Innovation in contract fabrics

22nd September 2017

Panaz CEO, Tony Attard, Reflects on 30 Years at the Top of his Industry

Tony Attard is a name that most people in the industry would recognise. He is the founder of Panaz – one of Europe’s leading suppliers of high-quality decorative fabrics and wallcoverings for the hospitality sector; a former President for the British Contract Furnishings Association; and has been honoured by the Queen for his contribution to design. Below, Tony takes SPACE’s Features Editor, Tonje Odegard through his 30 years of building the Panaz brand…

Panaz was conceived in my subconscious in May 1979 when I witnessed the devastating fire in the Woolworth department store in Manchester, where 10 people lost their lives, 47 people were injured and six fire officers were taken to hospital. I was reading for a degree in Textile Design and Management at the University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology at the time, and I remember questioning why a fire could be caused by upholstered furniture. Considering the problem further, I realised that the upholstered furniture was very flammable, and that these very flammable objects were in every home and public space in the country. One of the reasons for this was that flame retardant fabrics at the time were poorly designed, used hard brittle fibres like glass and acrylic and were very uncomfortable and undesirable.

After the conclusion of my degree, I was awarded a scholarship with Courtauld PLC where I spent time learning about the industry and designing many furnishing collections that were used by many prominent high street brands. I then joined Tootal PLC as Design Director for their furnishing division where I decided that I really wanted to create fabrics that would make public environments safer but would do so without sacrificing aesthetic ideals, such as handle and colour, therefore fabrics that were safe but also desirable. In order to do this, I created Panaz.

I was 27 when we started in 1987, and we created strategies that were very disruptive at the time. The interiors industry mainly used natural fibres and applied various flame-retardant finishes, which I found environmentally damaging, stiff, smelly and unattractive. I decided that the way forward was to use new technically advanced inherently flame retardant fibres that were very much in their infancy then. After much research and development with different printing, dyeing, weaving and finishing techniques, we discovered new process combinations that created fabrics that were soft and draped well, yet retained durability and performance. These techniques are now global industry standards.

Since our inception in 1986, Panaz has evolved into a global designer and manufacturer of flame retardant fabrics that grace some of the most iconic buildings in the world. We still carry technical innovation in our culture and it’s a major part of our design development; no fabric enters our collections unless it satisfies international flame retardant requirements, is durable with a minimum of 40,000 rubs, has high tensile strength and light fastness, and is washable or dry cleanable without losing any of its properties.

Panaz's current operation, Hapton

I believe that our greatest achievement is the creation of our international community, which as well as including many talented people within Panaz, includes our supply chains, research partners and global sales reach. A client in New York can specify our products with the knowledge that it is available globally at competitive prices with the same service that he would receive at home.

Although we started in an old Lancashire Mill that was built in 1865, we now operate in a purpose-built 90,000 ft2 building in Hapton, still in Lancashire, carrying on the tradition of textile manufacture. This move has proven to be an important transition for the company as it has given us more efficiencies and allowed us to grow substantially.

The future looks great for the company. We are just putting into place a new five-year core strategy that road maps a number of key divisional strategies for growth that will see the company double in size. Two of my children have joined the business, Rollie is my middle son, a Masters Economics graduate who heads up our sales on the East Coast of the USA; and Simon, a Masters graduate artist who is responsible for our digital custom-design work. It is great to work with the boys, they show originality and foresight but keep in touch with our core principles.

We have also entered into a new development with a brand called Alusid who produce new material entirely from waste. I am chairman of the company and Panaz is marketing the distribution in the UK. Alusid is the result of a pan- European research project that asked universities to identify opportunities for creating products using waste that went into landfill. Alusid is a spin-out company from the University of Central Lancashire and uses waste from the ceramics industry and old TV and computer screen glass. We collect the waste and grind it all down and blend it all together, before making the mix into internal and external wall tiles and solid surfaces. The products have gained great traction in the A&D community because it is a completely new building material that uses 100 per cent recycled ingredients.

As a company that is very design-orientated, we are inspired by all aspects of the design world, but I would say that our collaborations are our main inspiration. This collaboration can be manifest with our great clients, designers from outside our company, and artists and students we work with.

As an example, we have recently been working on two projects, one within the Lancashire Festival of Making where we worked with Artist Simon Grennan and we also supplied our textiles to students from the University of Manchester to make upholstered furniture for the Manchester International Arts Festival.

If you own a company there is no work-life balance – I call it life-work integration. International design is a vocation because its ever changing, one should be constantly part of it.

So, a little bit about my private life; I enjoy being taken out of my comfort zone, and yachting is a notable example of this. I have sailed to many places including an epic voyage across the Atlantic. It’s a great team activity and is like running a business, no two days are the same.

My biggest design influences would be Terence Conran, who demonstrated that design is a business, Norman Foster who has built iconic buildings around the world designed in Britain, Philip Stark the enfant terrible of design who has no boundaries, and Frank Lloyd Wright who designed the building I would like to live in  – Falling Water.