textile rental focus
Combining elegance with durability1 February 2006
Linen suppliers talk to Tony Vince about the bedlinen and towelling trends in the hospitality sectors
The hospitality sector forms an important part of the business for many textile rental companies and for their linen suppliers. Both end users and the rental companies needs linen and towels that provide quality, durability and easy processing.
Trained, impartial professionals continually assess the hospitality sector and award ratings that place greater emphasis on quality. These ratings, designed to help consumers when choosing a hotel or guesthouse, take into account not just areas such as cleanliness, service and hospitality, but the standards of furnishings and linen in bedrooms and bathrooms.
The bedsheets, covers and pillow covers should make a distinctive statement about the class of a hotel. But the hotel will need not just good looks but also comfort for the guest, and a durable product that will withstand laundry processes. For example, ordinary cotton with less than 180 threads per square inch may look acceptable at first sight, but will have neither an elegant feel nor durability.
Linen products with at least 200 threads per square inch will stand high and repeated wash cycles. Colours of the fabric and thread will not run after wash, and the fabric will hold its shape and will last for a long time.
Cotton sheets generally give the best comfort but they are susceptible to damage from excessive levels of alkalinity in the main wash and from incorrect bleaching.
Linen suppliers generally recognise the need both for quality, durability and practicality in terms of processing. This is certainly the case with Richard Haworth, a leading supplier and one that focuses purely on the hotel sector. The company constantly refreshes its range to keep up with the latest trends.
Managing director Raj Ruia says “We find now that customers are looking to carry a theme from the bedroom to the bathroom and all of our bed and bath linen ranges are designed with this in mind, We’re seeing an ever-increasing demand for our complete bed and linen ranges from the largest hotel chains to small guest houses.”
According to Ruia, the hotel industry has been searching for bedlinen that combines the softness of cotton with the durability of polyester and delivers the same whiteness after washing. The company has introduced a range of bedlinen called Prima, a blend of cotton and polyester fibres that provides an exceptional finish through the laundry process. Products featured in the Prima range include bed sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases.
Richard Haworth deals with hotels and often works with designers at a conceptual or re-development stage to supply bed linen, towelling and robes that sit within the room as a complete scheme.
The company also works continuously with textile rental companies to ensure that its products look great within a hotel room but are also great to process. Ruia says that customers want a product that looks great not just when it is new, but each time it is returned after laundering. “All of our products are put through stringent laundry testing before they even reach the market to ensure that the whiteness of our linens, towels and robes stay pristine for the lifetime of the product.”
The company’s in-house team works constantly on new projects. The latest additions include the Monaco bathrobe, a ribbed cotton robe that adds an elegant finish to any room, and the Madrid white cotton throw. The company has also introduced two fresh prints, Maxwell and Trinity. Trinity is described as a modern floral design in three colour palettes, natural, sorbet and duck egg; while Maxwell is described as a striking bold checked design, available in three modern colour schemes, natural, hay and cocoa.
Andy Jamshidzadeh, director of DG (UK) Textiles, also recognises the needs of both of hotels and guesthouses and rental companies. Dealing both directly hotels and with textile rental businesses, he finds that establishments are using top quality bedlinen and towels in their premises to make a high class impression on customers.
The bedlinen for establishments such as bed and breakfast would be cotton but not so expensive or of as good quality as that provided for four or five star hotels, he continues.
Polycotton bed linen is not as good as 100% cotton, and indeed polycotton linen has a “static” feeling when touch them and they are not that popular, he says.
“Some might argue that polycotton lasts longer than cotton, but in my experience, nothing is better than 100% cotton bedlinen or towels as they wash nicely and and linen can be ironed beautifully. The minimum life span on cotton, if treated properly in the washing process, is about 24 months.”
As a company with a successful 132-year history in the textile industry, Hilden is aware of the need for constant innovation and to adapt to survive in an ever-changing industry. “Maintaining close relationships with customers enables Hilden to monitor how the market is developing and how demand for bedlinen and towelling products is changing,” according to production director, Craig Hargreaves.
In bedlinen, the company notes a dramatic increase in popularity for finest quality Egyptian cotton with a high thread count. “Hilden customers are also moving towards larger sized bedlinens, with embellished and damask bedlinen also becoming more prevalent,” adds Hargreaves.
With this in mind, Hilden introduced stripes, checks and Jacquard woven patterns into the classic bedlinen collection. This range of plain white, 100% cotton and Egyptian cotton percale bedlinens has proved to be very successful.
For customers with a preference for polycotton bedlinen, Hilden offers several high thread count, white 50/50 polycotton percale products, in addition to the standard SDQ range, which offers durable 50/50 polycotton bedlinens in a range of 12 fresh, plain colour co-ordinates.
The percale bedlinen is recognised not only for its luxury feel but also its practicality, says Hargreaves. “The long staple length of fine high quality Egyptian cotton used in our percale bedlinen is complemented by the commercial laundry process. The natural strength and stability of the yarns allows effective hygienic washing and high temperature ironing to enhance the appearance and end user appreciation of the cotton bedding.
“The constant development of new products is testament to Hilden’s visionary approach to the textile industry. Catering to both laundries and hotels means that we have developed an in-depth understanding of the needs of our customers, not only in terms of appearance but also functionality,” says Hargreaves.
Linen Connect is an established supplier of quality bedlinen to the linen rental and commercial laundry sectors. Its customer base includes leading commercial laundries and some of the most prestigious hotels in the country.
According to managing director Mark Lockwood, the volume market with linen rental is still dominated by cotton bedlinen, but the emphasis is on quality and consistent product.
The company provides for different needs with polycotton, 100% cotton, cotton rich and Egyption cotton in a range of colours.
“The biggest growth product for Linen Connect currently is Egyptian cotton percale in the finest quality,” says Lockwood. “The four/five star hotel market has seen a huge increase in the switch to top end product.”
Demand for satin stripe bedlinen is also increasing, especially duvet covers which are supplied in polycotton and cotton rich qualities.
Linen Connect supplies towels for many different customers in diverse markets, including linen rental, hotels and healthcare. Qualities include 360, 450, 500 and 600gsm in white and a range of colours.All can be laundered and are available in ringspun yarns.
Peter Lawrence , director of the Mitre Furnishing Group notes some of the trends both from a fashion and practical viewpoint. He sees a “relentless” increase in the use of plain white and striped white duvet covers. “The minimalistic look is still with us. The white cotton duvet cover is still the favourite of the housekeeper and the guest, but often the laundry wants the practicality of polycotton.”
“Polycotton will last longer and has the lower processing costs, but it will go grey after repeated use, and what is nicer than a well-ironed cotton duvet cover with a quality feather and down duvet inside?” he adds.
Demand is increasing for Oxford flap pillowcases, he says. This is not good news for laundries as they are more difficult to process and the hemming has to be spot on to ensure they can be ironed flat.
“As beds get wider, the Oxford flap makes the pillow look bigger than it actually is and gives a greater feeling of luxury.” Sooner or later, he believes the industry will have to increase the size of the average pillow from 45x70cm. “The ramifications on pillow sizes are pretty horrendous, Mitre now has its better pillows at 48x74cm and has increased the size of all its pillowcases accordingly.”
Lawrence is also seeing an increase in the thread count of polycotton sheets. “The replacement of T180 with T200 is being considered by several of the major hotel groups. The excellent T180 sheets that we all used to buy from some of the now deceased USA mills are in the distant past. Continual bullying for better prices has caused the modern T180 sheet to become the poor cousin of those old USA sheets. Mitre has already started to address this concern with a better polycotton sheet.”
Lawrence believes that the use of patterned duvet covers in the holiday trade has now pretty well wiped out the old sheet and blanket but patterned products do need to be kept bright and that means using the right detergent. Mitre uses better fixing agents and better pigment dyes to help withstand the ravages of soap powders laden with optical brightening agents (OBAs) designed for whites, but does request that laundries use an OBA-free soap powder on patterns and colours.
“OBA fading is our biggest headache and gives the textile industry a bad name. Customers should not be expected to put up with tired and faded duvet covers.”
On duvet cover fastening systems , Lawrence believes envelope ends cause unsightly creases. Mitre chose a bar tack system, which has been very successful for the last four years (bag style with two substantial bar tacks to hold the two loose pieces of cloth together). The alternative is the open bag style, but unless the duvet cover is made extra long, allowing tuck-in, the duvet may show itself.
Bathroom products are also an important part of the market and here too both quality and practicality matter.
Andy Jamshidzadeh of DG ( UK ) Textiles explains that all towels have a “gsm” weight. Put simply, this means the density and the “amount” of fabric that has been used to make that particular towel. Towels below about 400gsm will feel and look thin.
From a business viewpoint, the greatest requirement is practicality – whether the towel is easy to wash, quick drying and cost-effective to replace.
He says: “The bed and breakfast is likely to go for cheaper 350 or 400gsm, but top hotels prefer white or colours in 500 or 600gsm top quality cotton.”
Linen Connect’s Mark Lockwood sees a trend to better quality. “There is definitely a move in the linen rental market to increase the weight of the towels – the biggest increase being laundries moving from 450gsm to 500gsm towels.” The hotel sector continues to demand at least the 500gsm weight, especially top end hotels, he adds.
Richard Haworth currently supplies its luxury towels and robes to the UK’s principal linen hire and laundry company, Johnsons Stalbridge. These are from its premium Madison range, including white cotton ribbed velour bathrobes and super soft, sumptuous hand and bath towels, as well as bath sheets and face cloths. All these products are made from 600gsm cotton pile and incorporate a basket weave header. These luxury linens form part of Stalbridges’ new Elite collection, which supplies the top end of the hospitality sector.
All its towel ranges are available in white with the Fresno collection offered in a selection of shades, including pastels and classic colours. There are five styles of bathrobes to complement each towelling range, as well as the standard and lightweight waffle robes, a favourite at health spas.
As with its bedlinen, Hilden’s towelling products are developed with laundering requirements in mind.The dyed colours of Hilden’s QCL towelling range are technically developed to remain stable while the cotton retains its luxurious feel and high absorbency even after laundering.
It also notes the demand for heavier weights. In addition to 450gram white towels, superior quality 500gram towels are available in a range of 10 distinct colours to suit any bathroom setting.
Its bathrobe range includes shawl collar and kimono style 400 gram terry towel robes,and features a variety of different designs of stylish, white waffle weave kimono style robes, as found in many leading hotels.
Mitre’s Peter Lawrence notes similar trends. He says that ten years ago, 450gsm was the standard weight for laundries but now laundries are now almost universally on 500gsm and increasingly 550gsm.
“Mitre sells about 800,000 white 500gsm Nova towels a year. They are made in Turkey and have an even pile, excellent hemming, clean white colour and are readily available.”
He adds: “It would be nice to see more towels with frayed edges being taken out of the system – the bad image of frayed towels does the industry so much harm. Better-made towels should last longer than cheaper towels. We would expect 170-220 washes from a Nova towel in a commercial laundry. With “considerate” washing, a lot more washes should be possible.”
Lawrence adds that the use of waffle weave bathrobes is also growing. Spas and swimming pools are becoming more and more common, and they tend to be swelteringly hot.
A lighter robe is the answer, with the inevitable reduction of drying costs over a towelling robe. “There are waffle robes available for as little as £5 each but you must expect shrinkage and off-white colour, and creasing on these cheaper robes,” he says.
Mitre’s Langley waffle robes are 230gsm, which is much heavier than others on the market, and they wash-up exceptionally well.
Embroidery on bathrobes can sometimes be an issue. Mitre uses polyester thread to avoid colour fade. Stained bathrobes are likely to be bleached in the wash process, and polyester thread will withstand bleach to an extent. Viscose thread is used in the domestic embroidery market and should be avoided at all costs.