The properties of any fabric will be determined by the combined characteristics of its fiber, yarn, construction method, and dyeing and finishing processes,” says Elissa Decker, senior manager of materials, Moss Inc., Chicago, Ill. “It’s such an exciting time to work in the industry, because there’s a lot of performance that you can build into a fabric.”
Decker earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in textile design with a knitting major from Philadelphia University, but her initial goal was a degree in fashion design. “After years of taking high-level academic classes in high school, I discovered I loved making things and started taking art classes,” Decker says. “I entered college thinking I’d pursue fashion design, but during my first semester I wandered into the textile department and saw all this crazy machinery and yarn in every color stacked from floor to ceiling, and thought: ‘Wow! This is what I want to do.’ I immediately changed my major.”
After graduating, Decker landed a job at McMurray Fabrics, a fabric mill in Lincolnton, N.C., where she continued to develop a strong foundation in fabric manufacturing. “We did everything in-house: circular knitting, warp knitting, jet dyeing, beam dyeing, finishing, printing, calendering and napping,” she says. “We also had a quality lab and a color lab. I learned all aspects of manufacturing working at McMurray, and that gave me a solid knowledge base for success down the road.”
The right stuff
In 2008, after almost six years at the fabric mill, Decker learned from a college friend about a new R&D fabric position in Chicago and moved to enter the realm of tension fabric graphics at Moss Inc. Her main responsibilities at the time were to reduce fabric costs and help develop fabrics exclusively for Moss, which involved, in part, visits back to fabric mills. “We’ve saved money over the years by purchasing fabrics direct, as opposed to purchasing them through distribution.”
Custom fabric development helps Moss save money, as well as helps the company serve its clients’ specific—and ever changing—needs. “Since I’ve been here Moss has been on an aggressive growth track that continues today,” Decker says. “Right now we are upgrading our fabric line, and that means new fabric developments to meet the changing needs in our industry. As an example, about six years ago we developed a stretch backlit fabric, and now we’re redeveloping a new backlit fabric that delivers more of what customers are looking for today.”
In addition to meeting customer demands, part of the fabric’s redevelopment has to do with increasing precision in the manufacturing process. “We’re including more automated processes in production, and shifting toward fabrics with less stretch that provide more consistency. That’s a big change for us,” Decker says. “It’s a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to increase the quality of our product.”
Quality has always been a big driver for Moss, Decker says, and the increased automation is one step in the company’s latest endeavor—global growth. Two years ago Moss acquired Marx and Moschner, a leader in the European fabric graphics market, and expects to have an office in Asia before the end of this year, and Decker is leading the global sourcing project. “I’m collaborating with co-workers around the world to attain our fabric ‘wish list,’” she says. “We’re using all of our legacy knowledge in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and are combining best practices to improve efficiency and make the best quality products. It’s pretty cool.”
Moss’s initiative to upgrade its standard fabrics in all its locations means Decker is once again visiting mills to make sure the company has the right partners. “This has really expanded possibilities for us,” she says. “I’ve been working for about a year on the development of three global textiles. The project has required a tremendous amount of hard work and I’ve learned a lot along the way, but it’s also been very rewarding. I’m excited to be a part of a company that is growing and has the space to grow.”
Time to talk
While the company’s global initiatives are one priority, Decker keeps in mind that she also needs to serve her internal customers—all the people within the company who have fabric- and materials-related questions. “All questions related to fabric or materials come to me,” she says. “I work closely with all departments within the company—sales and project management, operations, purchasing, R&D, marketing, etc.”
Because of short project lead times, Decker works hard to be available to her team members. “I do my best to get my internal customers what they need—consulting, recommendations, samples, pricing, test results, certifications—as soon as possible,” she says. “Our customers want answers right away—and everyone within Moss is my customer.”
With a forward-thinking company like Moss that constantly pushes toward innovation and improvement, there’s always a new challenge, Decker says. “Sometimes projects seem so daunting and overwhelming and it’s hard to envision the finish line,” she says. “It’s important to have a process you can follow, so I create a project plan with action items for everything I can think of that needs to happen. Usually it’s a pretty long list.”
As the projects evolve, Decker says each of the action items expands as well, and that is often when she seeks outside information and encouragement to keep her inspired. “Especially when I’m working on big, challenging projects, I like some outside push to get me through,” she says. “Lately I’ve been listening to TED talks and I always love the keynote speakers at IFAI Expo, and listen to audio books too. I’ll seek out anything that creates motivation or can expand my way of thinking. Ideas come from funny places sometimes.”
And sometimes that inspiration includes accepting—even embracing—the occasional mistake. “I used to be so terrified of making a mistake, but I’m learning to trust myself more and to know that it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it and move forward quickly,” Decker says.
“I had a college professor who always said: ‘Stay young. Stay hip. Stay current.’ And those words have kind of stuck with me,” Decker says. “When I think about that today, I think it’s about evolution. Don’t get stagnant. Be a part of what the next great thing is going to be.”
Custom fabric, custom installation
When a client wanted a custom branded look for a trade show booth that was modern, understated in appearance but with a high-end feel, they turned to Moss Inc. Using the end user’s logo as a design element, the client created five patterns to be used throughout the booth. “It was our job at Moss to execute each of the five patterns into fabric and then turn it into an exhibit,” says Elissa Decker, senior manager of materials at Moss.
The team created Moss Jacquard for the project, a custom warp knit terry jacquard with a dimensional design, created by the presence and absence of terry loops. “Think of a bath towel,” Decker says. “It’s sort of like that, except finer gauge, stretchy and a lot more sophisticated. Since the idea behind Moss Jacquard is that you design your own pattern, it’s really more of a capability.”
For this application, Moss made pillow case covers for round tube framing that zipper onto the frame. For one of the panels the client wanted especially large lettering. “There is a manufacturing constraint of the knitting machine for the repeat size,” Decker says. “So we had to create two separate fabrics to achieve the customer’s design intent for one single pattern.
“Our robust manufacturing expertise really shows off in this project, and our customer was very pleased with how it turned out.“
- Develop a strong foundation and knowledge of the industry by taking classes and working with industry experts.
- Stay dialed in on all the components and processes that make your fabric.
- Stay inspired by attending motivational lectures and reading books.
- Keep open lines of communication with all stakeholders—both internal and external.
- Make use of industry resources, such as IFAI staff and other IFAI members.
What inspired you/Moss to create the rather unique position of fabric product manager when Elissa came onboard in 2008?
Moss created the first tensioned fabric structures and has always led the industry, including when we integrated high-quality dye-sublimation printing. We recognized that to remain a leader we need expert knowledge and technical expertise in our most important material—textiles. We were fortunate to attract Elissa. With her leadership, we have been able to distinguish Moss products utilizing textiles she has designed and specified.
What is Moss’s approach to embracing new ideas and new people?
It’s part of our culture. We operate collaboratively and are always on the lookout for fresh ideas and approaches. For us, it’s not who’s right, it’s what’s right. So, when we come across good people, regardless of their level of experience, we bend over backwards to try and get them into the company. We like people who challenge and ask why and bring new approaches. It has made Moss a more dynamic and exciting place to work.
What advice do you have for other fabric design and manufacturing businesses in regard to attracting people to work in the industry, and making the most of their talents?
Recruiting is always a challenge, but I think we have all learned that many younger people today are looking to make a difference—to have an impact. When we describe our expansion into new end markets and new geographies, applicants can see the opportunities to be part of that growth: to see the leadership opportunities, to write themselves into our story.
~Dan Patterson, president and CEO, Moss Inc.