps regulate both humidity and temperature, according to the company.
Temperature management is a popular topic right now with manufacturers and RSAs, says Bekaert’s Hoffman. To serve this growing market segment, Bekaert has developed a new finish technology called Adaptive.
“This technology changes passive textiles to textiles with a ‘dynamic response’ to environmental changes like temperature and humidity,” Hoffman says. “Adaptive uses the heat of your body to boost moisture wicking, evaporation and cooling. The result is a comfortably cool and dry sleep environment.”
Bekaert also offers an exclusive technology called Cairfull that helps consumers sleep cool and dry. Cairfull uses a three-dimensional knitted cross-structure that creates a ventilating layer of air in the fabric, allowing better moisture evaporation, according to Hoffman. “Cairfull also reduces pressure and helps the mattress and pillow support the body,” he says.
While cooling and breathability are the most in-demand finish treatments, there are a number of other technologies that have strong potential but are underutilized by manufacturers, says Deslee’s Dunlop.
“I am constantly surprised by the amount of manufacturers that do not include certain performance features in their fabrics to add value to the products,” Dunlop says. “Of course, there are a lot of performance features being used, but in some cases for a very little amount of cost, a terrific value-added performance treatment could be included to provide one more reason for the consumer to buy.”
At this year’s Interzum show, DesleeClama — Deslee Textiles USA’s parent — introduced a number of innovative performance textiles, including Flexigel, a gel-coated fabric; Flow, a knitted space-type fabric with an enhanced breathability story; and Sound Absorption, a sound deadening fabric for use in headboards and sleeping areas. The company also has a number of other new products in development, including a new cooling product and a system of fiber optic and copper fibers knitted into textiles to control temperature, lighting and electronics.
At Culp, performance yarns and finishes fall into three categories of benefits: Cool, Clean (antimicrobial) and Comfortable (enhanced softness), Cottonaro says.
“Demand is growing as the consumer becomes more aware of the benefits of these new technologies,” Cottonaro says. “It’s incumbent upon the RSA to make the consumer aware of what’s available so that they can factor it into their decision. For not much added cost, these yarns and finishes offer benefits that you can feel and see.”
Culp’s Bond says cooling is the one feature that consumers really respond to. “Anything you can do to disperse moisture — whether that’s a yarn with special channels to disperse moisture or a moisture-wicking treatment — is becoming very popular,” he says.
Comfort and cleanliness also are likely to become more critical selling features, Bond says. “We’re seeing new technologies and finishes to make the fabric hand softer and more inviting. Antimicrobial treatments also are popular, because they add to the mattress’ health factor.”
Boyteks, based in Kayseri, Turkey, offers a range of performance fabrics. Its offerings include six lines with value-added characteristics, such as the Natural Concept, Wellness Concept, Hygiene Concept and Comfort Concept. Each has specific functions.
“Anti-aging and milky types (that renew skin) are frequently demanded,” says Önder Honi, vice general manager of Boyteks. “Fabrics offering thermal heat comfort are increasingly more widely used.”
Honi expects that Boyteks’ wellness and hygiene lines will be more popular in the future. “Products that have high air permeability and support human health will be trending.”
One new finish technology that holds strong growth for Bekaert is Purotex, says Hoffman. “This finish reduces the presence of allergens, a growing concern with consumers,” he explains.
At Maxime Knitting, any yarn or application that offers a temperature-control feature is popular, Romoff says. In addition, natural yarn options, such as organic cotton and bamboo, are becoming essentials for every collection. “Any story that would inspire a soothing, good night’s sleep, such as aloe vera finishes, is also in demand,” he says.
As the popularity of specialty beds and “hybrid” mattresses has grown, demand for knits with enhanced stretch capabilities has increased. The use of stretch yarns allows for large pockets and extra depth and dimension, says Bekaert’s Hoffman. “Designs are transitional with a lot of movement.”
Hoffman says he continues to see wovens used mainly at the top or low end of customers’ lines.
“For Bekaert, the top end is very high-end Belgian damasks,” he says. “These damasks allow for much more detail in pattern and convey the look of exceptional quality. We believe our customers gravitate to these products as they best represent the hand-crafted look usually expected at upper-end price points.”
On the low end, he adds, wovens still provide the best value in price and appearance. “Bekaert will continue to develop woven qualities and technologies to bring value to this category,” says Hoffman.
At Deslee, knits are king, Dunlop says. “Super-stretchy fabrics with a greater degree of ‘huggability’ are constantly in demand,” he says. “The other category that has really heated up is ‘performance’ looks — breathable, colorful combinations of fabrics that ooze energy and performance as do athletic footwear for jogging and working out.”
In wovens, Dunlop doesn’t see any major shifts on the horizon. “There are some manufacturers that would like to find a way to introduce some new woven looks but are struggling with it as there is still a hand and general perception of value issue,” he says.
However, Dunlop expects to see a movement toward elegant, very high-end damasks for use with traditional innerspring mattresses. And at the low end, the need for inexpensive wovens on foundations and mattress borders is still there, he says, since “innerspring bedding is still the major volume driver.”
But specialty bedding is where the most growth is, and as long as sales remain strong, the most frequently demanded fabrics will be “the ones suitable for trending gel, viscogel, soft visco, elastic sponge and latex mattresses,” says Boytek’s Honi. “Elastane and Lycra fabrics are intensely demanded.”
Helping to drive the increasing use of knits is pricing. In the past two years, the gap between knits and basic wovens has narrowed, says Lava of A. Lava & Son. “The lowest-priced knit now is $1 per yard lower,” he says. “And a lot of people have switched to knits even though the price is still a bit higher because of the better hand that they offer.”
Still, there will always be a spot for inexpensive wovens on lower-end innerspring models, Lava adds. “Those beds aren’t going away — it’s a huge segment of the business.”
Wovens also still play a big role in mattress borders. “They offer an extra level of flexibility in color, design and manufacturing ease and they don’t stretch like knits,” says Culp’s Cottonaro.
At the higher end, wovens also still provide unmatched design possibilities for panels, Cottonaro adds. “You can make wovens looks so much more decorative, using pops of color and texture and beautiful wide fabric borders. There seems to be a mindset that knits perform better in molding to exotic foams, enabling you to feel the fibers doing their thing inside the mattress, but there’s still nothing like the hand of a quality woven. Done right, it feels like silk.”
With bedding producers always on the lookout for new ways to cut expenses and service customers faster, cut-and-sewn continues to be a topic of keen interest. In the past year, several major companies, including Culp and Bekaert, have added cut-and-sewn programs to respond to growing demand.
In 2012, Culp launched Culp-Lava Applied Sewn Solutions (CLASS), a cut-and-sewn operation based in Stokesdale, N.C. The new facility produces mattress covers that are marketed to Culp’s customers under a joint marketing agreement with A. Lava & Son.
“The collaboration combines our expertise in cut-and-sewn with Culp’s fabric manufacturing capabilities,” says Lava. “It gives us both more ideas and concepts to bring to our customers.”
According to Lava, interest in cut-and-sewn is growing because mattress manufacturers are getting more focused on selling beds.
“They are letting the people who are experts in design and cut-and-sewn be a service to them,” he says. “Some are succeeding more than others, but this is a segment that will continue to grow. People who can stay ahead of the curve as far as design, delivery and use of technology will succeed.”
Zippered covers are poised to capture a larger share of the marketplace as specialty bedding continues to grow, Lava adds. “We now have zippered covers available for foam-encased hybrid innerspring units. They let you be much more creative than your traditional quilted panels and borders.”
From Culp’s standpoint, the partnership with A. Lava widens the range of services that it can offer manufacturers. “We are a fabric supplier first and foremost, but having this program enables us to vertically integrate our fabrics onto a cut-and-sewn platform,” Cottanaro says.
The trend toward cut-and-sewn covers “is very strong,” agrees Bekaert’s Hoffman. “Our customers are asking for complete concepts to address their needs and ready-made covers are an answer to this request.”
In January, Bekaert Textiles, headquartered in Waragem, Belgium, purchased Riverside, Calif.-based zippered cover and pillow producer Progressive Products Inc. “to bring full cut-and-sew solutions to our customers,” Hoffman adds.
Deslee’s Dunlop says that while he’s not sure that cut-and-sewn is a “huge growing trend,” there is definitely a continuing demand for the service. “Mattress manufacturers are looking for more creativity, more differentiation and more out-of-the-box thinking,” he says.
Deslee doesn’t offer a cut-and-sewn program in the U.S., but it has recently bought new, wider knitting machines that allow it to produce stretchy fabrics that are wider than the 90 inches most manufacturers need for the covers.
“By producing these wider fabrics, we can now create a one-piece textile with a knit-in border that can fit over the entire mattress and wrap it completely without having to cut and sew separate borders and panels,” Dunlop says.
Technology and two “Cs”
As mattress makers work with ticking suppliers to come up with new ways to distinguish their products and meet emerging consumer needs, the two “Cs” — collaboration and customization — have become watchwords.
At Deslee Textiles USA in Inman, S.C., the Innovations and Design Centre (IDc) has developed an iPad-based tool to assist customers in creating product lines. The application enables the Deslee sales team to create virtual mattresses for customers on their iPads using a selection of different fabric panel and border designs.
“We understand the incredible challenges manufacturers have each year in creating new product lines for their customers,” says Craig Dunlop, president. “Every retailer wants their own story and look and they want them refreshed virtually every year. Our new IDc application allows them to literally create the look of a mattress instantly to determine how various fabrics and colors work together.”
The technology, currently in the final stages of development, should save time and money, Dunlop adds.
Another company using technology to expedite the design process is Culp, which uses a digital special Design Mapping application as it works with manufacturing partners to create new products.
“We no longer have to spend a lot of money mocking up prototypes,” says Tara Bulla, creative director. “With this mapping program, we can take the genesis of an idea and explore how different panels, borders and trim will look on a virtual representation of a finished product. It opens up a wider range of design possibilities — and makes the development process much faster.”
Mattress producers increasingly want the ability to fully customize products, says Lorne Romoff, vice president of sales and marketing for Maxime Knitting in Montreal.
“Our most prominent strength is the relationships we nurture with our customers,” says Romoff. “They allow us to closely shoulder them throughout their product development process so that in turn we can bring to life the products they envision.”
Also working more closely with its customers to understand their aesthetic vision is Bekaert Textiles USA.
“Translating this vision into coordinating panel, gusset, border and foundation combinations has become an important part of the selling process,” says Stefan Hoffman, vice president of sales and marketing of the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based supplier. “We help translate the latest home furnishing, fashion and cultural trends into applicable designs for the mattress industry and support these designs through trend presentations.”
At Boyteks, based in Kayseri, Turkey, a new website program enables customers to see requested fabric and border patterns online on simulated beds. “By this means, we have minimized the sample delivery and time needed for such a service,” says Önder Honi, vice general manager.