Designtex, the Fabric Manufacturer with a Pulse

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By Kelsey Keith / Published by Dwell
In advance of her appearance at Dwell on Design NY, the story behind Designtex and Susan Lyons, the leader who's matched the textile company with creative partners from Charley Harper to 3M.

The American contract market is dominated by a few key players: Herman Miller, Knoll, Steelcase, Allsteel, and Haworth. Far from being stuffy purveyors of office equipment, these brands made a lasting impact on both productivity in the workplace and comfort in the home—thanks in no small part to designers like Susan Lyons. Lyons, a former creative director for materials at Herman Miller, rejoined Designtex, the textile-manufacturing offshoot of Steelcase, as president in 2012. Since then, she has spearheaded collaborations with the estate of Charley Harper, 3M, and the British studio Wallace + Sewell.

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Designtex mined the Charley Harper graphic archives with the help of designer and author Todd Oldham, who worked closely with Charley during his later years and is currently the steward of the Harper archive, to develop a line of contract-friendly textiles and wallcoverings. The collection launched in 2013.

Designtex is a design and product development company providing research-based materials for the built environment. Previously, Lyons was the Executive Vice President of Design and Marketing for Designtex, leaving in 2002 to start a collaborative studio focused on sustainable product development. Lyons’ work in sustainable product development began in 1993, when she approached William McDonough to collaborate on a project to develop the first cradle-to-cradle product—a collection of compostable contract textiles.

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The Last Aphid woven upholstery, sourced from the Charley Harper archives and produced by Designtex, depicts four ladybugs poised to devour an aphid. The fabric, which can work for commercial interiors, is 71% Polyester (Postconsumer Recycled), 20% Nylon (Solution Dyed), 9% Polyester.

Designtex's most recent collaboration, with Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell of the British textile studio Wallace + Sewell, is a series of wool fabrics in saturated, oversized plaid. The large-repeat stripes and grids are inspired in part by Bauhaus textile artist Anni Albers and in part by Wallace Sewell’s London neighborhood. In keeping with the duo’s focus on industrial production within Britain, the fabrics are being woven at the Hield Brothers mill in West Yorkshire. 

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Designtex worked with 3M to develop a line of architectural finishes that provide the look of patterns, woodgrain, leather, faux stone, natural weaves and even brushed metal in a durable adhesive overylay. At left, WG-157 at work in a restaurant commission; at right, WG-1071 is shown in the 3M Center's Executive Dining Room.

Meet Susan Lyons in person and hear her speak about changing material innovations in textiles at Dwell on Design NY (Friday, October 10 at 1pm).

Designtex, the Fabric Manufacturer with a Pulse - Photo 4 of 5 - Susan Lyons tapped Wallace+Sewell, a British design duo, for a range of large-repeat contract upholstery fabric for Designtex.

Susan Lyons tapped Wallace+Sewell, a British design duo, for a range of large-repeat contract upholstery fabric for Designtex.

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Catch Susan Lyons onstage at the Dwell on Design NY panel "Material Research: Fabric for Life" on Friday, October 10, 2014.

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