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Fabric design expertise creates colorful new business opportunities

July 1st, 2008 / By: / Feature, Markets

0708_f1_1As a designer, I am often asked where I find inspirations for colors and patterns. My short answer is “everywhere.”

Designers are by nature closely attuned to their surroundings, knowing that inspiration can come from just about anywhere and when you least expect it. Fashions worn by runway models in Paris, costumes featured in new movies and iconic figures from history, such as President Kennedy or Humphrey Bogart, all serve as inspirations for color and design.

When the movie “Annie Hall” debuted more than 30 years ago, Diane Keaton’s menswear style helped encourage a more tailored look in women’s clothes. Rap musicians have given rise to baggy pants and hooded sweats, and endearing characters in “Sex In The City” have inspired an entire generation of young women to dress like Carrie.

model on Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2008/09. A piece from Julia Nikolaeva Collection
model on Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2008/09. A piece from Julia Nikolaeva Collection

Some design inspirations have an impact for only a season, while other trends last for generations. We continue to see the influences of artist Andy Warhol with his brightly colored, psychedelic interpretations of pop art from the 1960s. Other design influences appear, disappear and then reappear. Hip hugger jeans of the 1960s have been adopted by a new generation of young women.

For the past several years, the Marine Design Resource Alliance, a trade group promoting enhanced design for the boating industry, has sponsored a seminar during IBEX called “The Business of Color.” This annual seminar features designers from some of America’s leading consumer brands, such as Toyota, to help inspire all of us in the boating industry to think more broadly and more creatively about color, design and consumer trends.

We purposely named our seminar “The Business of Color” because color is indeed very big business. Millions of dollars are spent each year to research the latest color trends, and millions more are at stake based on those decisions. Successful consumer product companies want to be on the “leading” edge, but not the “bleeding” edge of color and design.

When planning design concepts for the marine industry, I draw inspirations from many areas, ranging from yachting traditions to home furnishings and fashion apparel. The marine industry respects the classics, and a nod to tradition is always essential. At the same time, boaters are also consumers with stylish homes, sleek cars and trendy clothes. Just as cars, homes and clothing are personal expressions of style and taste, so are decisions concerning fabrics that a person selects for a boat.

Designers are by nature closely attuned to their surroundings, knowing that inspiration can come from just about anywhere and when you least expect it.
Designers are by nature closely attuned to their surroundings, knowing that inspiration can come from just about anywhere and when you least expect it.

This coming together of design influences is illustrated in the new Sunbrella Yachting Collection. Our goal was to create a collection of fabrics for marine interiors that would represent a modern interpretation of classic marine colors and designs. By “interpretation” we meant that these fabrics had to be firmly grounded in the marine tradition, while reflecting styling influences that fit the way people live today. The new collection emphasizes traditional marine colors—blue, green, red—yet has the look and feel of home upholstery. We drew heavily on our experience in the casual furniture industry in developing the Yachting Collection, creating fabrics that people could envision enjoying on the deck of a boat or a deck in the backyard at home.

Marine fabricators are becoming increasingly attuned to design trends, resulting in more satisfied customers and profitable new growth opportunities. Just as consumers are eager for suggestions on how to dress or decorate their homes, they are also eager for all of us in the marine industry to suggest how they can improve their enjoyment of boating, including the use of fabrics above and below deck.

When planning design concepts for the marine industry, Paige Mullis, a marine design specialist with Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, draws inspiration from areas ranging from yachting to home furnishings and apparel.
When planning design concepts for the marine industry, Paige Mullis, a marine design specialist with Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, draws inspiration from areas ranging from yachting to home furnishings and apparel.

A growing number of marine fabricators employ staff members or consult with professionals who are members of ASID (American Society of Interior Design). These progressive marine shops recognize that their customers are eager for suggestions concerning how to improve the look and utility of their boats. These same fabricators know that by offering design expertise and taking the lead, they can create opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell their customers.

If offering design suggestions is a new area for you, there is a simple way to hone your approach to the “business of color.” The next time you are working with a customer, observe the type of car they drive and how they are dressed. Ask them a few questions concerning their homes, tastes in colors and the last movies they saw. Are they conservative and classy or are they more fashion forward?

From this information, you can provide fabric and color suggestions that will not only be appreciated, but will enhance the relationship with your customer and just might lead to additional sales opportunities in the form of new cockpit and cabin cushions. At the very least, you and your customer will enjoy the exchange and form a relationship that can help grow your business.

There has never been a better time to adopt a design-oriented approach to marine fabrication. Performance fabrics have progressed light years from the days when all a marine fabricator had to stock was Pacific Blue. Exterior fabrics are available in a wide array of solid colors and textures, from the traditional to the fashion forward. Drawing inspiration from a boat’s overall design, including the hull color and accessories, allows you to enhance the look of a craft on the water with just the right selection of canvas.

Interior fabrics allow you to carry the design sense and colors of a boat’s exterior below deck. You can create a cabin that is just as comfortable as a sofa at home, yet with no worry of mildew.

As boaters are tending to keep their vessels longer before trading up, the ability of a marine fabricator to suggest additional fabric opportunities has never been more important. An investment in new canvas above and below deck is a cost effective way for a boat owner to have the feeling of a new boat at a fraction of the cost.

Look around you. What are the lead characters in the latest movies wearing? What are the runway models in Paris and New York debuting? These inspirations may appear to be a long way from a marina, but not really.

Successful marine fabricators respect fine yachting traditions of the past but are ready to lead their customers into new designs and colors for how they live today. Color is not only big business—it is also fun. Give it a try. Your customers are ready.

Paige Mullis is a marine specialist with Glen Raven Custom Fabrics LLC, maker of Sunbrella marine fabrics. Mullis has focused on design and design concepts using Sunbrella fabrics for marine, furniture and awning markets for more than 15 years.

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