Bold colors and new flooring alternatives are making waves in marine fabric.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus said change is the only constant in the universe. While the application of marine textiles may not be as heady of a topic, it nonetheless abides by the same rule. Progress is impossible without change, and marine fabrics are making progress every year.
A trend noticed by marine fabricators involves the new UV-resistant fabrics for exterior applications. New fabrics from Sunbrella® and Serge Ferrari have caught the eye of Sandy Sturner of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands-based Marine Tech LLC. Sunbrella’s Contour line, designed and manufactured by Glen Raven Inc., of Glen Raven, N.C., is a knit-textured fabric for shade sails and other shade applications. Sturner is eager to test the fabric’s shade-enhancing properties on exterior marine jobs.
“I haven’t used it yet, but I’m interested in Sunbrella Contour [fabric] for shade structures,” Sturner says. “It looks like a nice alternative, visually, for shade on a boat.”
La Tour du Pin Cedex, which is part of French-based Serge Ferrari’s new Précontraint® 502 Satin line, is also on Sturner’s list. “Ferrari 502 has an incredible finish for UV protection,” she says. Located in the Caribbean, Sturner’s marine jobs need to stand up against some of the harshest UV exposure in the world. “We get way more UV than most locations. [Ferrari 502] has been holding up really well. I’m hoping the satin finish will hold up just as well,” she says.
From interior to flooring to exterior cushion covers, a universal trend toward more colorful design seems to be on the horizon. Holly Harrison, vice president of marketing at Corinthian Textiles Solutions, Portland, Ore., notes that gray, in particular, is trending strong in marine fabrics. “Every year we launch new colors and styles,” she says. “Gray is trending strong everywhere. However, we are seeing warm taupe [colors] pick up this model year.” Phifertex® Wicker Weaves and Serge Ferrari’s Précontraint® 502 are also offering more numerous and dynamic color options.
More color inside and out
Sturner is seeing more requests for colorful marine upholstery among her client base, as well. “We are getting more people who are willing to branch out from the taupes and very safe colors, especially in their cushions,” she says. “We are seeing a lot more colors. Three years ago we had a new build, and it was a big boat. They had brilliant purple, bright fuchsia and gold. They ended up winning a best exterior award in a contest.” She points out that Anaheim, Calif.-based Keyston Bros. Inc. provides colorful fabric options that many of her clients choose for their exterior marine fabrics. “They are doing a really nice job with exterior acrylics,” Sturner says. “They have excellent patterns that are more interesting than some more traditional fabrics.”
Krisha Plauché, of Onboard Interiors LLC, Marblehead, Mass., has noticed changes in color preferences, as well. “People are less afraid of large prints,” she says. She notes that two of her recent clients chose prints for seating and bedding options in their boats. Several other clients are choosing more gray fabric for their interiors.
“We worked with [a client] to select gray textured tones for base prints and…a large bold chevron print…and pop of orange by Donghia,” Plauché says.
Another notable trend in marine textiles is woven flooring. Woven mats are stain and UV resistant, they repel water and are relatively easy to install, replace and repair. Over the last several years, they have become a prominent alternative to marine carpeting, especially in exterior boat applications.
Phifer Inc. of Tuscaloosa, Ala., has been one of the leaders in providing woven fabric for this purpose. “We make a fabric that is used as a component for a boat flooring product,” says Phifer’s director of marketing, Gregg Terry. “Our wicker weave fabrics are replacing carpets, primarily on pontoon boats.”
The woven fabric is infused with Microban® antimicrobial protection, which is incorporated directly into the fabric. The Microban protection inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, mildew and other microbes that can cause staining, odors and deterioration of fabrics. The infused protective agent does not wash away or wear off, providing antimicrobial protection for the lifetime of the fabric product.
Phifertex ® Wicker Weave fabrics are made of a polyester core yarn. “We use a raw yarn that we then extrude a vinyl coating onto,” Terry says. “We then weave it on a textile loom. We come up with new designs and patterns every year. To be used as a flooring product, it then has to be matted and a backing put on it to make it slip-proof and moisture wicking.”
The product in question is Corinthian Textile’s AquaWeave™ flooring. The woven fabric is backed with a urethane foam and marine felt called HydroFelt that prevents melting to the deck, degrading or crumbling as many older marine backings are prone to do. The flooring provides a durable and easy-to-clean surface that resists odor, discoloration and water damage that traditional carpet is vulnerable to.
“While there will always be a demand for traditional carpet, there has been a shift towards vinyl products,” Harrison says. “I like to compare it to our homes; the demand for hardwood
and laminate flooring has outpaced that for soft surfaces.”
Identifying a trend and developing a product to meet the demand is an involved process that combines customer input with professional development. “At Corinthian Marine, we go through a lengthy design process where we collaborate with customers, designers and suppliers to create unique looks and styles,” Harrison says. “We consider the latest color and texture trends from all types of industries including automotive and fashion. We will prepare a multitude of samples of which only a few will go in to production. Before any product is brought to market, we test it through an independent testing facility to ensure it meets the performance standards required for the marine environment.”
Above the boards
New trends are rising above the baseboard of boats, as well. Stefanie Wotton, vice president of marketing and contract services for fabric wholesaler Covington Fabric and Design, New York, N.Y., says her company’s Blackout fabric is being used in new ways for marine applications. The 100 percent polyester, flame-resistant fabric is becoming a material of choice for many marine window applications. “It hangs like a drapery,” Wotton says, “and passes International Marine Organization (IMO) specifications.”
Covington’s line of black-out products comes in several different textures and colors and is fitted with a foam backing. “Hotels use them all the time,” Wotton says, and she is noticing more marine fabricators bringing them into the interiors of boats.
Edward Skrzynski, owner of Marco Canvas and Upholstery LLC, Marco Island, Fla., points out that while many boat owners are selecting woven cloths for their variety of colors and patterns, he sees growing interest in alternative fabrics. “We are seeing more requests for a mix of a leather-like product in some places and cloth on others within the same seating surface,” he says. “Headliners and wall liners are still vinyl-based, but [we] do see some consumers electing fabrics to add texture.”
Plauché is seeing vinyl remain popular, but in new styles. “[A] big trend is the textured and embossed vinyls,” she says. “[We are] seeing this in new production helm, cockpit and seating.”
Outside the boat, Skrzynski is watching lesser-known brands improve in quality and compete on price. “For large covers, we…lead with light-weight, high tensile strength, solution dyed, breathable fabrics,” he says. Instead of defaulting to Sunbrella, Skrzynski says his first suggestion is often a WeatherMAX® product. “We tend to lead with WeatherMAX® 80, with [the option to] upgrade to Sunbrella,” he says. “Consumers seem to see a big cost down with WeatherMAX, and based on the performance of the fabric they elect it more often than not.”
Skrzynski notes that for high-end yachts, the big brands like Stamoid tend to appeal to customers because they are familiar with it. However, they are open to suggestions like Rivera or BreakWater X™ as long as the warranty is there. “We have proven success and they can actually touch and feel the fabric samples,” he adds.
People have always wanted to get the most for their money, and Plauché has noticed a longstanding preference for durable fabrics. “Customers are always wanting fabrics that can stand up to children and pets. We are lucky to have sourced so many great mills, she says, adding she likes Ultraleather™, Ultrasuede® and the Kravet® line of Nano-Tex®™ and Teflon™® coatings.
Coating applications are also popular with Skrzynski’s boat cover customers. “Acrylic on polyester and a strong weave are allowing us to make huge covers that are not as costly to make or as heavy or have a lot of girth for smaller storage,” he says. “So where once you had people shy away from large covers because they are too heavy or cumbersome, we [now] see them opt to take advantage of covers to protect the entire vessel.”
It was a more famous ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, who said that the secret of change is to focus energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new. As customers continue to choose technologically-advanced, colorful and anti-microbial marine textile products, the companies that adopt these trends and design practices will likely find themselves leading and shaping the future as it develops. As Skrzynski says, “If you are not changing, you are dying.”
Jake Kulju is a freelance writer from Shafer, Minn.
New To You
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a marine fabric cover is only as effective as its fastener. Sandy Sturner of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands-based Marine Tech is seeing the reemergence of an old technology in a new marine market.
“I’m seeing and using a new piece of hardware that is really an old piece,” she says. SnapFast® fasteners, designed and manufactured by Fasnap Corp. of Elkhart, Ind., are a one-way pull and lift fastening application that Sturner says is an improvement over the more common Tenax fasteners. “I’m seeing them replace Tenax fasteners on boats because they don’t break when you pull on them,” she says. “When the crew is in a hurry to open up seating, they can just pull straight out to get the cover off.”
Environmentally-friendly fabrics and fabric systems are being developed across the industry. The trend is driven by customer input as well as by principles of corporate responsibility. Portland, Ore.-based Corinthian Textiles is working on several new ideas for both face and backing systems, looking toward more environmentally friendly and sustainable materials that still provide the durability and performance that customers expect.
“The technology is not necessarily new,” says Holly Harrison, vice president of marketing at Corinthian Textiles, “but the materials we use and how we apply the technology is.”