Skip navigation
Retail Traffic

EXPERT ANALYSIS: Fiber finishes first

Everyone tries to stay on of the latest trends. Customers and clients have seen putty walls, avocado appliances and shag carpet. Everyone survived “the mauving of America” and we endured open-weave casements.

What's next?

Vendors discovered new treatments and uses for the fibers of yesterday. Through various new operations such as spinning, weaving, dipping and baking, vendors are using fiber to create textiles never seen before. Fortunately, this latest development surpasses the word “trend.”

The new fiber processes unfold new textures, patterns, features and color hues that were not an option before. The treated fibers blend with the textiles, allowing translucency and shadows to play an important role in creating an overall look.

Common area furniture, storefront window treatments and walls can now take on a variety of new appearances.

Shopping center designers who once used solid walls are now creating separations with translucence. Knoll Textiles offers a product called Imago that looks as if a woven material has been set between two pieces of fiberglass.

Textile companies want customers to imagine a food court alive with light, shadow, color and texture; a space transmitting movement and energy with partitions that simultaneously conceal and reveal.

The product is thick and durable enough to serve as a wall or storefront a screen, ceiling, door or countertop.

It also offers translucence bringing a warm, residential feel to an urban mall. This new look created with fiberglass is just one of the many new textile options.

New and improved

Along with this new look, these textiles have qualities surpassing options of yesterday. Not only do they offer new visual imagery and extended design freedom, but they prove to be durable and cost-effective.

When literally put to the test, some of these textiles more than tripled durability standards of other fabrics.


One standard is the Wyzenbeek double-rub test. A wire brush is rubbed back and forth over a sample of material. One back and forth motion represents one “double rub”. Some of these new textiles reached an unbelievable 1,000,000 rubs.

Imagine having such a durable product to use in common areas where shoppers sit. Typically, these areas can only be designed with hard seating. By using treated fibers and blending them into fabric, malls can take advantage of strong, durable soft seating.

To attain high levels of durability, dyed nylon is extruded into proprietary fibers and spun into new and progressive yarn including filaments, chenilles, and twisted and marled yarns. This process results in attractive and tough textiles.

When it comes to spills, the fibers force liquid to bead up, making cleanup easy. This feature prevents wet spots, bacteria and stains from becoming permanent and leaves no damage.

Walls and more

It doesn't stop there. These new fiber textiles also prove advantageous when used as wall coverings. The fibers add strength to the walls. When mixed into the fabric, the fibers act similarly to drywall tape strengthening a joint.

The added protection and support of the thicker fiber covering increases durability and again reduces maintenance. The stronger the wall, the less it needs to be repaired or replaced.

The special fiberglass fibers in the wall covering ultimately save time and money, by preventing damage in the first place. Used as wall coverings, these fabrics help protect high-traffic areas where wheelchairs, strollers and children's toys cause damage.

As the fabrics cans be painted, there will be no more trying to find matching vinyl wallcoverings in hopes they will blend in with the existing fabric. With little more than a bucket of paint, designers can achieve and maintain a new look.

A wall covering treated with this new fiber technology can easily cover irregular wall surfaces. The solid, durable material hides any damaged or flawed walls; a huge bonus when drywall is out of square.

Usually irregular walls require a repair process called skim coating. This treatment calls for several layers of plaster to be applied to the wall to even it out.

The new, specially-fibered wall coverings provide an alternative to skim coating and the expensive price tag for equipment and labor. This textile application solves even more problems.

Environmentally friendly

Not only do renovation and maintenance become a breeze, but the new fabrics also help the environment, and save time and money. Now wall coverings can be rejuvenated, it may help avoid sending outdated wall coverings to landfills.

The state of the environment is on many mind these days. How can we save it? How can we help it? How can we be more aware of it?

In efforts to meet the needs of environmentally conscious designers, vendors are pursuing a variety of different material uses. The goal is to find elements that can be safe for the environment and still prove to be durable and inexpensive.


In many instances, the prices of these new textiles are extremely competitive, or even more inexpensive than alternatives.

Normally, fabric prices range from $70 to $90 a yard. However there are other options available. Pollack a major textile fabricator offers a variety of choices for less than $60. Brad Bloom, national sales manager of Pollack repeats the phrase, “Pollack under sixty,” to impress customers.

Textiles from Maharam range from $35 to $48 per yard. And the textile supplier ArcCom, touts some of their new textiles for as low as $15 or $20 a yard.

Friendly fabrics

Why has it taken so long to discover them? One theory is that as consumers seek more environmentally friendly products. Vendors are driven to pursue this demand. They applied themselves to extensive research and development.

Because some special fiber textiles are spun from sand they are nontoxic, environmentally safe and flame retardant.

When choosing a wall covering for a food court, the health ramifications are important. For example, a vinyl covering can emit toxic volatile organic contents (VOCs), as would oil-based epoxy paints. A specially fiber-enhanced textile wall covering wouldn't be a health at risk and in addition, it would add strength to the wall. Most paints and vinyl cannot offer these same benefits.

New interiors

As this new development in fiber technology leads the way to a new generation of mall interiors we cannot help but adopt and adapt to the benefits they offer clients.

It is obvious taking advantage of the new aesthetics, the increased durability, the ease of maintenance and the reasonable costs will change and improve everyone's options.

Vendors will always strive for new looks that will grab the attention of the designer. They are constantly watching the developments in Europe and trying to find a niche market that will prove successful.

Tape trends

What could be pulled from the garbage and look acceptable somewhere in a mall interior?

One answer is tape: black, electric tape and recording cassette tape. According to Maharam, mixing various tapes into existing textiles produces a material never seen before.

The composition adds a unique, somewhat metallic look to the fabric and gives it a distinctive texture. If and when it catches on, the novel textile will offer a trendy look.

Million-dollar questions

No matter how good a textile looks, no one is going to use the material if it is not efficient. The questions that must be answered are: Is it durable? How long will it last?

Vendors have samples and ideas of what the textiles of the future will be. Unfortunately, only time will tell at this stage of the game, how these innovative textiles will fare.

Carpet leasing?

Manufacturer Interface, started a carpet leasing program. Mall managers agree to lease the carpet for a period of time, after which, Interface reclaims the carpet and recycles it.

“The selvages are woven into felt and sold to agribusiness. They use the material as a ground cover to insulate crops and control weeds.”

Some pieces are turned into new products such as rubber parking lot bumpers. Other parts are refurbished and donated to nonprofit agencies. The leftover quantities are salvaged and rewoven into new carpet. Very little of the old carpet goes to waste.

Other uses

William McDonough, a designer of ecological textile systems, develops products for Design-Tex (another manufacturer) directly from post-consumer and post-industrial recycled fibers.

The company established a program to transform fabric waste selvages into food for other organisms. The selvages are woven into felt and sold to agribusiness. They use the material as a ground cover to insulate crops and control weeds.

Over time, the felt decomposes into the soil with no negative environmental impact.

The last word

Textile and fabric industries can look back on putty walls, avocado appliances and shag carpet with a smile. They can fondly recall “the mauving of America” and open-weave casements.

As the entire industry stays on top of the latest trends, more new fiber processes will unfold along with better textures, patterns, features and color hues than ever before.

The truth is, the business can be proud of the strides it's taking toward prettier, more durable and environmentally friendly products.


Hollie Walter is the public relations/marketing coordinator at Cleveland, Ohio-based architectural and planning firm KA, Inc.

She serves as a writer and communication specialist.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.