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Discussion | Fabric Grades

GSA has had multiple discussions with industry and government on the definition of fabric levels.  It is our understanding that entry level, mid-grade and high level fabrics have different meanings to both industry and government.  As we research this topic more, we would like to hear your response to the below questions to support seating standard configurations.


  • How should fabric grades for seating be defined in the government’s office furniture standard configurations?


  • How are fabric grades for upholstered seating products typically defined across the furniture industry?

    • Our preliminary research shows a categorization of fabrics into entry-level, mid-level, and high-level fabrics based on a fabric’s ability to withstand wear and tear defined by the number of double rubs

      • General Contract Upholstery – 30,000 to 50,000 double rubs

      • Heavy Duty Upholstery – 55,000 – 75,000 double rubs

      • Extreme Wear Upholstery – 80,000 to 100,000 double rubs


  • Is this definition common across industry with regard to upholstered office seating products?


  • What other criteria factor into the definition of fabric grades?


  • Which fabric grades are commonly purchased by commercial customers in regular office settings?  


  • Which fabric grades are commonly purchased in extensive-use type settings?


  • What fabric grades are commonly purchased by commercial customers in healthcare (lounge seating, offices, multi-use seating, patient chairs, bariatric chairs, etc.)?

*Please provide responses by Wednesday, July 16, 2014.


Views: 11830


We find that most manufactures have a number or letter grading system. Always starting with 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C for the lowest grades and going up from there. Entry level and mid-grade fabrics are normally direct from Mills and high level fabrics are normally purchased through jobbers such as Momentum or Maharam. Material content, pattern complexity and finish all play a role in upholstery grades. Simple patterns with no recycled content are typically in the entry level grades. Higher levels will have recycled polyester for example, more complex patterns and upgrade stain resistance. Other criteria that must be factored into the definition of fabric grades are Material content, pattern complexity, finish, abrasion levels. Commercial customers typically purchase fabric grades at levels noted as grade 3 and grade 4. Extensive use settings utilize fabrics of grade 4 or above. Healthcare customers tend to require fabrics at Grade 5 and above. We find that customers are willing to spend more for upgrade/healthcare fabrics in these areas. Durability is very important and that will come with upgraded fabric options.
<p>I reached out to one of our fabric suppliers to gather more information about fabric grading. Here is the information I obtained from the supplier. Fabric grades relate to the cost of the fabrics and provide manufacturers with<br type="_moz" />a means for determining total cost&nbsp;of a chair, given variable&nbsp;fabric costs. Every manufacturer&#39;s grading system is different, i.e., grade F for one company may not easily be compared to a grade F for another company. The term fabric &quot;grade&quot; in this industry refers to the cost of the fabric, rather than the durability. For determining the appropriateness of a fabric for the contract market, the industry has standardized on the Association for Contract Textiles (ACT) Performnce Guidelines. One of the standard tests in the performance guidelines is &#39;Abrasion Resistance&#39;, which measures &quot;the surface wear of&nbsp;a fabric caused by rubbing and contact with another fabric&quot;, by reporting &#39;double rubs&#39;. ACT has recently been stressing the importance of looking at test results fo ALL performance guidelines (i.e., colorfastness to light, seam slippage, etc.) rather than only focusing on Abrasion Resistance results. Typically, ACT minimal standards are acceptable for regular office settings. In extensive-use settings, higher than minimal ACT standads perfomance in testing is recommended. Our supplier refers to fabric that pass at least 50,000 double rubs in Abrasion Resistance, 40lbs. in Seam Slippage, and the presence of Soil/ Stain Protection, as appropriate for higher traffic areas. With Healthcare environments, the most important element for determining appropriateness is &quot;Cleanability&quot; of the fabric. The first question to ask is what cleaners will be used by EVS; then determine which fabrics are approved for cleaning with these specific cleaners. Quite frequently, vinyls and polyurethanes are used in these environments, due to the harsh cleaners and disinfectants used.</p>
<p>In our small manufacturing company, grades are determined by our cost to buy the textile.</p><p>Textiles that are purchased in rolls from the mill are less expensive than &quot;cuts&quot; which are usually purchased from a secondary supplier. &nbsp;</p><p>Cost is also impacted by &quot;partnerships&quot; (ie commitment to purchase sample cards) with suppliers. &nbsp;Smaller manufacturers are likely to be able to invest in fewer partnerships, so their published prices for &quot;graded in&quot; textiles are likely to be higher than those from a larger manufacturer who is able to invest in more partnerships.</p><p>Cost is impacted by where the fabric is made. &nbsp;American textiles are generally more expensive than imported fabrics.</p><p>Cost is impacted by special properties. &nbsp;For instance, antimicrobial vinyl is more expensive than &quot;regular&quot; vinyl. ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) textiles are more expensive than standard, Special backing or coatings cost more too.</p><p>In my opinion, grade is NOT an indicator of quality or durability. &nbsp;&quot;Designer&quot; fabrics which are beautiful, different and often colorful are expensive, but are often LESS durable than lower grade fabrics.</p><p>In my small company, the best value in fabrics are grade one &quot;carded&quot; American textiles that we buy and stock in rolls. &nbsp;Several offer a ten year warranty and most offer very high abrasion values. &nbsp;However, pattern and color selection is limited because there is a limit to what we can stock.</p><p>If we do get an opportunity to quote on a large order for chairs covered in a textile from a mill that we are able to purchase from, (and provided there is adequate lead time) &nbsp;we can often negotiate and offer an better price than our published &quot;graded in&quot; fabric price, and we would use the improved price to prepare our bid..</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>From my experience, fabric grade is usually tied to fiber content, construction, weave complexity, and price. Wyzenbeek results can be a factor, but usually durability is a product of those other factors and does not determine grade alone.</p><p>There can be a low Wyzenbeek result, on a wool blend, with a complex weave, at a high cost, which the manufacturer grades as C. Or there can be a high Wyzenbeek, on 100% recycled polyester, with minimal pattern, in a lower price range, which the manufacturer grades as B.</p><p>Is it possible that you&#39;re using &quot;grade&quot; to mean something different from industry standard?</p><p>If you&rsquo;re trying to communicate durability only, then Wyzenbeek results are a good way to determine durability. Maybe a word other than &ldquo;grade&rdquo; would be clearer... perhaps &quot;durability&quot; is the best word to use.</p><p>Something else that effects durability and price is whether the fabric has a Teflon finish and/or Acrylic backing, or is treated with Crypton. Any one of these will increase durability, and any combination increases durability even more&hellip; and the price/grade increase accordingly.</p><p>If you just want to grade for durability, then what&rsquo;s posted is an excellent start, I have some changes:</p><p style="margin-left: 9pt;">1 - Light Commercial Upholstery &ndash; 30,000 to 50,000 double rubs<br />(low use, not recommended for most office or public seating applications)</p><p style="margin-left: 9pt;">2 - Moderate Wear Upholstery &ndash; 50,000 to 80,000 double rubs<br />(medium use, can be used for office or public seating with light to moderate traffic)</p><p style="margin-left: 9pt;">3 - High Wear Upholstery &ndash; 80,000+ double rubs<br />(heavy use, should be used for office and public seating with high usage, and high turnover of occupants)</p><p>GSA fabrics categories could maybe have two classifications, one for manufacturer&#39; Grade and the other for Durability. With the grade adopted straight from the manufacturers (A, B, C, D&hellip;), because they put a lot of effort in to right grading their fabrics. Durability would be GSA&rsquo;s levels of 1, 2, or 3. A few examples:</p><ul><li>an olefin, plain weave, manufacturer grade &ldquo;A&rdquo;, will typically have low Wyzenbeek. This plain olefin would be &ldquo;A1&rdquo;</li><li>same fabric with Teflon finish would be &ldquo;B2&rdquo;</li><li>the wool blend referred to above would maybe be &ldquo;C1&rdquo;</li><li>same fabric with acrylic backing would be &ldquo;D2&rdquo;</li><li>the recycled polyester referred to above would maybe be &ldquo;B3&rdquo;</li></ul><p>Another consideration is that fabric with over 200,000 double rubs can damage apparel simply because apparel fabric is not rated for durability. The next thing we know employees are demanding new chairs so they don&rsquo;t have to keep buying new slacks and skirts.</p><p>I hope my lengthy post is useful, and communicates that commercial fabric grades are much more complex than durability.</p>
<p>&bull; In my opinion, attempting to define price points or groupings of fabrics based on abrasion tests is not a valid course. &nbsp;Some of the most costly fabrics have very low abrasion resistance numbers and some of the least costly fabrics have exceptionally high abrasions resistance numbers. &nbsp;Abrasion test results as a sole indicator is not an accurate way to judge upholstery fabric in terms of appropriate price point. &nbsp;I can&#39;t state that strongly enough. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&bull; The primary criteria that factors into the definition of fabric grades is how much a manufacturer feels the market will tolerate being charged for a fabric.</p><p>&bull; Commonly used fabrics by commercial customers in regular office settings include vinyl, Crypton fabrics, Nano-Tex fabrics and any other highly abrasion resistant fabric with a branded or unbranded stain release treatment. &nbsp;Each of these types of fabrics can fall into a broad range of prices from very low to very high depending on complexity of weave, raw materials used, country of origin, number middle-men, etc.</p><p>&bull; Commonly used fabrics by extensive-use type settings include vinyl, Crypton fabrics, Nano-Tex fabrics and any other highly abrasion resistant fabric with a branded or unbranded stain release treatment. &nbsp;Each of these types of fabrics can fall into a broad range of prices from very low to very high depending on complexity of weave, raw materials used, country of origin, number middle-men, etc.</p><p>&bull; Commonly used fabrics by health care settings include vinyl, Crypton fabrics, Nano-Tex fabrics and any other highly abrasion resistant fabric with a branded or unbranded stain release treatment. &nbsp;Each of these types of fabrics can fall into a broad range of prices from very low to very high depending on complexity of weave, raw materials used, country of origin, number middle-men, etc.</p><div>The government is going to have a hard time nailing down industry on this topic. &nbsp;Fabrics come and go very quickly. &nbsp;As soon as the government builds a catalog of definitions, new technology, standards and styling will make the catalog obsolete. &nbsp;One way the government could side-step the entire issue is to require manufacturers to offer a single price point with no fabric grades. &nbsp;That way if the manufacturer wants to sell to the government, it will have to offer a broad range of fabrics at a single price. &nbsp;There is ample margin for manufacturers to offer high durability vinyl, Crypton, Nano-Tex, recycled content &nbsp;and performance fabrics at a single price point. &nbsp;In fact, our catalog is proof that it can be done. &nbsp;We have several thousand fabric options at a single price point for our government clients. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Another avenue the government could go would be to commission fabric mills to make specific fabrics for government use. &nbsp;Say commission a vinyl in 50 different color ways and a dozen Crypton or Nano-Tex fabrics each in 20 color ways and require the mill to make these items available to industry for use in government project at a fixed price. &nbsp;That way the government would know exactly what to expect out of a given fabric. &nbsp;Granted this would be a difficult contract to write and manage, but this is how large commercial clients buy and use fabric when they have a very large project that will require multiple furniture manufacturers.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The government can either allow only a single furniture price and leave it to industry to offer whatever fabric it can -and believe me if a manufacturer starts losing sales because they don&#39;t have the right fabrics, they will figure a way to offer them. &nbsp;Or the government can commission its own fabric and use it exclusively when appropriate for a given requirement. &nbsp;Beyond this, I can&#39;t see how it will be possible to compare apples to apples. &nbsp;</div>
<p>Please provide responses to questions on Fabric Grades by July 16, 2014.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>Thank you for posting this. Is there a deadline for responses?</p>
GSA Furniture Expert
<p>Please provide responses by Wednesday, July 16. &nbsp;Thank you.</p>
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