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Adapting to Change: How Morbern Has Responded to an Evolving Market

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The upholstery marketplace is ever-changing, and that has never been more true than in the year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. John Weaver, executive vice president, sales and marketing at Morbern shares the changes he’s seen and how Morbern is evolving to meet those needs.

For those who may not be familiar, can you tell me a bit about Morbern? 

Morbern is a geographically diverse organization with sales and operations throughout the world. We have a presence in Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, multiple countries in Europe, Africa, India and throughout the Asian Pacific.

We are primarily focused on upholstery applications—our products are PVC-coated fabrics, PU-coated fabrics and body cloth fabrics.

Morbern serves multiple markets, including transportation, marine, recreational products, commercial interiors and entertainment venues, focusing on transportation and public seating areas. You’ll find our products in automobiles, heavy trucks, tow motor vehicles (like those found in manufacturing warehouse facilities), recreational vehicles, mass transit vehicles, marine craft, cruise liners, hospitals and medical facilities, hotels, casinos, airports and personal vehicles like jet skis and golf carts. If you can sit on it, it’s a market we serve.

Of the markets you’re in, which are growing/changing the most?

All our markets are growing and changing. Customer demand and expectations for performance improvement are unrelenting, and the challenge to meet changes in expectations is continuous.

What performance attributes are key in your fabrics?

Tailor-ability is key in all our markets. Our products are primarily used in upholstery applications, so the ease of cutting, sewing and tailoring is paramount. To meet the customer’s tailor-ability requirements, our products have to meet guidelines for strength, stretch, consistency and weight.

How have these attributes changed? 

The customers’ expectations continue to increase, so our performance coated fabrics need to improve continuously. For example, in regard to clean-ability, cleaning with soap and water was enough in the past. Now, the fabric has to withstand the harsh cleaners and disinfectants (while still being soap- and water-cleanable). And with tailor-ability, previously, our product was used in low-stretch applications. Now, all parts of an application, such as a fully upholstered seat, are covered with our product. Being able to tailor around tight radii is an essential characteristic of our products.

Do you use special coatings on finishes on the fabrics to enhance performance?

Every yard manufactured is coated for the performance requirements of our customers. When a product leaves our facility, it is maintenance-free from a coating perspective, as our customers need not apply or reapply any finishes. The only maintenance required is the cleaning of the product, and that is at the customers’ discretion. And again, cleaning with soap and water is the most effective.

How have the requirements from the health care industry changed over the past couple of years?

The healthcare industry is evolving rapidly, and it has driven several new requirements. The industry called for phthalate- and flame retardant-free fabrics, so we created a full line of phthalate-free and flame retardant-free materials. The health care industry also called for upholstery that’s able to be cleaned with quat disinfectants and bleach, so we developed fabrics to respond to that demand. Finally, the desire for mildew retardant-free materials spurred us to develop a full line for use in health care.

Aside from obvious differences, like water-repellency, UV-resistance, etc., how do the performance and style needs for outdoor fabrics differ from those of indoor fabrics?

Customers expect the same quality, performance and cleanability standards, no matter where they use their materials. Our outdoor material must meet the indoor requirements –such as cleanability, longevity, durability, tailorability—and the additional requirements of UV performance (resistance to fading) and mildew resistance.