BY GARY JAMES AND BARBARA T. NELLES
Ticking suppliers were plentiful at this year’s ISPA EXPO — more so than ever — and beautifully designed fabrics with a soft hand and dramatic color pops drew many oohs and aahs from attendees. Walking the floor and handling plush knits and silky jacquards was one of the guilty pleasures of this show, held in March in Charlotte, North Carolina. We spoke with a collection of mattress fabric exhibitors during and after the trade fair to find out how this important component is adapting to changing times.
One big trend is the impact of boxed bedding on product introductions. Clean and contemporary looks prevail in fabrics meant for online goods, suppliers say. The race is on to create inexpensive ticking for the border, especially, that springs back — wrinkle-free — from compression and roll packing. Some of these fabrics are stretchy knits; others are wovens with a secret ingredient — we think it’s a percentage of elastic yarns.
Generally, rolled goods suppliers tend to lead with their knit offerings for the mattress panel, but those who operate looms have updated woven collections with lovely minimalist designs or traditional oversized medallions, all with fabulous finishing meant to appeal to bedding’s upper end. Meanwhile, plenty of new knits have “leveled out” in an effort to mimic wovens. These are smooth, flat and relatively unadorned fabrics. Other new knit collections sport outsized medallions, scrolls and other dramatic motifs that we associate with old-fashioned jacquard ticking.
This is not to say that lofty, three-dimensional knits with plenty of fill yarn and all manner of designs have gone away. Not at all. But those super puffy blister knits that look like cloud formations have been replaced with neat dots, dimples, complex geometric shapes and other intricate patterning. Many of these high-rise knits are accented with bits of vivid color and are an Instagram user’s delight.
Indeed, “traditional” three-dimensional, textural knits with “a lot of flow and movement” are playing a big role in the market right now, says Catherine Ellyson, head designer for Maxime Knitting, headquartered in Montreal.
The influences affecting textile design are changing at breakneck speed suppliers say, thanks in large part to our interconnectedness online.
“Information is shared instantaneously in social media across the globe (and it’s) having a large impact on how trends are evolving,” says Martha Williams, creative director for Reidsville, North Carolina-based Global Textile Alliance, part of Love Home Fabrics. “The speed at which (trends) come and go means consumers are exposed to so much more than ever before. Because of this, there are so many design inspirations happening at once.”
Touches of color
Spoiler alert: Mostly white mattress panels continue to predominate on today’s beds. OK, you knew that already. Consumers are drawn to those hygienic white sleep surfaces. But tastes are evolving, suppliers say.
As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, certain colors have found success on top of the mattress. Offerings from ticking suppliers and evidence from the wholesale bedding markets point to the fact that blues and grays have made inroads. And some textile suppliers report new interest in brilliant hues as accent colors on panels, tapes and trim.
Maxime has seen a lot of action in the past eight months or so with soft silver and gray.
“We’re doing more (mixed) and heather tones and different shades of gray mixes,” says Lorne Romoff, Maxime vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ve also generated a good response to fresh colors like chambrays and indigos. Sweatpant-type looks in gray have been popular for a while, so we decided to take it to the next level with some denim tones.”
According to Ann Weaver, vice president of Lava USA, with headquarters in Waterloo, South Carolina, both manufacturers and consumers have become more receptive to the use of bolder accent colors, such as navy, when used sparingly. At ISPA EXPO 2018, Lava met success with a rich mustard yellow tone, as well as a bright red and heather blue.
Eric Delaby, executive vice president of sales and marketing for CT Nassau, says: “(Expect to see) a proliferation of top-panel fabrics that look more like a nice piece of upholstery fabric. There will still be many white mattresses, but we will see more sophisticated looks, including heavy blister knits, with transitional to contemporary patterns knitted with soft, pastel heather yarn.”
He adds that the Alamance, North Carolina-based company has invested more than $3 million in new equipment, including faster weaving and knitting machinery, a laminator, and extrusion and slitting setups.
Like most producers, Waregem, Belgium-based BekaertDeslee has seen strong demand for “quite a bit of gray in all its products,” particularly gray heather yarns in both warm and cool tones on the face of panels, according to Sayonara Herrera, design manager of the company’s U.S. office in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Heading into the second half of the year, the company expects to see “a strong use of color, particularly our Color of the Year, bronze, as an accent and tasteful touches of navy and maple, all very rich and saturated,” she says.
According to Scott Frisch, vice president of business development for Creative Ticking in Gastonia, North Carolina, gray heathers and striated heathers continue to be the standard, but lately “things have been moving pretty strongly into blues. We’re also seeing browns and blues mixed together, which is a new development, and also some black. Most of these looks came out in the past six to eight months, so the jury is out on whether a new trend might emerge.”
The apparel aspect of the mattress is “definitely playing a bigger role in many consumers’ purchasing decisions,” says Holly Fulton, assistant creative director for Culp Home Fashions, part of High Point, North Carolina-based Culp Inc. She says heather yarns, especially Culp’s newest oatmeal color, are inspired by colors seen trending in both fashion and interior design.
Using colors in different combinations “or even going the opposite way and making the bed in a completely solid palette” are other approaches gaining steam, Global Textile Alliance’s Williams says, adding that the use of creative color and patterning on the top and sides of beds plays an important role in sales.
“A retail floor full of large rectangles can be overwhelming to those of us in the industry, let alone a consumer,” she says. “It’s important to not only draw interest from across the room, but to keep that interest up close. You have to have the best look of the overall bed design to get their attention, then color, pattern, texture and, lastly, feel to keep it.”
According to Camilla Franklin, vice president of sales and marketing for Montreal-based Tricots Liesse, “Our heather blues went over well at EXPO, as did our neutral khaki tones.”
Tricots Liesse is a knit supplier that recently made its mattress industry debut. It has offices in Los Angeles and New York, and a warehouse in High Point, North Carolina.
A new fabric that drew kudos for Tricots Liesse at ISPA EXPO 2018 featured random pops of bright mango on a lively geometric grid of gray tones.
Also at ISPA EXPO 2018, Global Textile Alliance launched five new collections, many of which made use of bold, well-defined color. Among these were Tech Savvy, modern soft geometrics inspired by today’s athleisure wear; Then & New, traditional motifs done in a fresh color palette with an emphasis on organic shapes and images; Maximum, high-energy patterns full of movement and play using splashes of bold color; and Double E, a collection of high-end knits in contrasting colors and textures made with new knitting equipment. The name Double E is derived from a type of knitting machine that can give knit ticking the design intricacy and color separation of woven mattress fabrics.
Maxime made a color splash, too, with a bright raspberry concept bed.
“One of our goals was to get customers to think outside the box,” Maxime’s Ellyson says. “We may not sell this fabric, but it plants the seed of where things could go. Little by little, people are becoming more open to change. They don’t want to do the same old thing everyone else is doing.”
And, finally, knitter Bowi-Styl, based in Lodz, Poland, put a major emphasis on its ability to incorporate sharply defined color into knit mattress fabric. Its multicolored knit panels and a large mural of its fabric brightened the floor at ISPA EXPO 2018. The company operates knitting equipment capable of incorporating as many as 20 different colored yarns into a single fabric, says Maciej Sitarz, managing director.
Wovens and wannabes
At ISPA EXPO 2018, one of BekaertDeslee’s biggest hits was Heritage, a new collection of elegant, classical designs woven on the company’s largest looms, Herrera says. The full-bed repeat conveys old-world luxury and “truly speaks to our Belgian damask roots,” she adds.
According to her, the finish on this high-end jacquard collection is extremely soft and silky. “There is a renewed interest in luxury beds, which perfectly aligns with the launch of Heritage,” she says.
Herrera also notes that BekaertDeslee USA recently celebrated the opening of a new 87,000-square-foot warehouse and remodeled showroom at its U.S. headquarters. The warehouse frees up space for additional production.
Culp also sees growing interest in higher-end wovens on mattress panels, especially those using the heather yarns so popular in knits right now.
The look is luxurious and expensive, Fulton says. And, it’s in sync with “a shift in the way that we think about mattresses — more of our customers want their bed to look like a piece of furniture that is more easily integrated into the home environment,” she adds.
As part of this trend, Culp has seen more interest in producers carrying the ticking onto matching upholstered headboards and bases. Culp’s vertical integration and in-house design team offer customers a unique “one-stop shop” where they can custom design bedding and upholstery products from thread to cover, Fulton says.
Maxime introduced a collection of flat knits at ISPA EXPO 2018 designed for panel or border use that have the smooth look of a woven fabric at a “tremendous value” that makes them suitable for beds as low as $499 retail in queen,” Romoff says.
“We’ve developed an innovative, made-in-North America flat knitted fabric of polyester and (polyester-viscose blend) that has the look of a smooth woven top panel but is priced to compete with (inexpensive) imports coming in from China,” he says. “It allows for a very high level of detailing (thanks to our) investing heavily in Double E (knitting) equipment over the past few years.”
Out of the box
Ticking suppliers are doing a lot of product development for customers selling beds in boxes.
According to Lava USA’s Weaver, online bed brands are very interested in clean, crisp looks. “Because our designers are in Belgium, our look tends to be a little more modern and contemporary.” In addition, she notes that e-commerce players want something that photographs well and looks good on a computer screen but doesn’t detract from the overall marketing message.
“The product photo has to be eye-catching, but that visual interest is usually created through texture and pattern rather than color,” Weaver says. “The executives who are driving the boxed-bed business are younger, and they don’t have traditional bedding backgrounds. They tend to like fresh contemporary and geometric designs that fit in well with the vibe of their websites.”
In the online world, the tendency to stick with whites and other quiet neutrals is even more prevalent than elsewhere. “We recently did a quick survey of the leading sites and it’s a ‘sea of sameness’ for the most part,” Creative Ticking’s Frisch says.
Especially on boxed beds, Culp has noted a steady shift toward upholstery-style knits in the past year, as well as a greater focus on texture and minimal patterning, Fulton says.
Culp also makes wrinkle-resistant wovens that have some stretch and recover well when unboxed, she says.
When it comes to ticking for boxed beds, “the aesthetic is different from mattresses designed for in-store sale,” Tricots Liesse’s Franklin says. “Sometimes, plainer is better, because (e-commerce players) are focused on their own branding and don’t want a fabric to detract from their overall message. They might feature a fabric with a pattern, but the colors are generally very understated.”
“With the explosion in boxed beds, contemporary and transitional geometric patterns have really taken off,” she adds. “Traditional patterns will always be important at the high end, but they don’t work as well for boxed beds, and, in the mainstream of the market, contemporary is where the action is.”
The rapid growth in the number of boxed-bed brands brings new challenges in textiles, BekaertDeslee’s Herrera says, adding, “wrinkled borders have become an issue.” To help solve this, BekaertDeslee has introduced a full range of Smooth border options to aid in the recovery of border fabrics once decompressed.
CT Nassau developed new flat knits for ISPA EXPO 2018 in collaboration with its parent company, Milan-based Stellini Group. These have the look of a woven and the stretch and recovery of a knit, making them attractive for foam, latex and boxed beds.
The company is in the process of launching a patent-pending woven border that is flat, recovers in seconds and is wrinkle-free, Delaby says. “Producers who roll pack usually go with woven borders because they are less expensive and offer a much wider range of colors and patterns,” he says.
To help mattress producers distinguish their mattresses from the competition, Bowi-Styl has added new multicolored knitted and printed border designs to its assortment. Trends in borders right now are very diverse in structure, design and color, Sitarz says.
Between handles, tapes-edges and fabrics, customers are combining multiple fabric types on bed borders, he adds. These include knits, wovens, 3-D spacer fabric and even prints.
CT Nassau offers the Fascia line of engineered border fabrics. They come off the loom as a single piece but have the looks of fancy cut-and-sewn textiles.
Manufacturers are choosing textural fabrics, such as those with warmly colored chenille-type yarns, as well as “heathered Taslan yarns,” Delaby says. They’re even going for some bold accent colors such as purple, he adds.
The term “technical fabric” has entered the parlance thanks to ticking suppliers’ efforts to give mattress makers something new to talk about when marketing higher-end bedding. The first technical fabrics probably were those with anti-microbial or stain-resistant finishes. But the term today encompasses more. Anyone shopping for ticking is presented with a mind-boggling array of finishes and fabric treatments, yarns and fiber content, and textile constructions, espousing myriad features and benefits.
“Performance fabric” is another popular ticking term with many implications. Perhaps, 3-D spacer fabric was the first one. You find it in running shoes, and it’s still a popular mattress component. The newest performance fabrics offer a host of reported benefits. We can say with some certainty that they wick away moisture and help keep sleepers cooler because their construction often resembles the textiles used in premium workout wear.
When it comes to other technical textiles, ticking suppliers first dipped into yarn-based technologies when they licensed Outlast, a yarn and a fabric finish using microencapsulated phase-change material. One of the newer yarn technologies licensed by some suppliers is Celliant. It’s a patented, extruded polyester fiber made with powdered minerals that is produced by Los Angeles-based Hologenix LLC. The Celliant website talks about “responsive textiles,” “infrared technology” and a long list of purported health, wellness and sleep benefits.
According to Scott Frisch, vice president of business development for Gastonia, North Carolina-based Creative Ticking, “The mattress industry has lived forever with the mindset that form is the top priority, but now, with the advent of new knitting techniques and fibers that deliver added benefits, such as cooling, wicking and breathability, stain resistance, and more, function is playing a bigger and bigger role in ticking — and in beds in general.”
Creative Ticking’s technical fabrics include Kyla, which uses phase-change material to help regulate temperature. During finishing, it is incorporated into the entire fabric or just the face where it is most needed. Kyla+ uses a yarn containing inherent microencapsulated phase-change material. Both products were introduced in mid-2017.
As a division of Beverly Knits, a supplier of circular knits to the apparel industry, Creative Ticking has a direct link to new performance features that are emerging in sportswear and work clothing, Frisch says.
“Beverly stands at the leading edge of performance fabrics,” he says. “There are technologies being used in our apparel lines that could offer interesting benefits for mattresses. We have a number of new performance products for ticking in the pipeline.”
Gülfidan Yasar, marketing manager of Aydin Tekstil Tic ve Paz AS in Istanbul, highlighted her company’s “cooling applications” and its other technical fabrics, and its growing popularity in the U.S. market. The Aydin Coolness collection has a unique, permanent finish that won’t wash out, and it quickly transmits heat away from the body, she says.
This is just one offering from an entire range of health and wellness fabrics that have earned broad acceptance around the world, Yasar says.
Aydin expects to expand its presence in the U.S. in 2019 when it opens its first domestic warehouse. “Having the ability to service our bedding customers locally will be an important first step in our growth in the U.S.,” she adds.
CT Nassau in Alamance, North Carolina, uses a range of special fabric finishes and technical fibers. Among these are fabrics with Coolfeel, a special polyester yarn that is said to absorb moisture; and Coolissimo, a fabric finish with phase-change material. Coolissimo is available on any CT Nassau fabric. It can be applied all over or, at a lower cost, only on a mattress panel’s warmest sleep zones.
The move toward health and wellness in sleep fabrics started about 10 years ago, says Eric Delaby, CT Nassau’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “Temperature control has been a key feature/add-on for the past four to five years and now these features are becoming even more sophisticated,” he says.
At Lava USA in Waterloo, South Carolina, recent developments on the cooling front include a partnership with 37.5, a Boulder, Colorado-based supplier of a yarn that is said to offer temperature regulation and moisture control. This is in addition to the company’s Thermo+ finish with phase-change material.
Boyteks Tekstil, based in Kayseri, Turkey, also featured technical textiles at ISPA EXPO 2018, where it launched new lines, including one with an anti-microbial finish called Self Cleaning, and other fibers and finishes purported to deliver on a variety of hygiene, health and beauty promises.
“People expect fabrics to provide advantages other than just appearance and comfort,” says Esra Baktir, Boyteks marketing executive.
Boyteks also is tapping into growing interest in natural fibers and has placed a major emphasis on the use of cotton yarns, as well as fiber made from the hemp plant.
Bowi-Styl is exploring many new directions with its fabrics, says Maciej Sitarz, managing director of knitted mattress ticking manufacturer Bowi-Styl, basec in Lodz, Poland. “A bed today is not just springs and foam. The bed has to fulfill several functions: relaxation, regeneration and protection, and it also must ensure maximum comfort for the user and look good aesthetically as well. For years, manufacturers have been racing to come up with attractive finishes, raw materials and construction solutions that improve the quality of sleep,” Sitarz says.