Performance fabrics: Market for ‘healthy’ tickings still growing

By Jim Parsons

From formal boardroom discussions to casual trade–show chatter, the talk of the bedding industry in the past few years has centered on flammability. And for good reason. The issue influences nearly every facet of bedding—from manufacturing processes to retail selling strategies.

Because of its scope—and complexity—flammability may appear to have drawn attention away from other consumer–protection concerns, such as safeguarding mattresses with contaminant preventives. When BedTimes examined the issue in August 2002, anti–microbial additives and treatments were just beginning to make their way from institutional products to the residential market, and companies were rolling out a bevy of materials with hygienic functions. With flammability likely to retain its spot on center stage for the immediate future, is contaminant control still on the industry’s radar screen?

It had better be, say several fabric suppliers, because consumers care.

“Most people like to sleep on a clean, hygienic bed, and washing mattress tickings is often not easy or even impossible,” says Marlein de Haart, a spokesperson for Innofa BV, a supplier of knitted mattress fabrics based in the Netherlands. Among Innofa’s products are Clearest, a fabric with anti–bacterial, anti–fungal and anti–dust mite properties, and a ticking that uses tea tree oil to provide similar qualities.

“Consumers take comfort in the fact that their mattress ticking has anti–microbial properties,” de Haart says. “And what is important to consumers is important to manufacturers.”

Dennis St. Louis, vice president of sales for Burlington House in Greensboro, N.C., agrees.

“Just take a look at the proliferation of anti–bacterial (and) anti–microbial consumer products made available over the last 10 years,” he says. “By comparison, consumer awareness of flame retardants is in its infancy.”

However, he says: “Consumers and manufacturers appear to desire anti–bacterial and anti–microbial fabrics, but they don’t want to pay extra for them.”

Ticking suppliers like Burlington House have clearly embraced the products, with many offering their own trademarked versions to manufacturers. One Burlington House entry in the category is Bioguard, an anti–microbial fabric that it says keeps mattresses “fresh, clean and odor–free.”

Belgium’s Deslee–Clama Group has an entire Wellness Collection featuring fabrics with names like Breeze and Aria. Radici Soltex, in Greenville, S.C., and Tietex, based in Spartanburg, S.C., also offer anti–microbial fabrics and finishes.

“The science of treating products to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungus and allergens is well established,” says Scott Nelles, vice president of sales for Bekaert Textiles USA in Winston–Salem, N.C. “Most fabric and ticking suppliers have chemicals or materials with proven anti–microbial properties that are cost effective and pose no additional health risk.” Bekaert’s products in the sanitary ticking arena include HyCare, which promises protection against mold, dust mites, allergens and bacteria, and the anti–microbial Sanitized.

What’s more, Nelles adds, these treatments do not diminish a fabric’s look and feel—a quality that some flame–retardant technologies are still striving to achieve.

“The Holy Grail for this industry remains a flammability-compliant fabric for a residential product that is as soft and comfortable as what’s available now and (that) can be used without a barrier,” he says.

To meet consumer and manufacturer demand and to give their companies a competitive edge, fabric suppliers are seeking new ways to provide tickings with protective qualities. A new Innofa textile, for example, contains yarn derived from natural bamboo.

“This is a very new material with properties that are extremely fit for mattresses,” de Haart says. “Bamboo is extremely absorbent and has perfect ventilation, making it anti–microbial by nature. The fabric also has the shine and softness of silk, is quite strong and resists creases.”

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