Creating the textures that bring designs to life

An Interview with Peter Tielemans - Global Sales Manager Decorative Laminates – Sappi Europe :

Tell me a about the story of Sappi and in particular your role in the organisation?

‘From our origins in South Africa, we've grown to from a paper manufacturer to a leading global provider of sustainable woodfibre products and solutions. We manufacture across three continents, with operations in over 20 countries, and with 12,000 employees. Our core products are Printing Papers, Packaging and Speciality papers, Release papers, wood-pulp and bio-materials. I have worked for the company for over 20 years starting in Graphics and moving to Release papers two years ago.

Release papers are a small part of our business, but a really interesting part and certainly a segment that is growing in industrial applications. We are one of the world’s leading suppliers of casting and release papers. Our casting and release papers create exciting and unique textures on the surface of synthetic leathers, coated materials, unsupported films, and laminates.

The papers have been developed to deliver superior fidelity, reproducibility, and stability with virtually any chemistry. We have seen significant growth in this and now have over 300 different textures.

By observing trends, we can be ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to what people will need in the future’.

Explain to me – why are your papers so special and How do you manage to keep innovating to create different textures?

‘Let me explain how our release papers work. Release paper  acts like a re-usable mold for creating coated fabrics and laminates. It imparts both texture and gloss during the fabrication process which is usually under heat or compression. Once the paper is removed the end product reveals the textured surface. The resulting materials are incorporated into a wide range of items, such as handbags, shoes, aircraft, cabinets , countertops and more. The aesthetic properties can mimic natural materials like wood or leather and create a natural looking texture.

We spend a lot of time observing design trends. We track several different segments such as Fashion, Furniture, Automotive, Upholstery and Decorative laminates looking at what textures are popular’.

What new developments have your been working on?

I think the two major trends that we observe and that are related to potential developments for us are Haptics and Short run customisation.

Clearly, brands are recognising that texture and haptics strongly influences a consumer’s choice and preference. Getting the look and feel of an object right is key to successful sales. Does it feel like it appears? We see that textures have  become a ‘sensorial expression of the brand’

In particular, Sappi's Touch Collection is a selection of textures that offer a haptic experience unlike any other surface in the world. The soft, supple, velvety surface textures of the Touch Collection have been formulated and crafted to give a unique impression of luxury to the hand. These were developed in partnership with our customers to reflect their needs.

Then you have the need for short run customisation of products. There is a need for flexibility, to create one-offs or specials. We are happy to do this for a customer.  Our release papers can be used in small scale productions. We evaluate the request and work out whether we can make it cost effective.

As regards to key markets for these creative solutions, they tend to come from Europe, in particular Italy and then Germany. I would say Italy is always the front runner. They love to offer creative new ideas. They are often pushing us to find new textures.

When thinking about educating your customers, How do you get to the right people - For example the specifiers such as Architects, designers, brands etc  to inform them about the possibilities that Sappi offers ?

We recognise that educating the end users such as designers is really useful, but more difficult. We choose to exhibit at certain tradeshows and often speak at conferences to get our message across.

What is your vision of the future for your business in this sector?

We will continue to respond to the needs of our customers with product development. In fact, I would say we will go further by spending more time understanding the needs of the brands, designer and architects, as they hold the key to the future and will help us drive a vision of continuous innovation.