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The Best Eco-friendly Stage & Event Fabrics

POSTED

23 Sep 2021

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Written By Staff Writer

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When you think about creating an environmentally friendly event, you might think about banning single-use plastic at the F&D tents, promoting sustainable travel or bringing in a sustainable waste management company to deal with your event waste for you.

There are so many things to consider. Whatever your role in the event supply chain, chances are you’ve had to procure fabric and textiles for your projects at some point in time. Does sustainability factor into your buying decisions currently?

It should.

When considering whether the fabric or textile you are purchasing is sustainable, there are a number of different aspects to consider:

  • Is the fabric manufactured in a sustainable way?
  • Is the product designed and fabricated in a sustainable way?
  • What happens to the offcuts from the fabrication process?
  • What will you do with the product once you’re done with it?

Gig Nation spoke with two leading industry suppliers, Pattons and ShowTex, to gain their insights on how customers can shop more sustainably for theatre and event fabric and textiles, and how they are positioning their businesses to better serve the sustainability movement in future.

ShowTex are one of Australia’s premier providers of fire-rated stage textiles, curtain tracks and motion systems, with over 35 years’ experience in the field. They are manufacturers, retailers, and fabricators, servicing the theatre and events industries with branches all over the globe.

The company understands that eco-friendly products are one of the latest challenges facing the industry, and the requirement for more sustainable solutions is here to stay. Many projects are temporary shows, which in and of itself means that fabrics, eco-friendly or not, already have a very limited shelf life for the buyer.

Longer-term projects like venue installations often require bespoke colours for drapes and seating to match the venue’s branding, and the off-cuts from fabrication of custom-dyed products can end up sitting around the warehouse waiting for that one project that requires the exact same colour and just the right amount of leftover material. Needless to say, after lying on the shelf for some time, often these fabrics are considered lost.

ShowTex strive to manage waste material according to the principles of reduction, re-use and recycling. The company have started an ecology workgroup, adopted sustainable operational practices, invested in a greener infrastructure, created a recycling program for fabric waste from its own workshops, and recently launched their own “ECO by ShowTex” product range; the first range of eco-friendly stage drapes in the industry.

Under the “ECO by ShowTex” label, fabrics must comply in at least one of the following categories:

Recycled Fibers

Fabrics manufactured using waste material that are turned into new, useful products, and can be recycled themselves. Limiting the use of raw materials.

✅ Recycled material

❌ Free from harmful substances

❌ Zero waste

Oeko-Tex Certified

Oeko-Tex is an international association of independent research and testing institutes that are focused on enhancing both product safety and sustainable production in the textile industry. Fabrics that are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified are tested at all stages of the manufacturing process and found to be 100% free from harmful substances.

❌ Recycled material

✅ Free from harmful substances

❌ Zero waste

Cradle-to-Cradle Certified

Cradle to cradle takes the whole lifecycle of an item into account, including sourcing, end-of-life disposal, and reuse. These products have the potential to re-enter the manufacturing process in endless cycles, continuously providing raw materials for new products.

✅ Recycled material

✅ Free from harmful substances

✅ Zero waste

ShowTex also runs an in-house recycling program that covers off-cuts from fabrication and end-of-range rental curtains. The company sorts fabrics by composition and makes 70kg bales of pressed fabric from them. Once 4500 – 5000kg of fabric bales are accumulated, they are sent off to an external partner who shreds the fabric into fibers which are then re-used for different applications.

Currently, the bulk of their initiatives are limited to their EU branches, but in future ShowTex aims to unroll their recycling program in a broader sense and even make it possible for customers to hand in their used curtains and fabrics for upcycling and recycling.

So what kind of products have greener options available?

Banners & Backdrops

The ‘Eco by ShowTex’ label includes a broad range of printed and non-printed fabrics suitable for banners and backdrops.

The Bannerdrape CS is a permanently flame retardant fabric made from Trevira fabric and suitable for outdoor use. Available in six different colours, this material is Oekotex 100 certified.

For a translucent fabric that works well for backlighting or inflatable projection spheres, ShowTex state that Spinnaker is like tracing paper. It’s both flame retardant, available in nine different colours, and Oekotex 100 certified.

Dekotaft, its crushed version Dekotaft Crunch, and its printable version Dekotaft Print, are all suitable for use as budget-friendly drapery. The ecological and semi-shiny taffeta can be backlit for light diffusion, or front lit for reflection. The crushed version reflects light at various angles, creating a kaleidoscopic effect. Dekotaft and Dekotaft Crunch are available in 20 colour variations and all variations are Oekotex 100 certified.

The Universal 250 Print is a high quality decorative fabric that can be printed with custom artwork, easy to tension, and good for front lighting. This material bounces back well after folding and is Oekotex 100 certified.

Semitransparent Bannerdrape Print is suitable for flags and banners due to its fine texture that won’t crack the printed image when folded. Oekotex 100 certified.

Satinac Print is a silk-like glossy fabric used for decorative draping and reveals, printed with custom artwork. Oekotex 100 certified.

A custom printed fabric made with a coarse structure and matte appearance; Backdrop Print is a great Oekotex 100 certified solution for touring backdrops as it remains wrinkle free in transit.

Stage Drapes & Skirting

WoolSerge Panne is a good option for drapes and stage skirts, as it is fire-rated and composed of recycled yarn. Not only is this reused wool beneficial to the environment, but it also has a major impact on budget as well (compared to pure new woollen curtains).

Stage Velvets like Velours Gaudi, Velours Palladio  & Velours Le Corbusier are Oekotex 100 and Cradle-to-Cradle certified as well.

Acoustic Baffle

ShowTex’s Acoustic Baffle is made from 100% recycled material compressed together to optimize sound conditions. The sound baffle is filled with flame retardant treated shredded cotton remnants of recycled fabrics and can be use behind line arrays in outdoor PA towers as well as indoors fabricated into curtains.

For indoor and/or semi-permanent venue installations, Acoustic dividers and Acoustic panels are also made using recycled material.

Projection Screens, PVC & Lightweight Fabric Structures

PVC, polyvinyl chloride, is the most used material for tensile membrane structures due to its strength and flexibility, transparency, waterproof properties, low density, and durability. But due to its chemical make-up, PVC is difficult to recycle. Not impossible, but still problematic and certainly not budget friendly – yet.

Until a better environmental solution comes along for projection screens, outdoor temporary structure covers, and other tension membrane formations, it is currently best to take a re-use and upcycle approach when purchasing fabricated PVC.

Pattons is an Australian-owned business, founded in 1953, based out of Sydney. They design, fabricate, and install award-winning architectural solutions including shadecloth and custom netting rigs, PVC tension membrane roof structures and custom arts projects.

Whilst the manufacturing and recycling process of raw PVC might not be very eco-friendly at the moment, Pattons Director Tom Gastin points out that there are still eco-advantages of using PVC for fabricating temporary and permanent structures, which can be leveraged by events and venues. He summarises the benefits as:

  1. Weight
  2. Light
  3. Shade, and
  4. Re-usability

Shade Structures by Pattons

An average PVC membrane would usually weigh less than 1kg per square metre; making it a lighter choice than other weatherproof cladding options. This means that the support structure would not need to be as substantial, which in turn means less fabrication and transportation, and potentially even less access and lifting equipment required for the overall project as well. As such, there is a case to be made where some projects could actually reduce its carbon footprint by going the PVC route over alternative options.

PVC can also be as transparent or opaque as desired. Translucent options are great for when weather protection is the main aim, and eliminates the need for artificial lighting during daylight hours – saving energy. More opaque options provide shade for trucks and spectators which reduces heat and can help reduce energy consumption through things like air-conditioning and gasoline evaporation.

Then there’s the re-usability aspect. Lightweight fabrics including PVC can be rolled up, transported easily, and stored easily, making it an ideal product for touring and repeat projects, with a far longer shelf life than most hard claddings would have.

As there are not a lot of options for recycling PVC just yet, Pattons are currently working with their clients to find other innovative ways to save PVC from landfill post-event.

Stage Roof Cover by Pattons

About 15% of the stage sheeting that Pattons fabricates for clients is using existing, re-purposed stage sheets that may be coming to the end of their life. Sheets that may have keder or webbing damage, but the PVC remains perfectly intact, can be re-cut and re-fabricated to fit smaller applications.

Pattons have also worked with their clients to upcycle old PVC sheets and offcuts in a number of other clever and crafty ways. One of their clients takes the offcuts produced during fabrication of their staging sheets to make product bags for their online shop. Another client asks Pattons to make tool belts and truck tarps out of their damaged sheets.

“It is no surprise that event designers and art directors are always looking for ways to limit the footprint on the environment,” says Pattons Director Tom Gastin.

“Some clients even request that our materials have already had a life. This innovating thinking is always a pleasure to work with.”

Printed banners that have artwork specific to a single event effectively have the same shelf-life as a single-use plastic water bottle. First and foremost, event organisers should consider whether at least some of their banners and sheeting can be unbranded, or at least undated, so that they can be reused on subsequent projects.

For those printed banners that cannot be reused, Pattons can assist their clients with options for re-purposing the material post-event. Some of the options that they can help with includes cutting out the printed logos and then using the remaining banner material in other applications, fabricating curtain storage bags for venues and suppliers, or printed kit bags, making heavy duty tarpaulins out of the material, or even converting printed banner mesh into ute and truck covers.

Old theatre curtains, re-purposed as floating acoustic rooms in a large hall by Pattons

Sometimes Pattons also send old PVC sheets to local Skip Bin companies for free, so that they can have them fabricated into skip bin covers for transport.

In more encouraging news for the future, the Vinyl Council of Australia (VCA) and its project partner, Specialised Textiles Association (STA) secured a government grant in November 2020 to further their research into the recycling of waste PVC and polyester composite textile products in Australia. It has been projected that the initiative will help divert 1.5 million tonnes of waste from landfill and, with any luck, will create further environmental solutions in this area in future.

Hopefully these new and growing initiatives that the fabric and textiles industry are starting to implement will encourage other industry professionals to reflect on reusability, upcycling and sustainability when planning and purchasing for their own projects in future.

Prices for eco-friendly products are getting more competitive all the time, and demand for these types of products is only going to continue to rise.

The future is bright. The future is green. 

Feature Photo by Rob Knight on Unsplash

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