Sustainable Home Décor: Embrace Upcycling and Create Stylish ‘New’ Fabrics with Digital Prints
As a textile supplier or decorator, you might view your outdated or unwanted fabric inventory as a liability. It could be a sunk cost that will ultimately be wasted or a missed chance to invest in or create something that would have been more profitable if sold. In a market where transforming what was once old into something new and exciting is now in fashion, it’s more productive not to consider those out-of-fashion textiles a burden but rather something to be cherished — something akin to your “special blankie.”
It’s all right to talk about your “lucky” blanket, the one you’ve been holding onto since childhood. Really. More than a few of us have one, even if we don’t talk about it because we think it sounds childish or silly. Embrace it.
It's seen better days. It's faded, frayed, worn, torn…lived in. But it's unique to you, and you don't want to let go of it. It’s reliable. It feels like home.
The brands and designers who create home furnishings understand this sentiment. When textile decorators make curtains, rugs, blankets, or furniture upholstery, they're not simply fulfilling a demand but creating the contours of a buyer's everyday life. They're bringing color to an environment that feels like home because it is home.
Into this home décor market comes the trend of “upcycling,” by which yesterday’s tired objects and materials — like that cherished blanket — are reused or repurposed to revitalize them, giving them greater value than ever before. Long a staple of Indian living, it would seem the concept has caught the eye of decorators and producers globally.
As the call for reducing waste and improving the sustainability of textiles grows louder – and increasingly enforced by regulatory action — creators turn to upcycling as a key strategy for meeting this demand, directing out-of-favor materials towards innovative new uses instead of landfills. Among many examples to catch my eye, a recent profile on SustainableJungle.com cited Goodee as a marketplace for home décor that prioritizes upcycling as a critical component of the ethical and sustainable practices it promotes, holding its brand partners accountable to responsible sourcing and production measures.
Coming from a technology provider committed to making home textiles more expressive and eco-conscious — without sacrificing quality or consistency — upcycling speaks to me because it represents flexibility, versatility, and adaptability. It means being liberated from the usual supply chains and their unpredictable challenges and uncertainties and creating something of value from what's readily available — taking what we already have and creating trendy colors and patterns with that stock.
The market is flush with digital print technologies that apply gorgeous colors and graphics to a wide range of textiles for home use, spanning natural and synthetic fibers. The latest in sustainable digital print technologies offer a versatile, reliable platform that requires no external pretreatments of materials before decorating them. From the start, textile decorators would not need to be concerned with sourcing pretreated materials. Whatever’s available, odds are this technology is ready to apply durable, consistent, high-quality impressions to that fabric without color or graphic detail limitations. Load the untreated material onto the feeder and select your graphic image or pattern. Within minutes, you have a finished custom impression in any quantity required, ready to ship or cut.
Many of those using these systems today, whether they’re decorating textiles for home décor, do-it-yourself cut-and-sew, fashion, and apparel, or otherwise, say a vital benefit of this technology is that it's compatible with natural fibers – unlike dye sublimation, which limits your canvas to white polyester and produces considerable waste in the process. The streamlined production process yields virtually no water waste, can nest multiple jobs within a single run, and requires less labor, energy, time, and floorspace to deliver imprinted materials that meet the most rigorous industry standards for quality, durability, and sustainability. You're printing graphic images at the push of a button, so you need only produce what's been sold — making for a highly profitable operation positioned to scale or adapt to unforeseen market dynamics.
This one-step process makes sampling quick and straightforward so that designers can fulfill their needs efficiently with little time and investment. Try new things. See what works and what doesn’t. While most designers will work with cotton, linen, denim, wool, polyester, or blends, we’ve even seen this technology used to decorate latex and vegan leather. It could even apply a photograph of 8-year-old you holding your special blankie to your special blankie.
In the past year, furniture decorator Cozmo has used on-demand digital print to create custom “jackets” for sofas, allowing designers to add new life to traditional home furnishings. Created quickly, sustainably, and on-demand, these pieces were showcased at the London Design Festival and ITMA 2023 (Milan).
D-house laboratorio urbano used digital on-demand decoration to bring artist and designer Markus Benesch’s immersive Inspirational Living concept to life at Milano Design Week.
Adding digital print capabilities gives New Jersey-based Dye Into Print the flexibility “to get triple or quadruple the number of substrates we’re able to print on,” often decorating materials provided by their customers in hospitality and home textiles.
Due to the fast, agile nature of digital print-on-demand, this technology is also a natural fit for events-based décor customizations. Tel Aviv-based Cadena uses it to offer their customers a more memorable, personalized experience for wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, and other special occasions.
The technology has even been used for religious expression, as in this project that saw the glass works of renowned artist Dale Chihuly complemented with digitally decorated fabrics at Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton, New York.
Here's the kicker: This latest generation of digital on-demand textile decoration systems offers a layering effect, an industry first that adds an entirely new dimension to custom creations. Using a single pigment-based ink set, these systems empower decorators to emulate 3D, vinyl, threadless embroidery, and other eye-popping graphic effects. The effects can include neon accents or even lenticular imagery — images that appear to change when viewed from different angles. One designer, Fasac, used this system to create a simulated lace effect – all printed with white inks, including white-on-dark impressions — for its “Go White” collection, presented at Première Vision in Paris early this year.
Imagine you're a textile decorator with rolls of fabric in inventory that must align with what’s selling today. Where once that might become a sunk cost, now you can create entirely new textures for that material. The concept is familiar: People have long been combining wovens (typically coming from Pakistan or India) and nonwovens (typically coming from China) to create entirely new materials, upcycling what is at their disposal.
Whether you're a fabric or furniture manufacturer, you can now upcycle your old fabric stocks by printing on them and transforming them into "new" fabrics and designs, taking something old and giving your clients an entirely new, trendy, or fashionable option.
Sensing this trend away from more problematic traditional textile practices and towards more sustainable options — such as upcycling — it's undoubtedly no coincidence several of the producers to adopt these systems most recently herald from locations we’ve long associated with inexpensive offshore textile production – China, India, Turkey, and Dubai.
Need the materials you want? Take what you have and transform it into something designers and consumers will love. Something that will provide a rich and brilliant décor for their homes, offices, events, and other living spaces with the quality and durability to last, no matter what life throws at it. Something like that special blankie.
Omer Kulka has served as Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Kornit Digital since July 2017. He joined Kornit in 2011 with years of extensive experience in the semiconductor industry, holding positions spanning R&D to Marketing and Business Management. Since joining Kornit, he has held several managerial positions at the company, including Director of the Wide-format division and Director of Product Marketing.
Omer holds a BSc in Computer Science, a BA in Philosophy, and an MA in History and Philosophy of Sciences and Ideas from Tel Aviv University.