SENFA Decoprint is probably one of the biggest companies you’ve never heard of. However, all that is about to change as the France-based manufacturer – part of the Chargeurs Group – sets its sights on further expanding its operations throughout Europe, the Americas and beyond.
Most people involved in large format digital printing know that the area around the Lake Como in Northern Italy is a historical centre of textile activity. It is less well known that just a three-hour drive north, across the Alps, there is another textile centre of excellence in the picturesque valleys of Alsace, Eastern France.
Since the industrial revolution, knitting, weaving, dying and sewing have been the cornerstone of countless communities. From the mid-19th century, mills were being powered by hydro-electrical turbines which were well ahead of their time (many of which are now being dusted down and revamped for a second life more than a century later). In Alsace – like other regions – benevolent businessmen built housing estates for their workers, and schools for their children, and generally the industrial climate was one where both workers and management appreciated hard work and just rewards.
The hard-working ethic and the constant search for excellence – combined with an ideal geographic location close to both Germany and Switzerland – enabled these communities in Northern France to thrive and to survive the initial financial and economic crises (and wars) of the 20th century. However, globalisation finally had an impact on these communities and gradually textile manufacturing moved initially to cheaper manufacturing bases in Europe and then further afield to North Africa and the Far East. One by one the mills and factories closed and it became clear that something special had to be done to survive.
SENFA Decoprint is an example of one such company that dug deep in this time of adversity and adapted the textiles it made to meet specific and often niche technical applications. Based in Sélestat, just south of Strasbourg, the historical activity of SENFA was coating interlining (the rigid part of shirt collars). As the garment industry declined in Europe it became obvious that it was time to diversify or die.
At around the same time in the late 1990s, large format digital printing was experimenting with printing onto textiles and it became clear that coated textiles were necessary for the ink to stick and dry. With its expertise in both textiles and coating, SENFA saw an opportunity and invested in a new purpose-built 3.2metre coating line in 2001 to diversify its core product offering to encompass wider widths.
In 2004, SENFA formalised its entry into the wide-format space by creating the Decoprint department to focus on the manufacture and coating of textiles specifically for the large format digital print market. The product line was diversified to incorporate other functions such as fire resistance, light diffusion, block-out and more, and over the years, SENFA developed a full range of printable Decoprint textiles – suitable for solvent, UV and latex print technologies – for visual display applications.
The initial adoption of textiles for visual display was slow but gradually the advantages of printing onto textiles made more and more sense to the marketplace: Textiles are free of PVC and are therefore much less damaging for the environment than vinyls or banners; they are lighter in weight, so cheaper to transport and easier to install; and finally – perhaps most importantly – they simply look better than many prints produced on other types of media.
Fast forward a few more years and SENFA’s flagship product - Decoprint Pearl – has become a world leader. It is a premium fabric for backlit applications installed in lightboxes in retail outlets, shopping malls and airports all over the world. The smooth finish, the excellent white point and of course all the necessary fire certification (M1, B1 etc.) renders it the number one choice for many international brands.
Boosted by the success of the product, in 2015 SENFA opened an €8 million, five-metre wide coating line to meet the ever-growing needs of its customers.
The product line doesn’t just stop at Decoprint Pearl. Year on year sales are growing at a healthy rate and SENFA has many new Decoprint products in the pipeline which it plans to bring to the wider market. For example, with more and more trade fair stands being built with printed textiles, SENFA has specifically developed a black-back range suitable for use with UV-curing, latex and sublimation technologies.
Blaise Humphries, Decoprint's business unit manager, explains that SENFA plans to further expand its international distribution network in 2017: "We will be concentrating on developing the North American market with the creation a US-based sales position from January 2017 and we will be employing a Spanish speaker to cover Central and South America. This follows the development of new channels in 2016 when we appointed distributors in India, Australia and South Africa. This geographic expansion will continue into 2017.”
He continues: “New markets and new applications are the backbone of SENFA's growth strategy. A renewed focus on interior decor and wall covering products should help our double-digit annual growth figures continue for the foreseeable future. The future looks very exciting for SENFA Decoprint"
Whilst the face of the textile industry in Alsace has changed, that hard-working ethic and constant search for excellence have remained constant. One thing is for sure: watch this space for future developments in printable textiles…
For further information on SENFA Decoprint, please visit www.decoprint.eu/en