Feb 15 2021

"In the beginning, customers saw no appeal"

Nowadays sustainablility is a huge topic in furniture production, but it hasn't alwasy been that way. Those who have been producing recycled textiles for 12 years know the challenges. Camilla Fischbacher provides insights.

Consumers' increased awareness of our scarce natural resources has become a sustainability trend. People are evaluating their own purchasing behaviour more against the background of ecological aspects. Christian Fischbacher has been putting recycled textiles on the market for twelve years. How were these fabrics accepted back then and what were the challenges? 

When we first launched BENU, there were very mixed reactions. Many, both in companies themselves and customers didn't really see the appeal of a fabric made from recycled PET bottles, i.e. "waste". The press and some like-minded architects and designers, on the other hand, understood the potential of such a product right from the start. 

The initial challenges were numerous: the fabric itself was stiff and the colour palette very limited. In addition, it was difficult to produce a pure white, as the recycled bottles were often mixed with coloured plastic and this affected the desired shade of white.

How have recycled textiles developed over time? Which materials have been added and which have disappeared? 

When developing new textiles, we are always on the lookout for innovative resource-saving fabrics. In addition to PET, we also worked with old textiles and production surpluses from the fashion industry, which were spun into a new yarn.  

For the use of recycled fabrics in public buildings, the fabric had to be flame-retardant. This was possible for the first time about six years ago with the fabric BENU Flow - a light, transparent crepe quality, quite different from the previous heavy upholstery fabrics.  

Finally, we were able to change the weight of the fabrics and even weave a velvet. Four years of intensive work went by before we had the finished velour in our hands, in the quality and colour we wanted. With BENU Sea, we succeeded in using recycled marine plastic for high-quality curtain fabrics - a sustainable alternative to newly produced polyester.  

What technical innovations have there been recently? 

The qualities have become better and better and more natural. Today, you can hardly tell the difference between a recycled fabric and one made from new raw materials. You hardly have to compromise on look and colour. All in all, textiles now have so many functionalities that they are no longer inferior to those made from conventional raw materials. 

How does the sustainability trend affect the aesthetics of home textiles? Where is the trend going? 

The trend is moving away from glossy to matt surfaces and natural-looking textures that imitate nature with their rough, uneven structures. Calm, earthy tones and green in all nuances define the colour palette. Designs with floral motifs and lush animal and plant worlds complete the look. 

You have lived on different continents and are known for finding inspiration while travelling in remote countries. How do these impressions shape your work?  

I take photographs on all my trips. These impressions and ideas are later reflected in the collections. Some photographs are taken up years later by the design studio, others provide immediate impulses.  In this respect, there is a separate archive. My last big trip to South Africa was particularly impressive and now determines the theme of the current spring collection.      

What does Natural Luxury mean to you personally? 

For me, natural luxury means investing in something good that is not only with me for one season. If it is durable and I enjoy it because of its special aesthetics or feel, then it stays with me.  

If my children want to use a garment of mine, then something has gone right! Good workmanship and quality are cool for the younger generation too! Someone once told me that he was too poor to buy cheap clothes. That is also true for me. 

It also affects our home: I would rather reupholster an old family sofa than buy a cheap one that I have to throw away because it wears out quickly. Society generally wants to use fewer poorly made products that are cheaper to dispose of than to repair. I feel the same way: better to buy less, but of high quality. 

How do you think the market for recycled materials will develop, where are the opportunities for manufacturers? 

The more people actually buy products made from recycled materials, the better the products will develop. And when other companies come on board and design sustainable products - many already have - that makes me really happy.  

The market is a reflection of what consumers want or are willing to pay for. Unfortunately, the market for recycled textiles is still very small today. Many people talk about wanting to buy sustainable or recycled fabrics, but still have an inhibition threshold.  

As Creative Director of Christian Fischbacher Co. AG in St. Gallen, Camilla Fischbacher and her in-house design studio develop luxurious home textiles, carpets, wallpapers and accessories with a cosmopolitan spirit. Together with her husband Michael Fischbacher, the half-American, half-Iranian runs the over 200-year-old, internationally active company. The Fischbachers value their traditional heritage, but interpret it sensitively in a new way.

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