Perhaps the world’s most luxurious industrial textile, DEDON Fiber is blessed with an exceptional range of properties. Weatherproof, durable, environmentally friendly, inviting to behold and to touch and supple enough to be woven into the artful patterns of the world’s most skilled weavers, it has opened new realms of possibility for outdoor furniture – realms we continue to explore, season after season, in collaboration with some of the world’s most renowned furniture designers.
Bobby Dekeyser first developed the formula for DEDON Fiber back in 1990, the same year he decided to leave professional sport. What was a top-tier goalkeeper from Germany doing in a plastics extrusion factory, cooking up the secret recipe for the world’s first – and finest – synthetic resin fiber material? In fact, it’s not as unlikely a scenario as it might sound. Bobby’s family had already been in the business of plastics extrusion for two generations, ever since Bobby’s grandpa Heinrich Hummer sold his share in a Viennese department store to invest in a plastics production factory near Worms, on the western banks of the Rhine.
For many years, that factory was home — the family lived on the second floor. Down below, Bobby’s grandfather did well for himself developing those flexible but tear-proof handles one finds on boxes of laundry powder. Bobby himself used to earn pocket money stacking plastic measuring cups. So the business of plastics extrusion was nothing new to him. And it was practically second nature to Bobby’s Uncle Seppi, an engineer whose speciality was the extrusion of plastic. Indeed, it was Uncle Seppi who, during the 1980s, created the original synthetic resin textile upon which Bobby’s DEDON Fiber formula was based.
Seppi Hummer had first gone to work on this textile at the request of a Lotharingian school for the blind. Students were learning to weave wicker baskets but finding natural wicker too rigid to work with. The material Uncle Seppi developed was far more pliable. Although nothing much came of his creation at the time, Bobby had immediately recognized its potential. What if, he wondered, you could use such a fiber to create a new kind of garden furniture, one so tough yet so elegant and comfortable that it turned your garden into an outdoor living room? In 1990, professional sports now behind him and DEDON’s future wide open, Bobby came back to this idea. With Uncle Seppi’s technical skill and Bobby’s vision of a synthetic textile so sophisticated it could pass for natural, DEDON Fiber was born.
The basis of the DEDON formula is simple polyethylene, the most popular and versatile plastic in the world. Non-toxic, fully recyclable and ecologically sound (it’s ozone-friendly and burns as cleanly as candle wax), it has lots to recommend it. Unfortunately, by the 1980s polyethylene and similar plastics had became associated with cheap, disposable, mass-produced goods. It’s thanks in part to DEDON Fiber and other innovative plastic applications that materials such as polyethylene are being looked at again. By using polyethylene-based synthetic resin to weave award-winning designer furniture of incomparable desirability and durability, DEDON has turned the disposable into the indispensable.
Like all other phases in the creation of our furniture, DEDON Fiber is produced entirely in-house. As you read this, the six fully-automated, numerically-controlled extrusion machines at our state-of-the-art fiber production facility in Lüneburg are busily churning out an average of 180 kilograms an hour of this precious material. That’s 1,600 metric tons per year, or almost 120,000 kilometers of fiber, enough to wrap six times around the earth’s diameter. And all of it is destined for the highest-quality, best-designed, longest-lasting outdoor furniture in the world. On arrival at our production facility, the basic components of the fiber are compressed into tiny pellets of various colors. In the production hall, these pellets are funneled from their glass silos into the caldrons of the extruders, which are heated to exactly 190° Celsius. Here the pellets are melted and mixed with a special combination of ingredients that give DEDON Fiber its unique characteristics, including the luxurious, non-fading color ways for which our furniture is famed. “Sometimes we mix in up to five colors,” Bobby explains, “so that we get exactly the effect we want – maybe the silver glisten of old teakwood, or the bright green of a palm leaf, or oscillating metal effects.”
From the cauldron, a beater presses the gum-like compound through a small slot, from which it is expertly extruded to emulate the look of natural wicker, rattan or cane; a vast array of dye extrusion techniques ensure unparalleled color and surface effects. As it leaves the extruder, this seemingly endless band of fiber is immersed in a cooling water bath, then blow-dried and, via conveyor belt, transported to the next station, where it is wound to a massive spool. The only human intervention comes when the spool reaches capacity at 47 kgs, the machine stops automatically, and a technician must cut the band and attach it to a fresh spool.
At this point, the details of the spool are documented and a section of its fiber is sent to the quality lab for testing. Sample sections are subjected to a round of tests, including resistance to harsh sun (fluorescent lamps simulate years of direct exposure to tropical rays), inclement weather, tearing, and red wine and sunscreen spills. The consistency of the material, the quality of its color and the quality of its finish are also assessed. If a sample of fiber fails at any step – admittedly an extremely rare occurrence – the entire spool is rejected.
To demonstrate the environmental soundness not only of DEDON Fiber but also of the processes that go into its creation, Bobby came up with the idea of filling a fish pond with the water we use to cool our extruded fiber. Designed by one of our janitors, the pond is a biotope shared by carp, newts and water lilies. In the summer, dragonflies whiz about and the DEDON crew hold birthday parties and barbecues out here. The water is 100 percent plastic free – DEDON Fiber leaves no residue or toxins of any kind. Indeed, certain members of the team have been known to eat the fish, though we won’t name names. Given DEDON’s phenomenal success over the last 20 years, it’s no surprise that others have tried to imitate – and even to plagiarize – our fiber. But try as they may, they don’t stand a chance of approaching its quality, consistency or all-around desirability. After all, no other outdoor furniture manufacturer controls its own fiber production. No other has its own laboratory dedicated to quality-checking each and every spool. And no other has its own research team dedicated to the fiber’s continual improvement. At DEDON, we rigorously monitor every step of our fiber’s supply chain and are constantly evolving the technologies surrounding its production. If the fiber is DEDON, you can be sure it’s the best. By far.