Don’t sleep on the importance of mattress tapes and fibers. Each has a role to play in making the bed an attractive, cozy and comfortable sanctuary. See what’s new in these categories.
When we talk about major mattress components, we think primarily of innersprings, foams, latex and fabrics. But try making many mattress types without tape or fibers. These “secondary” components have big roles to play in bedding, adding to both the aesthetic and functionality. In the following, BedTimes examines trends and innovations in these key categories.
Emphasis on the Accent
Mattress tape ties the bed together. Originally a structural element that secured panels and borders, tape has evolved into a visual component that accents fabric designs, as well. And suppliers say that today’s tapes help to create mattresses with high-quality looks that attract shoppers’ attention.
“Tape is a small item in terms of mattress construction but it embellishes the mattress and can increase its value in a big way,” says Andrea Lazzaroni, executive vice president and chief operating officer for CT Nassau, a producer of mattress tape and ticking based in Alamance, North Carolina. “The appearance of a mattress gives the customer their first impression of its quality. When they see nice fabrics and nice tape details, they are drawn to that mattress.”
Bo-Buck Mills Inc. has been producing mattress tape since 1951. “Tape design and colors are coordinated to the mattress fabric. They no longer merely ‘hold the mattress together,’ ” says John Bailey, president of the narrow fabrics supplier with headquarters in Chesterfield, South Carolina. “They are often used as a decorative feature, such as a ribbon — an aesthetic touch rather than functional component.”
A welcome resurgence
Because of the increasing popularity of boxed beds and zippered covers without tape-edges, Bechik President Bill Simon thought mattress tape had hit a plateau. But business boomed in 2020, as bedding sales benefitted from consumers cocooning at home because of the pandemic and spending their discretionary cash on their homes rather than travel, dining or entertainment.
After widespread spring shutdowns because of Covid-19, in June 2020, Bechik had its biggest month in the past two or three years, and business has been strong since. “Usually, in November in a ‘normal’ year, business would be slowing down, but we’re not seeing that yet,” Simon says. “The companies that are succeeding right now are the ones who are handling back orders best and making sure product is getting to customers. That’s why customer service is so important.”
Recent antidumping determinations that levy duties on mattresses imported to the United States from seven countries also are driving domestic tape sales, Simon says. “A lot of those mattresses that were being imported had tape-edges,” he says. “Now more of those type of beds are being made in the United States, so we’re seeing a bit of a renaissance again.”
Bechik, an employee-owned company with headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota, is expanding production in Centre, Alabama, opening a second facility that will give it another 20,000 square feet of space near its original 35,000-square-foot plant. For bedding, the company offers 100% polyester woven and knit tapes, as well as polyester and polypropylene woven and knit blends. The company also makes a variety of other accessories for mattresses, including tufting components, zippers, thread, corner guards and foundation legs.
Because of a trifecta of cancelled industry trade shows, an unexpected surge in bedding sales after the spring shutdowns and subsequent industrywide supply chain disruptions, tape suppliers concentrated less last year on rolling out new tape collections and colors and more on simply getting tape out the door and to their customers.
And mattress manufacturers largely have been ordering the basics: black, grays of all shades, dark blues and white. “They’re going gangbusters,” says Laura Allred, product manager for AEC Narrow Fabrics, a family-owned narrow fabrics producer based in Asheboro, North Carolina. Black is Bechik’s biggest seller right now. “We’re getting calls from people who aren’t even our customers asking for black tape,” Simon says.
Mattress lines inspired by athleisure looks often incorporate tapes in brighter colors — reds, oranges and yellows; lime and kelly green; icy blues; purple; and even neons, Allred says. Brighter hues also are ideal for direct-to-consumer e-commerce sales because they photograph well and “pop” on the screen, Lazzaroni says.
Copper-colored tapes are popular for mattresses that incorporate copper components for health and wellness benefits, and AEC has made elastic bands for the medical sector with actual copper wire running through them, Allred says. Although pricey, such a construction possibly could be modified for use in consumer bedding products, she adds.
One challenge for tape suppliers is creating products color-matched to a mattress manufacturer’s fabric choices, Allred says. “In several instances lately, we have successfully developed custom mattress tape using the exact same polyester yarn that’s used in a customer’s knit ticking fabric, so tape and tick will match perfectly on the bed,” she says. “It depends, of course, on the yarn size and type, and where it comes from, but it’s an option worth considering for significant programs if the yarn colors we have aren’t close enough.”
When it comes to tape patterns, these days less is more.
“I’m seeing a move away from a lot of pattern in the tape to more of a solid,” Simon says. “We’re selling a lot of solid colors, and I think that has to do with, in my opinion, border fabrics being busier. Mattress manufacturers don’t want the tape-edge to take away from the border fabric design.”
Instead of bold patterns, suppliers are focusing on textural tapes and subtle patterns.
“We sell a pattern called Pinwheel that’s popular,” Simon says. “It’s not overly dramatic. It has some texture that gives definition to the tape-edge, but not in such a dramatic way that it distracts from the mattress fabrics.” Bechik’s Craft line of woven multicolored textured tapes resemble upholstery fabrics and have subtle patterns that aren’t “overly aggressive,” he adds.
To meet the demands of a variety of mattress constructions, tape suppliers offer a range of types, including nonstretch, low-stretch and high-stretch tapes.
“Stretch tapes and piping are currently used in mattresses and are very critical in the manufacturing of mattress covers, a growing part of the industry,” Bo-Buck’s Bailey says. “We are committed to examining these developments and determining if they fit in our business model going forward.”
AEC has introduced a fold-over knit mattress tape inspired by materials typically used in apparel, which works well on zippered mattress covers. The 1 ½-inch-wide knit tape is creased down the center and creates a “crisp edge,” Allred says.
Although the unusual circumstances of 2020 may have scuttled big launches of new tape collections, suppliers continue to work with mattress manufacturers to create custom looks.
“The customer is looking for new ideas,” Lazzaroni says. “We are here to support their needs by being very proactive. Being a global company, we are able to collaborate on all aspects of the design process, from yarn content to color. We produce mattress tape in all price points to fit the needs of our customers. Our woven tapes are known throughout the industry for their innovative designs and quality. Our knit tape, originally designed for pillow-top mattresses, provides movement and a coordinated match to the mattress.”
Given mattress tape’s role in tying the look of a bed together, CT Nassau benefits from being a producer of both tape and mattress ticking, Lazzaroni says. (The company, part of the Stellini group based in Magnago, Italy, also has added cut-and-sew operations.) CT Nassau’s design team works with designers in Italy, drawing on trends from around the world to create coordinated looks.
TAPE TREND TAKEAWAY
Black, charcoals and other grays, dark blues and navy, and white are today’s key colors
Texture adds interest to solid tapes
Subtle patterns are more popular than bolder designs
And, with coronavirus vaccines beginning to be distributed around the world, tape suppliers are hoping for a return of more normal business operations, including participation in trade shows. CT Nassau, Lazzaroni notes, is busy developing new tape and ticking collections to unveil in 2021.
Bo-Buck Mills, which prides itself on “excellent innovative design,” offers both standard, open lines of knit and woven tapes, as well as custom tapes, which account for the majority of its business these days, Bailey says.
“We have dedicated sample looms for design and color trials. We have had a design consultant on staff for more than 10 years and a dedicated R&D technician assigned to our sample design weaving,” Bailey says, adding that the company has increased domestic production capacity.
“Over the past three years, we have established a physical testing lab to better ensure quality and customer satisfaction. The lab also plays a major role in color development and indexing of trial histories for customers, as well as for internal trials.” The company has been the primary tape supplier for Tempur Sealy International Inc. for nearly a decade, Bailey notes.
Bo-Buck Mills’ sales in 2020 were strong and Bailey expects that to continue into this year. “We have not slowed development and creativity,” Bailey says.
PAINT PRODUCERS POINT THE WAY: Like mattress fabric designers, mattress tape designers look to apparel, home furnishings, the arts and other cultural arenas for color and design inspiration. And Laura Allred, product manager for AEC Narrow Fabrics in Asheboro, North Carolina, thinks the color forecasts for 2021 from some of the major paint manufacturers “are right on target” in terms of color trends that will be making their way into mattresses. For a sneak peek, Allred suggests checking out the forecasts from Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams.
A Focus on Fibers
As with many other bedding components, mattress manufacturers want fibers that multitask.
“Bedding fiber components are always changing. Manufacturers are looking for something different or trying to improve their bedding constructions,” says Mark Lorusso, president of the Fibers Division at Jeffco Fibres Inc.
Traditionally, fibers have been used to insulate and cushion spring units, provide stability to the core, and add cushioning and comfort to the sleeping surface. But today, fiber components made from biodegradable, renewable, recycled or recyclable materials also contribute to bedding manufacturers’ environmental stewardship and appeal to consumers who seek sustainable products. Fibers, whether natural or synthetic, also provide practical, immediate benefits to a sleeper, for instance, improving the microclimate of the bed by increasing ventilation and managing moisture. (In addition, fibers can be used to help mattress manufacturers meet flammability standards, but we’ll save the topic of FR components for another time.)
Jeffco, based in Webster, Massachusetts, is a family-owned company that also fabricates foam and makes finished bedding products. Its products for bedding include plant-based fibers, such as cotton, hemp and jute, and animal-based fibers, such as alpaca, angora, camel hair, cashmere, mohair, silk and wool. Its organic wool, organic cotton, mattresses, mattress toppers and pillows are certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard by Oregon Tilth. Jeffco also offers an array of technical and commodity synthetic fibers (para-aramid, meta-aramid, PPS, polyester, polypropylene, rayon, etc.), recycled/reprocess fibers, and customized fiber blends.
“You name it and we do it,” Lorusso says, explaining that about 40% of the products the company sells are customized. “We have fibers from all over the world. A customer will come to us and say, ‘We’d like to design X,’ and we’ll help them do it. For instance, two years ago a company asked us to design a horsehair insulator pad with a lower cost so we incorporated polyester. A company like ours is extremely versatile. We can always find ways to tweak fibers to make them better.”
Sustainability at the forefront
Andrew Dailey is senior vice president of sales and business development for the Jones Family of Companies, a supplier of yarns and nonwovens based in Humboldt, Tennessee. He describes his company as “the Baskin-Robbins of fibers.”
“We’ve got the proverbial ‘31 flavors’ because we have the ability to create so many different fiber constructions for different zones of the mattress,” Dailey says.
Jones has a long history of offering sustainable products (including natural, recycled and recyclable fibers) and operating under sustainable practices itself, Dailey says. Jones was founded in 1936 as a recycler of post-industrial fiber.
The company’s line of sustainable plant and animal fibers include standards such as organic cotton and wool, as well as blends, such as wool and cashmere. “Everyone — from traditional mattress manufacturers selling at retail to e-commerce sellers — wants to have a natural bedding line or at least a couple of natural beds that they offer with sustainable fibers. We’ve been at the forefront of that,” says Dennis St. Louis, vice president of sales for the company’s mattress and furniture division.
Jones has been developing new products using jute and hemp. “These aren’t just marketing stories,” Dailey says. “We’re able to engineer nonwovens with bast fibers to maximize the performance benefits of these materials.”
Another newer Jones product is a 100% polyester fiber component that can be used as a quilting layer and also as a foam replacement in mattresses, typically in a buildup on the bottom of one-sided mattresses. “If manufacturers can cut their foam build by using this product, they don’t lose any comfort, but can cut costs and ensure an available supply,” Dailey says.
Although not natural, such Jones products “are sustainable because we’re extending the life-use of the fibers reclaimed from post-industrial textile processes,” Dailey says.
A focus on innovation
Enkev, founded in 1932, has long been known as a supplier of mattress components that are made mostly of natural fibers, and focuses on supplying materials that help its customers to differentiate themselves from the competition. The company’s natural fiber-based comfort materials include alpaca, camel hair, horsehair (and horsetail), and wool; coconut; cotton; hemp; sisal; and many more. Enkev also offers GOTS-certified materials like wool, coir, cotton, flax and hemp. In 2020, Enkev UK was granted membership into the Vegan Society, which means it can offer a certified range of premium vegan mattress components. Enkev’s traditional processes include rubberizing, needle punching and thermo bonding.
But Enkev’s real focus is innovating to solve customers’ problems, says Marc Dokter, owner and managing director of the company, which has headquarters in Volendam, Netherlands, and facilities in Belgium, Poland and the United Kingdom.
“If you look at mattresses in a store from a distance, they all look basically the same: a rectangle in king or queen size,” Dokter says. “And when a shopper can’t tell the difference between mattresses, they’ll buy the cheapest. We think that the inside of the mattress is where manufacturers can really differentiate themselves with special products that offer real benefits, like breathability and microclimate, giving them a compelling story to tell consumers.”
Enkev also offers a fully recyclable material called Labyrinth, a ventilating layer made from 100% recyclable synthetic fibers. “We really would like the material back at the end of a mattress’ useful life because we can put Labyrinth back into the extruder and make the exact same material again,” Dokter says. In addition to appealing to consumers concerned about the environment, he says, recyclable synthetic products like Labyrinth are attractive to the growing segment of vegan consumers who avoid animal products.
Working with wool
While many other fibers suppliers offer a full range of natural and synthetic components, John Marshall & Co. Ltd. specializes in natural fibers, specifically wool from New Zealand sheep. “That’s all we do. No other types of fibers at all — everything is natural,” says Peter Crone, managing director of the company, which is based in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Our wool is sustainable, renewable and fully traceable,” Crone says. “We know exactly where all our fiber comes from — New Zealand sheep, living in a natural environment, grazing on grass in open areas.”
Wool, Crone says, has a number of properties that make it a good choice for bedding applications, including the fact that it is durable, yet soft and comfortable with a nice loft and bounce. It’s also naturally fire resistant and nonallergenic, and helps to regulate the temperature of the sleeping environment. Crone is targeting makers of comforters and toppers as an area of growth for the company.
The company’s fiber products for bedding include its Joma Wool, a “mechanically crimped flagship product known for its high bulk and resilience;” Joma Wool Needled Wool, “a densely needled, 100% wool layer” that runs well on high-speed machinery; and Joma Wool Knops, an engineered loose fill for pillows. John Marshall can add other fibers, such as cashmere and silk, to some of its wool offerings for custom blends. Joma Wool meets Oeko-Tex’s Standard 100.
Some natural and specialty fibers can be pricey and are found more often in luxury bedding, but by using them judiciously, manufacturers can incorporate them into lower-priced products, too.
“We don’t pretend to be cheap,” Crone says. “There’s a good deal of expense that goes into getting wool from the sheep into the form that’s usable in final products,” he says. But Crone emphasizes that wool’s properties, including its durability, make it a cost-effective component. “We’re primarily used in luxury bedding, but there’s no reason why wool can’t be used right down a (manufacturer’s) bedding line,” he adds.
The key to keeping costs reasonable is to use premium fibers in the top layers of the bed, Dokter says. “That’s where you want to create the right microclimate,” he says. “You’re not going to build a whole mattress out of horsehair.”
“Our products have a reputation for being very high-end,” Dokter adds, “but actually, we sell our components for all sorts of mattresses.”