Hearth & Home

Blowin' in the Wind

By Mark Brock

Collaboration is the answer for Greg Voorhis and his team as it leads to a “Shift” in Sunbrella styling, and demonstrates the capabilities of performance fabrics.

One of the vital concepts of business strategy today is collaboration. The Internet and broadband communications make it possible for creative minds to work together across time zones all around the world. Equally important is the realization that no single organization has all the resources required to meet the needs of fast-changing and increasingly diverse markets.

Evidence of the value of collaboration will be front and center during the Casual Market Chicago in September when Glen Raven Custom Fabrics makes a formal debut of its new “Shift” Collection of fabrics. The latest offering from Glen Raven is the result of a broad sharing of knowledge and resources not only within the company but also with furniture manufacturers, patio retailers and other leaders in the casual furniture industry.

“No one working alone could have created this new collection; it definitely takes a village to drive innovation and creativity today,” says Greg Voorhis, Design director for Glen Raven Custom Fabrics and its Sunbrella performance fabrics.

(L to R): Emily Weiss – Designer; Emily Cosgrove – Design Manager; Sara Hall – Technical Design Manager; Morgan Green – Designer; Linda Barbuto – Senior Designer; Emily Eby – Designer; Amy Rochester – Design/Style Manager; Tracy Greene – Design Manager; Esther Chang – Senior Designer; Greg Voorhis – Design Director.

Sunbrella Collaboration

The creative process for Glen Raven Custom Fabrics is centered within the Sunbrella design group led by Voorhis. This team of 13 people, organized along market segments and product lines, continually scans the latest in home and commercial trends, fashion runways in Paris, New York and Milan, consumer magazines, social media, pop culture, consumer research and international trade shows. The goal of these activities is to stay abreast of emerging trends in consumer tastes.

“We find inspirations virtually everywhere we look,” Voorhis said. “Our group travels to the leading shows domestically and internationally so that we can continually update the trend information that our customers value. We also collaborate with our sister organizations in France (Dickson) and in Asia (Glen Raven Asia) that provide their respective international inspirations.”

The Sunbrella Design group regularly presents trend information and new fabric lines to its customers. An essential element in Glen Raven’s approach is its ability to work with customers in creating fabric lines that reflect each furniture brand’s unique position in the market.

“We inspire our customers and they inspire us,” Voorhis said. “This process of give-and-take during trend and line presentations gives our Design and Sales teams invaluable insights that are reflected in the fabrics we create each season.”

Of course, the fabrics envisioned by designers, sales managers and customers have to be actually created, which is where collaboration with manufacturing and research and development is essential. Glen Raven’s Anderson Plant operates a plant within the plant where new fabrics are subjected to manufacturing trials. The research and development group is called upon to innovate with yarns, weaving and finishes to bring unique fabrics to life.

Yarn manufacturing in Burlington and Norlina, North Carolina, provide additional access to an ever-growing variety of yarns for an ever-increasing diversity of fabrics. The marketing team ensures consistent and creative Sunbrella messaging across all markets, while customer service shepherds each customer’s order through the system for timely delivery. The deployment of company resources is guided on a global basis.

“Sunbrella Design and Sales teams work directly with manufacturing and R&D in an ongoing process of collaboration,” Voorhis said. “No one is working in a vacuum; there is constant sharing of information that is essential to making innovations, such as the Shift Collection, a reality.”

Shift collection.

The Shift Collection

Glen Raven describes the new Shift Collection, which is one of its most extensive and ambitious ever, in the following terms:

“The Shift Collection features classic design interpreted in a contemporary fashion, yielding an eclectic atmosphere of familiar meets new. The fabrics are designed to be mixed and matched in clever combinations by layering texture, color and pattern that embraces the future while honoring the past.”

As with all fabric creations by Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, the new collection is the result of astute observation of leading trends within the consumer marketplace.

“The idea for Shift came from our observation that one of the strongest trends in the market today is the use of opposing forces,” Voorhis said. “You see old juxtaposed with new, light with dark, shiny with matte, natural with man-made. We considered all of these types of opposing forces in creating Shift, which builds on how these contrasts result in a unique look that is appealing to today’s consumers.”

L to R: Integrated-Pewter; Integrated-Steel; Integrated-Indigo; Loft-Indigo.

Shift consists of six new patterns that are available in a variety of colorways, resulting in a total of more than 40 different SKUs. Glen Raven describes the Shift patterns in these terms:

Spotlight: A new plain weave that is offered in 12 colors, ranging from a variety of grounded neutrals to vibrant hues. Its surface reveals a glimmer of metallic sheen, yet feels soft to the touch.

Loft: A chenille plain that’s available in 11 colors, Loft adds an element of luxurious, plush texture.

Escapade: A multi-colored stripe featuring a textural ground complemented with bright accents of color. Featured in four colors.

Connect: A classic plaid available in sophisticated neutrals as well as complementing bright colorations.

Integrated: A two-color geometric mixing matte colors with metallic accents. Available in four colors.

Radiant: A twist to a traditional palm leaf. Available in six colors that fuse the sheen of a metallic with soft, subtle neutrals.

L to R: Radiant-Kiwi; Radiant-Sangria; Radiant-Lagoon; Radiant-Dune.

“Shift offers a broad spectrum of colors, textures and patterns, all of which are organized in a way that our customers can mix and match to create their own exclusive looks,” Voorhis said. “There are literally thousands of ways that this collection can be envisioned.

“You can combine brights with subdued colors; you can bring fabrics with a shiny texture to those that have a matte finish. Shift was also created to coordinate with our stock offerings, so the possibilities are virtually limitless.

“We’ve previewed the Shift Collection with a number of our customers and they are drawn to the range of possibilities they have in creating a look and feel that is exclusive to their brands,” said Voorhis.

One of the leading colors for the season is blue (featured in the Shift Collection) in a broad array of hues from pastels to marine blues and indigo. Voorhis is predicting that blue will remain a strong colorway for this market and well into the future.

While blue dominates, the overall color spectrum for Shift is broad, from greens in a variety of depths to brights in red, orange and yellow; gray remains the undisputed leading neutral color within Shift and within the Sunbrella stock line. One of the striking features of Shift is how it showcases Glen Raven’s ability to create textural interest in its fabrics through creative designs and advanced fabric formation technology.

“We used chenille for a soft look that demands to be touched, while vinyl-coated yarns integrated into other fabrics result in a striking contrast of matte and shiny finishes, and unique textural effects,” Voorhis said.

“The range of yarn and fabric formation expertise today places virtually no limits on the fabrics we can create. In many ways, Shift serves as a demonstration of the range of capabilities for performance fabrics, calling upon the latest in design, research and development, and manufacturing.”

L to R: Escapade-Vivid; Escapade-Electro; Loft-White; Loft-Grey.

Continuity in Design

While the Shift Collection is a distinctly new offering from Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, it also represents strategic continuity in which the Sunbrella brand builds success upon success each season. Many years ago, Glen Raven began to present its fabric collections with an emphasis on how solids, stripes, patterns, florals and geometrics can be mixed and matched within complementary colorways. That direction is reinforced with the new Shift offering.

“It’s important to us that there is continuity with our previous offerings and with our future directions as illustrated with Shift,” Voorhis said. “Everything ultimately ties together, and there is the one constant in all of our work, which is a focus on quality – the best of the best in design, materials, manufacturing, customer service and collaborations with our suppliers and with our customers. It’s what has driven the Sunbrella brand and the casual industry for more than 60 years, and it keeps us moving forward.”


Mark Brock is a writer and communications consultant who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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