Printed Textiles: Pattern Stories has been enchanting visitors with glimpses into the rich background behind printed fabric that is often overlooked. Banner Creations, the local company that produces the banners for GMD's exhibitions and then turns them into unique tote bags for our visitors to take home as souvenirs, has a story to tell too.
Banner Creations has always had an interest in the environment. The company's founder, Nora Norby, has vivid memories President Jimmy Carter telling the country to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater, advice she believes is still sound today. The mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" is something she has always taken seriously. So when she heard about a fabric called "EcoPhab" several years ago she ordered it to see if it could be a viable fabric to use for banners and table covers, and indeed it was!
Banners used for promoting events are often made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), commonly known as vinyl, which is harmful to both humans and the environment. Vinyl banners outgas vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, the material is not recyclable, and some estimates state that it could take over 700 million years to break down in a landfill. EcoPhab, on the other hand, is made from recycled plastic bottles, creating a market which allows them to be diverted from the landfill. The bottles are cleaned, chopped up, melted, and extruded into a fiber which is then woven into fabric.
EcoPhab has other noteworthy advantages over vinyl as a banner material. It can be machine washed, tossed in the clothes dryer and even ironed (which would melt vinyl), and it can be repurposed as something like a tote bag, extending its useful life even further.
In order to make the most of this innovative fabric, Banner Creations digitally prints special water-based inks onto paper. They then take the printed paper and fabric and put them through a heat transfer press at 400 degrees, dying the fabric and setting the color so that it is washable. This process eliminates the need for the solvent-based inks that are typically used for printing vinyl banners, protecting workers from harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Initially the only client that showed much interest in EcoPhab was Organic Growers, and by 2006 it was going to be discontinued. Around that time Banner Creations got a commission from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for the "Eco Experience" at the Minnesota State Fair that ended up using about 900 yards of the material, literally down to the last bolt in country. Perhaps not coincidentally, that same year people started to realize how urgent today's environmental issues really are, sparking a new interest in more sustainable materials.
They got an order that would need about 30,000 yards of fabric, but by that time it wasn't available anymore. So Norby's company convinced the fabric mill to start producing it again, and more of their clients started ordering their banners and table covers made from EcoPhab. In response to this increased demand, other mills started producing similar products in different weights and for different uses.
Banner Creations now makes a variety of products with this fabric, such as table covers, banners, placemats, pillows, curtains, shower curtains and backdrops. They now also have a consumer line called Scrappy Products which includes reusable grocery bags, totes, utility bags, zip-top carry-on bags, duffle bags and aprons all made from this material.
The beauty of EcoPhab in combination with the dye sublimation printing process is that items made from it are washable, and when a product wears out it can go back to mill to be recycled again. Breathtakingly sustainable!
All Goldstein Museum of design exhibition banners are printed by Banner Creations on EcoPhab, then turned into commemorative bags which are sold in Gallery 241 and online.
Printed Textiles: Pattern Stories will be on display in Gallery 241 through Sunday, August 25.
Based on an interview with Nora Norby
Compiled by Emily Marti
Other support for Printed Textiles: Pattern Stories comes from: Surface Design Association, Fabric Graphics Association, Wet Paint, and a grant from the Northrop Summer Music Festival, presented by Northrop Concerts and Lectures at the University of Minnesota.