The Furniture Industry Research Association has published a guide which takes a view of what is (and what could be) on the horizon for the furniture sector in terms of alternative materials, and the pressures from specific consumer groups which might accelerate their adoption.

Throughout the 20-page guide – Horizon Scanning - New Hardline and Softline Materials – author John Hubbard, technical consultant at FIRA International (the service provider to the Furniture Industry Research Association) considers the diversification the industry may need to take in terms of alternative materials, either driven by environmental concerns, consumer preferences or regulation changes.

The guide addresses issues such as alternatives to leather and wood, bioplastics and alternatives to synthetic textiles.

“During the 20th century, furniture manufacture and demand was revolutionised by the introduction of mechanised methods of manufacture and the availability of new materials such as foams and synthetic textiles," says John. "Now we see a shift to a greater focus on sustainability and circular economy, alongside consumer groups having a stronger voice in demanding choice to meet their values, all amplified by social media. In addition there is no doubt that the use of chemicals, not just in furniture, is coming under greater scrutiny.

“It’s imperative therefore that the industry continue to look to alternatives to key materials such as leather, wood and textiles. Fortunately we can look to other sectors of industry who have been investigating and adopting alternative materials – for example, aerospace, automotive, marine or outdoor pursuits. It’s highly likely that some of these materials could be suitable for use within the furnishings sector and may provide solutions to the ever-increasing challenges on chemical use and/or sustainability.

“Alongside provoking thought, through this guide I hope to steer members through the myriad of alternative options, looking at the pros and cons of new hardline and softline materials crossing over to our sector, and how far in the future some of these will be readily be accessible.”

The guide is available to members of the research association here, and non-members can purchase a copy through the same link.