10 Questions With… Randy Rubin
A phenomenon in the textile industry since 1993,
is a moisture-resistant, stain-resistant, antimicrobial, and breathable “super fabric” made with green ideals—and the only fabric deemed a “non-porous surface.” Ubiquitous in major hotels (Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham), food chains (McDonald’s), health care institutions, and public buildings, Crypton fabrics have altered their exacting methods to create a higher-end look and feel for luxury design clients while continuing to push the envelope in terms of stain and moisture resistance. At the helm of the company are Craig and Randy Rubin, who began the company in their Michigan home. Following two decades of seismic success, Crypton now operates from West Bloomfield, Michigan, with a green manufacturing facility in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
Here, Randy Rubin shares Crypton’s latest developments, and looks back on a little idea that could.
Interior Design: How does a product such as Crypton—one that boasts the practical aspect of being water-repellant, stain-repellant, and antimicrobial—speak to the sensibilities of luxury clients?
Randy Rubin: Luxury clients want beautiful, lush, plush textures as well as design freedom and flexibility. While the utility of Crypton is the same as it has always been, it’s now available in gorgeous fabrics as well as vinyl and laminated products. We’ve made dramatic changes in chemistry and equipment over the past three years. You can’t tell the new fabrics are Crypton.
ID: How key are these new offerings to the future of the company?
RR: When we first started production [in 1993], the science of the time limited what we could do. The performance was there, but there was a sacrifice with texture. You could tell it was Crypton, and weren’t going to pat your face with it. The new changes we’ve made have opened up worlds of texture and color. Our distributors and mills are now able to say to designers, “You don’t have to use dull colors that are engineered to hide stains.”
ID: What are some of the specific changes you mentioned?
RR: Well, we’ve never been without a chemist working on continual improvement—looking for a softer hand and better results with fewer chemicals—but the real leap began six years ago, when we started using greener chemistry. Our plant introduced C6 chemistry and silver ion biocides. Then three years ago we started Crypton 2.0, adding bio-based components. This was a sea change. Everything we’ve produced from January 2013-on has been 2.0.
ID: Given the quantity of fabric you produce, what are the implications of making even the tiniest alteration?
RR: We’ve produced well over 100 million yards of fabric, and any little tweak is like moving a mountain. It’s very complicated to make Crypton. Think of two different fabrics—plush and fat woven. Each of these will have gone through totally different things to meet our standards. Mills need licenses to use our technology, and they have to pass all of our tests to bear our name.
ID: What is the protocol for addresses a less than positive test?
RR: If somehow a fabric is not passing all the stain tests, it might have too much cotton or rayon, and adjustments have to be made. We have specific chemistry for each fiber, and different applications for different weights. Fabric is handled six times before it becomes Crypton. It’s a very precise science. If it goes down the wrong path it can’t carry our name.
ID: Having seen many highs and lows in the industry, what are the new “musts” being voiced by your different clients?
RR: Healthcare clients are trying to be much more residential and hospitality in feel, and want lighter, brighter kinds of fabrics. At the same time, they have to use bleach in their cleaning products and they are increasingly concerned about health risks such as MRSA. We’re currently figuring out how to get cubicle curtains right, so they’re much more decorative. As for the hospitality industry, people are looking at textures more than ever before. In the past, clients wanting texture didn’t necessarily come to us, but now they can have all that texture in a Crypton fabric.
ID: How significantly have these advances affected your business?
RR: Right now, our backlog is higher than it was in 2009. We’re doing volume work for Wyndham’s refurbishment, and we’re seeing lots of 6,000- and 10,000-yard orders in general. The average size of an order is certainly increasing. I look at it and say, “It’s so fantastic,” and then the panic sets in.
ID: What kind of people do you bring on board to your company, and how do you keep things creative and efficient?
RR: The people that come to our company either love it or hate it, because it’s very creative and very independent. A lot of people need to be managed—doesn’t happen here. We say, “You figure it out.” Therefore, we want independent, creative people who are also pragmatic and attuned to cost. We have a number of people from Princeton, Harvard, MIT—very bright, moldable, and enthusiastic.
ID: How did you get involved with Crypton in the first place?
RR: I was known for being an expert in the woman’s market, and my claim to fame was my ability to attract female audiences to large companies, such as Chevrolet. I was very good at it and sick of it. My husband, Craig, and I met and married in three months, and he was in the fabric business. Craig is from a family of inventors, and his idea for Crypton came from the disposable diaper industry. We realized there was a way to bundle and patent antimicrobial, stain- and water-resistant fabrics. Because I’m so determined and crazed—and I have a legal background—I went to the patent office. From then on, it’s been the classic story of how anything becomes a great product. If you really define a specific question, you can get a great answer. Now the goal is to make Crypton a household name, and I’m working on that goal all the time.
ID: When the company started twenty years ago, did you envision the kind of success you enjoy today?
RR: Twenty-five years ago, if you had told me that I would have 50 distributors throughout the world and a company generating this kind of money, I would have thought you were smoking dope. If I could have dreamed my life 25 years ago, I wouldn’t have included half the things I have. I never would have thought I could train people to follow in my footsteps, or that I’d be traveling 25 percent of the time. I’ve gotten to do it with my husband—my best friend and partner—and we haven’t killed each other. It’s all such a thrill.