As demand for cut-and-sewn mattress products grows, more textile and components suppliers are entering the zippered cover arena
Driven by the increasing popularity of boxed beds, providers of presewn cover programs — both longtime specialists and a number of fabric suppliers that have added this service to their mix — are experiencing steady growth.
While e-commerce accounts for the bulk of the demand, makers of foam and hybrid beds also rely on cut-and-sew sources to make covers for specialty lines that are sold both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. The shift is part of an overall trend throughout the mattress industry of bed makers turning to outside suppliers for specialized services as a way to trim costs and improve efficiencies.
“Eight or 10 years ago, you didn’t see much outsourcing of this type of work by mattress manufacturers,” says Lorne Romoff, vice president of sales and marketing for Maxime Knitting in Montreal. “But, over time, producers began importing more fabrics and then finished beds, as a way to become more competitive, and now they are very comfortable using outside suppliers for a variety of components and services.”
Sewn covers, also known as zippered covers, have proven to be a particularly active arena.
Clean and simple
“Manufacturers are starting to see the value of presewn covers and using them on beds beyond all-foam mattresses, whether it be hybrids or other types of innerspring mattresses, as well,” says Will Creekmuir, director of sales and marketing for BekaertDeslee Solutions’ U.S. operations in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Knit fabrics have evolved so much in the last several years. We are seeing growth not only in mattress covers but also in accessory products, such as pillows and protectors.”
BekaertDeslee Solutions, the cut-and-sew division of Waregem, Belgium-based mattress fabric major BekaertDeslee, specializes in “all things cut and sew” and continually is adding to its capabilities “to ensure we keep up with industry trends,” Creekmuir says. “Lately, we have seen manufacturers really start exploring a wider range of fabric technologies and constructions on mattress covers. Temperature management continues to be popular but companies are also exploring engineered fabrics and the use of new yarns.”
Covers that have a clean and simple design with a focus on functionality tend to sell the best, he says.
Knowing that lead times are important to customers and that market demand ebbs and flows, BekaertDeslee Solutions is working “to shorten that time and provide sewn covers much faster,” Creekmuir adds. “To help with this, we have recently added cut-and-sew capabilities in our Mexican textile facility in Tlaxcala to start evolving toward a one-stop-shop model where we can knit fabrics and sew covers the same day, all under the same roof.”
Having such capabilities will enable BekaertDeslee Solutions to better serve the cut-and-sew needs of its U.S. customers, while also providing an edge against the growing number of offshore competitors, which typically have much longer lead times for order turnaround, Creekmuir says.
Boxed bed boom
With sales of boxed beds exploding, “everyone is playing catch-up” to meet the growing demand for zippered covers, says Eric Delaby, executive vice president of sales and marketing for CT Nassau Corp., a producer of woven and knitted mattress ticking, borders and tape based in Burlington, North Carolina. “There are not enough cut-and-sew people to make everything. We were late to enter the game, but now are committed to it.”
In late 2018, CT Nassau made two strategic investments that significantly expanded its presence in the cut-and-sew arena. In November, it acquired a majority ownership stake in Ideal Quilting, a longtime cut-and-sew service provider based in North York, Ontario. In addition, the company established a partnership with Furniture for Living in Asheboro, North Carolina, creating a new cut-and-sew operation called Cover Contract Sewing.
“These two new partnerships make us even more vertically integrated and put us in a great position to better service our customers’ needs,” Delaby says. “We now offer a one-stop-shop source for mattress fabrics, borders, tapes, handles, and presewn and engineered covers — virtually everything for a cover except the zipper.”
Part of Milan, Italy-based Stellini Textile Group, CT Nassau offers a wide range of engineered panels and borders designed for use on boxed beds, as well as hybrid, encased foam and
innerspring mattresses. Its higher-end Fascia borders, for example, look like intricate cut-and-sewn borders but come off the loom in a single piece.
“With our new engineered border designs, it’s easier to weave in complex patterns instead of sewing,” Delaby says. “By weaving the design, you reduce the sewing labor, thus reducing the cost.” And because finding skilled sewers poses a growing challenge for the industry, the ability of machines to create complex patterns on panels and borders is a big plus, Delaby says.
To help customers respond to unpredictable sales patterns and fast-changing market demands, CT Nassau has lowered its minimum order requirements and is promoting a wide range of popular in-stock covers that are ready to ship in a day.
When it comes to style, “at Ideal Quilting, we’ve been getting a lot of requests for presewn smooth-top covers that really stand out visually,” says Nick Rossini, president and chief executive officer of Ideal Quilting. “We’ve been getting more requests for distinct, eye-catching designs that take inspiration from the runways of New York, Paris and Milan. We are always watching the trends in fashion and interior design, pulling ideas from those industries and incorporating them into our sewn covers. Our creative abilities are only bound by the imagination of our clients.”
Producers’ increased openness to bolder colors and patterns is a change from only a few years ago. The new mindset reflects “the need for our clients to have their product really stand out, especially in such a large, saturated market,” Rossini says.
In addition to more innovative styling, manufacturers are looking for sewn covers that “easily form to specific mattress sizes, are easy to install and remove, and also have a balance of durability and comfort,” he says.
Easily removable sewn covers give producers and retailers added flexibility in their merchandising. “Our sewn covers can easily be switched out between simple or more complex designs depending on the situation, giving clients a higher chance of selling a mattress using a cover that’s more eye-catching and attractive than a conventional quilted cover that is permanently attached to a mattress,” Rossini says.
As technology evolves, so does suppliers’ ability to create more intricate designs, colors and patterns. Ideal has upgraded the technology in its facility to help customers more quickly bring their design visions to life, says Rossini, adding that technology also “is being incorporated into mattresses in exciting and innovative ways, (such as) covers that help pull heat away from sleepers and new materials (with) eco-friendly origins.”
Maxime Knitting’s sewn cover service, called TM Couture, started four years ago and continues to generate strong growth, Romoff says. Building on that momentum, Maxime is adding a second cut-and-sew facility this spring in Mexico to expand its ability to service the promotional end of the market. The new facility, like its Montreal site, will employ about 100 sewers. Lead times for orders will be about three weeks.
“Our new Mexico facility will mirror our operation here in Canada,” Romoff says. “It will be totally vertical, offering everything from knitting and finishing to complete cut-and-sew covers.”
The 50,000-square-foot plant will provide an alternative for the “price-sensitive customer,” Romoff says, “particularly larger bed producers looking for a long-term strategic partner.”
Maxime’s ability to offer one-stop shopping provides an important competitive advantage, according to Romoff. “Thanks to our technology and our skilled designers, we can offer complete, end-to-end solutions for mattress and box spring covers,” he says. “Instead of buying a cover or border fabric from us and then sending it to another company for sewing, finishing or laminating, we can handle all of those steps in-house.”
This vertical integration also helps reduce costs. “There are no surprises, and if a customer needs to make a sudden change, we can turn on a dime because we’re not dependent on someone else to do something for us,” Romoff says.
To become more efficient, TM Couture installed Montreal-based Visual Next’s End2End omnichannel software solution in 2018. The software, which tracks every detail of production (including worker output), has enabled TM Couture to streamline both its business operations and product development process in a fully traceable and transparent fashion.
“TM Couture is in a business environment where our success depends on our ability to rapidly respond to changing business requirements,” says Maxime Thériault, owner of Maxime Knitting. “The Visual End2End suite completely connects our business by allowing information to be shared across all departments in real time.”
In terms of style, today’s zippered covers are cleaner, Romoff says. “Cover designs are more classic and simpler. The fancy zippers and other embellishments that were popular four or five years ago have mostly disappeared as bed producers look to contain costs.”
Knit borders also have largely displaced all-woven borders on zippered covers, since knits are less likely to wrinkle and have much faster recovery times when beds are unboxed, Romoff says. At the same, color is playing a bigger role. “Bed producers are thinking outside of the box to get into the box,” Romoff jokes. “We’re seeing more heathered grays, chambrays and indigos, and even dark shades being used on panels and borders.”
Bold tones photograph better, making them attractive options for e-commerce players seeking to create product differentiation, he adds. “Boxed beds aren’t a sea of white anymore. As the segment gets more crowded, fashion is becoming a more important way to attract shoppers’ attention,” Romoff says.
“Made in America” pride
Another company seeing strong growth in sewn mattress covers is Jomel Seams Reasonable, a division of Jomel Industries, a bedding components supplier based in Hillside, New Jersey. Since acquiring Seams Reasonable, a cut-and-sew company with just one small facility, in 2012, Jomel has grown the sewn products side of its business into a major profit center with five facilities totaling more than 100,000 square feet. The company has two facilities in Burkesville, Kentucky; one in Jamestown, Kentucky; and additional facilities in Trinity, North Carolina, and Irvington, New Jersey.
Jomel Seams Reasonable now employs more than 125 people in its sewing operations, making a wide range of zippered bed and pillow covers for the bedding industry, as well as related cut-and-sew products, such as foot protectors, pillow shams and bolsters. In addition, Jomel Seams Reasonable serves a diverse range of markets and is doing an increasing amount of work for the U.S. government, providing sewn products for the military and correctional sectors.
“Our zippered cover sales were up 20% in 2018, and we expect 17% to 18% growth in 2019,” says Lila Walker, company president. Much of the growth is driven by e-commerce and boxed beds, but Jomel Seams Reasonable also is doing a lot of work for the traditional mattress sales channel.
For the brick-and-mortar segment, Jomel Seams Reasonable typically sews quilted zippered covers with a more traditional mattress look. These beds — mostly boxed foam beds but also some hybrid and organic models— are designed for sale through big-box retailers and target more traditional consumers.
For the online boxed bed market, where millennials and younger consumers are the target, mattress makers are asking for smooth covers that are “simple, clean and elegant,” Walker says. “They don’t want anything extreme. Their focus groups are telling them that shoppers are attracted to sophisticated, understated designs with a just a touch of pizazz in the border or face.”
Heathered gray and charcoal tones, along with classic whites and off-whites, are popular choices for covers right now, she says.
In its booth at the biennial ISPA EXPO, Jomel is known for its innovative cover creations featuring unusual color combinations on the panels and borders, complex decorative stitching and other unusual embellishments, such as leather piping or border trim. While these boldly designed prototypes seldom find their way into production, they spark valuable conversations, Walker says. “These designs encourage everyone to look at beds in a new way — and, over time, some of these fashion elements are adapted and used,” she says.
When it comes to current cover trends, Walker says subtle embellishments are the rule of the day. Premade engineered borders are one way that bed producers add visual interest to their covers. Decorative handles created solely with stitching are another. Most of today’s foam beds are too heavy for an actual handle to support, but a “decorative handle provides an appealing accent,” says Phil Iuliano, CEO of Jomel Industries.
Embroidered brand logos, custom zippers and subtle coloration are other ways designers can get creative.
“If a bed features copper-infused foam, we’ll suggest that the cover include some copper colorations to help convey that marketing story,” Walker says. Or a mattress incorporating natural materials might have a nature-inspired cover. “We work closely with all our customers to understand their brand strengths and goals, then help them come up with cover designs that communicate those messages for each model,” Walker says.
The Jomel Seams Reasonable team also works closely with leading ticking and foam suppliers to assist customers with finding the right covers for their needs, Iuliano says. As boxed beds have gained momentum, more and more bed producers are relying on cut-and-sew specialists to assist with everything from fabric sourcing to the cutting, sewing and finishing of covers.
“Everyone is struggling with higher labor costs,” Iuliano says. “Zippered covers are so much easier and quicker for a manufacturer to install that it can be a big savings.”
While Jomel Seams Reasonable faces growing competition from offshore cut-and-sew sources with lower labor costs, the company’s U.S. roots offer distinct advantages, Iuliano says. “Because we’re here in the U.S., freight rates are lower and order turnaround is often faster, too,” he says. “And with our pool of design and sewing talent, we can offer custom solutions to our customers that truly set them apart.”
As the interiors of mattresses have become more sophisticated, so too has the role of covers in delivering brand messaging. Whether hand-sewn or engineered, mattress covers are increasingly sporting logos and other embellishments that identify branding and product features, such as cooling.
“You can’t see the presence of innovative technologies such as phase-change materials, zoning or far infrared applications from the outside of a bed,” says George Jimerson, director of manufacturing at Creative Ticking in Gastonia, North Carolina. “So, the design of the cover provides an effective way to both reinforce the brand and to highlight the key features inside a mattress.”
A major fabric supplier, Creative Ticking is seeing growing demand for engineered covers in which the panel and border are knit as a single unit rather than as separate pieces that must be sewn together. This approach cuts the amount of labor that goes into each cover. In addition, engineered covers provide an opportunity to integrate brand messaging at the front end of the design process, providing more opportunities for custom colors, embroidery and other decorative details.
“When we’re building zippered covers, we try to accentuate what’s inside the cover — the technology that’s in the foam or the core of the mattress, as well as any technologies that are in the cover itself,” says Tim Witherell, executive vice president of Creative Ticking. “Our goal is to design the aesthetics of the cover to best convey the bed’s features and tell the brand’s story.”
Ron Sytz, owner and president of Creative Ticking, adds: “We create zippered covers that deliver both function and fashion. And with our top-of-the line machinery, we are able to customize products to match any branding.” The company recently added new machinery, including automated embroidery, heat transfer and cutting equipment.
In addition to its engineered cover capabilities, Creative Ticking has a robust cut-and-sew operation in North Carolina that it added about six years ago in response to customer demand. A division of Beverly Knits, the company also produces fabrics for the automotive industry and apparel, industrial and medical markets. Specialty coatings for all its fabrics are available through its Altus Finishing division.
“Our major strength is vertical integration. We do everything from knitting and cut and sew to finishing, quick-order turnaround and inventory management,” Witherell says. “We offer an attractive alternative to offshore operations since we offer much faster time frames — generally two weeks or less, depending on the order size — and can help mitigate the risks involved in sourcing from a distance.”
Creative Ticking’s ability to hold and manage inventory is a big plus, Witherell adds. “E-commerce companies don’t always have a lot of experience to draw from with regards to product flow. They might run a weekend sale and get totally surprised by the amount of orders they generate,” he says. “We can help them manage that flow of goods by holding fabric inventory for them and then stepping up the production of their covers as needed.”
Witherell adds that the possibility of preliminary anti-dumping duties being imposed on imports of Chinese mattresses is leading many producers and retailers to re-think their boxed bed sourcing strategies. U.S. duties announced in May could significantly slow the flood of low-priced imports from China. “E-commerce retailers like Amazon are having to find new domestic suppliers for their programs, and that’s creating new opportunities,” he says.
In 2018, Creative Ticking’s zippered cover business grew about 12% to 15%, according to company officials. This year, the company expects growth to be even stronger, as more manufacturers who weren’t in the boxed bed business before introduce products with zippered covers. In addition, many of the traditional mattress majors are turning to zippered covers for other types of beds, from traditional memory foam and latex models to innerspring and hybrid constructions.
With zippered covers growing ever more sophisticated, customers are relying on Creative Ticking’s in-house team for ideas, Sytz says. “They’re looking for new techniques and treatments that can set them apart from the crowd. Our design team of Priscilla Peralta and Kathleen Kelly shares a high level of creativity and technical knowledge that will provide our customers with innovative products.”
Right now, Witherell says, quilted knit covers with textured motifs and patterns are particularly popular. Such looks can sometimes pose a problem on boxed beds, but the use of more flexible yarns, such as spandex, that quickly bounce back is making quilted knits a more attractive option. “A woven border will just stay wrinkled up when the bed comes out of a box, while a knitted construction allows the fabric to stretch and recover,” he says.
At Innofa Americas, which has cut-and-sew operations at its U.S. headquarters in Eden, North Carolina, and in Mexico, demand for zippered covers is expanding beyond boxed bed applications to include more hybrid models. The company has developed a new type of zippered cover that helps “camouflage” the springs of a hybrid so it can be compressed and boxed without losing the benefits of the product, says CEO Johan Cleyman.
“Hybrids that are being compressed usually do not come with a foam encasement around the pocket springs (since) the springs push out the foam during compression,” Cleyman says. “(As a result), the feel of springs at the side of the mattress can be perceived as lower level and should be avoided.”
An early mover in the e-commerce arena, Innofa continues to enjoy steady growth in its zippered cover business, and, during the past three years, the company has more than doubled its engineered cover sales. Cleyman expects that trend to continue as the benefits of engineered covers become more apparent to makers of both boxed and traditional bed alike, he says.
“An engineered cover gives you so much flexibility in how you can design swooshes and other elements to enhance the look,” Cleyman says. “We’re doing more and more of these covers for hybrids and for traditional innerspring models, as well. The de-wrinkling of knits is much better than for wovens, since the elasticity of knits ‘snugs’ better around the foam and delivers a better unwrapping experience.”
While the range of designs that can be created with engineered covers is vast, that doesn’t mean the sky is the limit, Cleyman adds. One challenge cut-and-sew providers face is the fact that designers “are used to working with print designs that have resolutions as high as 300 dots or more per inch,” he says. “But, on a knitting machine, we have about 20 stitches per inch available to play with, so we make the most of every single stitch.”
To get the best possible finished product, Innofa works closely with its partners to determine how their ideas can be rendered most effectively with the materials, technology and employees it has at its disposal. The company is always on the lookout for new ways to improve its design execution.
“The need to differentiate yourself from the competition by creating a more luxurious look is becoming more and more important,” Cleyman says. “The most popular covers right now are distinguished by a smart, tech-savvy look with an upscale appeal and enhanced performance.”
At Interzum Cologne in Cologne, Germany, in May, Innofa launched a new fabric that features “extreme chill cooling,” as well as far infrared ray technology. The introduction strengthens the company’s assortment of performance fabrics, Cleyman says, providing the “most requested feature in bedding,” which is cooling, plus FIR technology, “the biggest-growing development in performance apparel.”
FIR technology is a ceramic fiber coating that transforms body heat into far infrared rays that are then reflected back to the body as waves of energy. According to New York-based Nanobionic USA, whose U.S. Food & Drug Administration-registered technology is used in fabrics for apparel, footwear and sleep products, far infrared rays have the ability to penetrate, sooth and stimulate the human body, providing active recovery during sleep.
Going forward, Innofa expects to make full use of its Customer Experience Center to develop innovative products, such as its new FIR line. The center provides a place where customers can work directly with the company’s team to explore new ideas and develop creative cover designs. “We can develop the perfect product to meet their vision right on-site, without the usual back and forth and time delays that come with sourcing from a mix of different fabric, tape and border suppliers,” Cleyman says.
The ability to offer one-stop shopping to customers has been an important driver of growth at A. Lava & Son, which has been providing mattress components and other services to the sleep products industry since 1917. A longtime provider of mattress “kits” and contract quilting to factory-direct manufacturers, Chicago-based A. Lava started producing sewn covers in 2004 for large national brands seeking covers for specialty bedding. In recent years, the company’s program has expanded to include zippered covers for e-commerce players.
Since 2012, A. Lava also has had a joint marketing partnership with Culp Home Fashions called CLASS (Culp-Lava Applied Sewn Solutions), which is a source for mattress fabrics, zippered covers, foundation covers, pillows, toppers and other sleep products. CLASS has cut-and-sew facilities in High Point, North Carolina; Shanghai, China; and a new facility in Codevi, Haiti, that began production in 2018. CLASS’ global production enables both Culp and A. Lava to “scale and flex” depending on customers’ requirements, says Adam Lava, co-owner of A. Lava & Son.
Today, A. Lava and CLASS produce tens of thousands of zippered covers every week.
“We do the work at whichever facility makes the most sense, based on the nature of the project, the turnaround that’s needed, and the price and volume requirements,” Lava says. “Having this diverse manufacturing base enables us to deliver the best looks on time while still being very competitively priced.”
From Culp Inc.’s perspective, the company remains “energized and optimistic about the future growth opportunities for CLASS as we maximize our full potential from fabric design and production to finished cover,” said Iv Culp, chief operating officer and president of Culp’s mattress fabrics division, who commented on CLASS’s performance in the supplier’s third-quarter fiscal 2019 earnings report. “Demand trends for mattress covers have been favorable, and we continue to develop new products with both new and existing customers and reach growing market segments, especially the popular boxed bedding space.”
But boxed beds aren’t the only market opportunity for zip-on covers. Lava says zippered covers are quickly “finding their way into every category” — from innerspring, latex and hybrid models to specialty segments like airbeds and waterbeds and even pillows, toppers and pet beds.
“It takes a lot of skilled labor to put a traditional cover with tape-edging onto a bed,” Lava says. “Zippered covers offer a very affordable alternative to tape-edged beds, and producers are now realizing that there’s no limit to where a zippered cover can work.”
Style-wise, zippered covers are growing ever more sophisticated, according to Lava. “Producers are taking cues from the apparel and athletic worlds and using the face of the cover to promote and reinforce their brands,” he says. “Embroidery and heat-transfer treatments are putting the brand front and center as part of the overall design.”
Zippers also are playing a new role as a fashion element. “Zippers used to be just a way to enclose the product,” Lava says. “But now, they’re also being used to enhance aesthetics.”
A. Lava, which also does cut-and-sew for the apparel industry, now is offering flatlock stitching on zippered covers. A technique seen in sports apparel and swimwear, flatlock stitching joins together two pieces of fabric with a decorative flat seam that provides additional visual interest.
“More and more, we’re taking sewing techniques from apparel and applying them to mattress covers,” Lava says. “Welts and ribbons still have a place in enhancing cover design, but there’s a lot we can do with stitching, as well, particularly with the new machines we have.”
In the past year, A. Lava has made substantial investments in machinery, technology and human capital to enhance its capabilities, Lava says. The range of services it now offers to manufacturers and retailers includes product assembly, roll packing and e-commerce fulfillment.
“To win in the marketplace, we have to be more and more creative so that we can deliver the services and looks that give our customers an edge on store floors and websites,” Lava says.