In the US coated fabrics market, many prevailing trends are driven by consumers, who are increasingly concerned about the goods they buy and use – what they’re made of, where they come from, and how they’re manufactured. Coated fabrics – demand for which is expected to increase 3.1% per year to $3.2 billion in 2023 – are used in a wide range of consumer goods, including:
- motor vehicles (e.g., in seating upholstery and trim)
- boats and other marine equipment
- tents, awnings, and canopies
- luggage and baggage
- raincoats, footwear, and other apparel
In particular, demand for coated fabrics will benefit from pricing growth as manufacturers catch up to consumer trends – for example, by incorporating safer, more eco-friendly materials into their products. Furthermore, increasingly conscientious consumerism is liable to boost demand for fair-trade and animal-friendly products, such as artificial-leather motor vehicle and furniture upholstery, baggage, and apparel.
Following are three consumer trends expected to impact the coated fabrics market going forward.
With respect to sustainability, a growing number of consumers want the coated fabrics used in their end-use products to contain:
- renewable raw materials, including plant-based coatings like polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable compound derived from corn starch and sugarcane
- recycled synthetic materials, such as polyester substrates composed of plastic bottle-derived polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which helps to limit landfill waste
Additionally, rising consumer interest in products manufactured via less energy-intensive processes may motivate coated fabrics suppliers to rethink their production strategies.
2. User Safety
Typically, user-safety issues concern the use of certain chemical compounds in coated fabrics. For example, many consumers are increasingly wary of phthalates, some of which are known to be harmful to people at certain volumes. Phthalates are often used as plasticizers in vinyl-coated (or PVC-coated) fabrics in order to keep the cloth flexible, comfortable, and durable.
As a result, consumers seeking to avoid phthalates are likely to favor products marketed as using phthalate-free coated fabrics, which are common among most manufacturers. While these fabrics are often free of PVC entirely – using an alternative like polyurethane – some suppliers have also developed phthalate-free vinyl-coated fabrics (e.g., those made by Nassimi and TMI). Some plasticizers have also been formulated with safer phthalate chemistries (e.g., Eastman’s plasticizer using terephthalates rather than ortho-phthalates).
Pthalates aren’t the only problem. Consumers shopping for products that contain coated fabrics may also be on the lookout for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a suspected carcinogen that is sometimes used in the production of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, often called Teflon) coatings. While PFOA has largely been eliminated from US-sourced products, imported items that use PTFE-coated fabrics may contain PFOA.
3. Workers’ Welfare & Animal Rights
Conscientious consumers may also consider the ethical implications of buying certain products, particularly when production has been proven to harm workers, nearby communities, or animals. These issues take especial priority when it comes to animal-based leather and its coated-fabric substitutes, which are increasingly utilized in a few key markets, including:
- motor vehicle upholstery and trim
- luggage and baggage
- footwear and other apparel
Artificial leather – often a polyurethane-coated fabric, sometimes marketed as “vegan leather” – continues to gain favor among buyers concerned by natural leather’s production process. Leather tanning is mainly concentrated in developing parts of the world, where industry is often under-regulated and prone to lax worker and environmental protections. Tanneries use large volumes of toxic chemicals to turn animal hides into leather, making them hazardous to not only those involved in the tanning process, but also nearby water sources – and in turn, nearby populations.
Some consumers are also concerned that the use of hides in the production of leather violates animal rights. While the majority of these hides are byproducts of the beef industry – meaning that most cows would be slaughtered even if their hides weren’t going into the production of leather – vegetarianism (and its narrower subset, veganism) is gaining traction among consumers, which will correspond with decreasing dependence on animal products in food and/or durable goods going forward.
Furthermore, the lower price point of artificial leather makes it easier for consumers to shun the real thing, even if they don’t have higher ethical concerns about the product. As synthetic technology advances, artificial leather will be able to more effectively emulate the appearance and texture of the genuine article.
Want To Learn More?
For more insight into the coated fabrics market, see The Freedonia Group’s recent study, Coated Fabrics. This comprehensive report covering the US market for these products provides the following:
- historical demand data and forecasts
- analysis of trends affecting market outlooks
- industry structure and composition
- company market share