We're a little melancholy about this," laughs Crypton Co-Founder Randy Rubin.
"I look at pictures and his hair was black. My hair of course is the same color, but he did have much darker hair," she says of her husband and fellow co-founder, Craig Rubin. "It's a little depressing."
As you listen to the two laugh and cajole each other, it's no wonder that their whirlwind marriage has been so successful, both personally and professionally. The Rubins met and married in just three months' time, and in 1993—from the basement of their Michigan home, no less—they birthed one of the most groundbreaking product launches in design history: Crypton fabrics. It would go on to change the course of the industry forever, finally combining style with high functionality.
The Rubins' union was a match made in design heaven, with his background in fabric sales for high-abuse areas such as nursing homes and restaurants, and hers in branding, marketing and law. In his work, Craig would watch beautiful prints be "laminated" with a sheet of vinyl to protect them. Eventually it would crack, peel and hide the print with its sheen, resulting in a number of highly disappointed customers, who were also typically left with a surplus and long delivery times.
"They had to do full rolls," Craig says of the lamination process. "If you had a smaller quantity, you'd have to wait until they had enough quantity of everyone else's fabric to run, so deliveries were longer. In almost all cases you'd end up with inventory you might not need."
He knew there had to be a better way. He got the initial idea for Crypton fabrics from the disposable diaper business. "I'm not a chemist. I'm just a guy who could ask questions," he says. What he eventually ended up with was a white fabric that acted as a breathable liquid barrier, doing everything vinyl did. It was essentially a textile that was permeable to air, making it a much more comfortable sit, with prints that were applied via heat transfer.
But the invention wasn't just more comfortable—it offered comprehensive stain, moisture, mildew, bacteria and odor protection. Once the Rubins found the right people to develop it and determined it was a patentable product, it was off to the races.
WATCH: I&S salutes 20 years of Crypton, with a little help from designers and other industry leaders.
"I was a branding person for companies like J.C. Penney and Chevrolet," Randy explains. "When I came into this industry 20 years ago, people were not branding, they were not advertising, you didn't see anything of the caliber that I was doing for, let's say, Chevrolet."
The company's first direct mail piece, which included a swatch of Crypton, had a 37 percent response "which is unheard of," Randy says. "And we couldn't keep up with the demand, nor could we afford to. You're talking about two people, relatively newly married, starting this crazy thing in a basement. We epitomized the American dream and started from very humble beginnings."
Today, more than 92 percent of contract designers know and specify Crypton, and they've expanded from heat-transfer prints to velours and velvets. They've even gone from the seat to the wall and the floor with carpeting and wall covering lines, as well as mattress ticking and cleaning products.
"It's been 20 years and we did create a sea change in the industry," Randy says. "We can do anything. And I think that we also brought to the industry the sense of the need to market."
For Crypton and the Rubins, the next chapter is going to be an exciting one. This month, they'll introduce Crypton 2.0. This next-generation offering promises a hand that will further banish the stereotypes of many performance fabrics, and includes enhanced stain resistance as well as bio-based materials. They've also installed new energy-saving equipment into their 125,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, to create version 2.0.
"The barrier is even stronger than it was before," Randy says. "There are so many more bells and whistles to this generation 2.0. Usually when you go into a facility you can tell by the hand that it's Crypton. I can tell. But I won't be able to tell anymore. It's beyond what we ever dreamed." The Crypton 2.0 makeup and technology will soon phase into all of Crypton's fabric offerings, as well as some of its other product categories.
Another exciting new prospect for 2013 will be the introduction of Crypton Home as the Rubins attempt to take over yet another market: residential. That product will meet all the same durability, stain and microbial standards Crypton is known for, and has already been accepted by some major furniture manufacturers.
The business will also expand even further outside of the United States this year, as its dedicated sales team begins working with an export rep to foreign countries (where the company is already selling but without sales representatives to support that activity). "The best thing is that we're exporting American-made products," says Craig. They've also built their business on licensed American mills and promise to stay true to that commitment as they move into the future.
As for the marriage that serves as the backbone of this amazing business? The Rubins say it not only grows stronger as the years go by, but has helped to develop a genuinely familial culture in the office. "It's been an interesting white paper on what entrepreneurs can do," Randy says. "We have a deep respect for each other. I don't go over the things that Craig does. I totally trust him and he totally trusts me." The two have very clear business boundaries as she handles the advertising, marketing and PR, and he handles the research, accounting and manufacturing.
"There have been days where we've wanted to kill each other for sure, but that's maybe 1 percent," Randy adds. "It has been an incredible experience. I wish you or any person the ability to have what we have."