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Can Color Integrity Stay True with Home’s Rise and Shift to Digital?

Home is where the heart is…and where those consumer dollars are going.

Consumers stuck at home during the pandemic weren’t just fantasizing about home design on their Pinterest boards, they were actively redecorating IRL. The value of the home décor market in the United States is forecast to reach $202 billion in 2024, a 20 percent increase from 2019, when it stood at $169 billion, according to Statista.

And nothing sets a mood like color.

Home color trends had typically run about two years behind fashion trends, but they are overlapping more, particularly as fashion shifts its mindset to a more sustainably driven one that dovetails with home’s soft therapeutic pales, rich earthy browns, mid-century greens and hazy neutrals.

“There is natural symbiosis between fashion and home as both categories are inspired by recurring themes and aspirations that are prevalent in the surrounding world,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director, Pantone Color Institute. “For example, the so-called Boho trend in fashion could conjure up a Folkloric palette that would work for both design areas.”

Coloro WGSN Color Trends
Forecast colors for AW2022/23. Coloro/WGSN

Coming to a home near you

So, what colors can we expect to see in homes in for Fall/Winter 2022/23?

Coloro, a color system and sister brand of trend authority WGSN, foresees consumers “embracing positivity and small pleasures during tough times,” said Joanne Thomas, head of content. “Representing a material, plant or food that was highly valued in the past, each of our [AW2022/23] colors have an authentic richness and are grounded with a sense of optimism.”

Hues include Honeycomb (“uplifting warmth and luminosity to interior spaces”), Jade (“brings a sense of nature inside, due to its restorative and tranquil effect”), Lazuli Blue (“use for walls and carpets or in tonal combinations to create an immersive and dramatic feel”) and Dark Oak (“key for darker wood finishes and evoking a sense of durability and quality”). For accent pops and its 2022 Color of the Year, Coloro selected Orchid Flower for its intense hyper-natural quality and mood-boosting hue (“ideal for bringing that exotic touch to printed goods as well as feature details and décor”).

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Thomas sees interiors increasingly influencing fashion, especially after home-bound consumers gravitated toward soft, therapeutics pales; rich, earth browns; mid-century greens and warm, hazy neutrals. Plus, as fashion continues to shift toward sustainability, designers will draw from home colors as they are sure to stand the test of time.

Getting it right

Since nothing can set—or wreck—a mood quite like color, it’s essential that companies targeting consumers’ new sanctuaries get it right every step of the way, from color measurement methods used for visual consistency during the production process to how accurately color is depicted in today’s heightened online selling environment.

Color integrity for home is especially critical, as home items are often purchased in sets and multiples. Pillows, sheets, curtains and towels don’t only need to match their online descriptions, but they need to match in the room. And they’re not always produced in the same facility.

Perfecting color accuracy also reduces consumer returns—which are already at all time highs—as consumers can’t always properly evaluate color online. According to a Narvar study, 46 percent of consumers said their number one reason for returning a product to a [non Amazon] retailer was because the “size, fit or color were wrong.”

Visually enhanced online descriptions can help quell consumer trepidations about color misrepresentation and save the company time and money on sending physical fabric swatches. 3D and augmented reality software company ThreeKit said companies can address these concerns with accurate product representation, plus the ability for consumers to customize in real time and see products in their home space.

“Accurate color comes down to two things: accurate scans of fabrics and lifelike lighting,” said Hilary Murdock, senior director of product marketing at ThreeKit. “When we scan and represent fabrics in 3D, we capture the texture so that when the light hits the fabric, it mimics actual light behavior—the movement, the shadows and the color variation. It is almost indistinguishable from high-end photography, except you can actually move the product around and see how it affects the color variation. Couple this with AR, which automatically incorporates your environment’s lighting, so you have an accurate experience.”

Different types of fabrics also take color differently, and must have shades applied and checked differently, be it for fashion or home.

“Color control is important for digital printed textiles and brands and their suppliers need accurate color management tools and more frequent tolerance checks. To help meet the demand for home goods, I expect you will see more brands turning to digital textile printing,” said Matthew Adby, appearance product portfolio manager, X-Rite, who noted that the technology has advanced in the last 20 years, whereby more natural materials such as silks, cottons, linens, wool, rayon, and other fabrics can be used.

X-Rite Color Measurement
Measuring textiles with the X-Rite MetaVue and Pantora Desktop application. X-Rite

Tim Check, product manager, professional imaging, Epson America, Inc., noted that digital fabric printing has benefited from an increased focus on sustainability and reduction of waste. “Specifically, sublimation printing to polyester-based fabrics has had a positive impact with little or no wastewater and excellent compatibility with recycled polyester materials,” he said. “Digital sublimation printing processes are the same for both virgin and recycled fabrics, helping to reduce production complexities and costs.”

Earth-friendly dyes might check a sustainability box, but they can have their own challenges regarding color. Dyenamix, which offers custom dyeing, printing and textile design services to the luxury market, for example, eschews natural dyes, stating they have “inconsistent color, require mordants, are difficult to color-match absolutely batch to batch, and have wash-fastness that doesn’t pass company standards,” said Raylene Marasco, founder/creative director of Dyenamix Inc.

Many brands had been digitally evaluating (solid) color for years, with physical evaluation as an added part of the process. But the pandemic drove remote-working color teams further into digital, with technology enabling suppliers to take on more of the approval responsibility.

“The pandemic pushed the acceptance and increased use of digital color approval substantially, using close-tolerance spectrophotometers,” said Lloyd Van Vliet, senior marketing manager, Americas, Datacolor. “This increase of efficiency sparked several brands to push their color management processes to the next level and go as far as enabling suppliers to self-approve their own work. Many brands relied on [our] Datacolor Certify program to ensure that suppliers were qualified and capable of meeting color quality expectations.”

Color Lifecycle Management (CLM) represents a brand-new paradigm in the management of colors for fashion and footwear products, noted digital solutions company DeSL, especially those working remotely with added speed-to-market pressures.

“Covid fueled the need for a single source of truth for color that can be accessed from anywhere at any time, including home,” said Pam Peale, vice president of global sales and U.S. PLM operations, DeSL. “DeSL’s CLM provides the platform to access color standards, review spectral readings and track the progress of all color activities.”

Designers, meanwhile, are increasingly using digital swatches to speed up the process, as manual color checking can be time-consuming, expensive and subject to human error. SwatchOn, for example, began digitizing fabrics into extensive libraries in 2019, projecting the fashion industry would shift toward digital around 2023. “The pandemic precipitously accelerated this shift, to the point where if a brand wasn’t already designing digitally, or didn’t have their digital fabric sources identified, they likely didn’t make it,” said Woosuk Lee, co-founder, SwatchOn.

On the flip side, while digital processes remove the subjective element of visual assessment, it puts added pressure to ensure that color measurement devices used are accurate, capable and appropriate of acquiring the color and appearance attributes.

There are numerous color and color consistency challenges, many which are addressed with technology, agreed industry insiders. This is heightened by the fact that different product categories are made in different production facilities, but the resulting product colors still need to match.

Color is also perceived differently in different light. “We ask for the light source of the room where the textile will exist. Is it in a sun-filled room, a dark library?” said Dyenamix’s Marasco. “The light in the room can shift colors, so communicating a light source to each vendor will minimize metamerism between colors.” The best way to maintain consistent color across products meant to work together in one room,” she advised, “is by providing the full range of products as color standards, if possible, vs. a [single] Pantone color, which can be interpreted differently in different products and by different sources.”