Commercial Shadecloth – what’s in a name?

Shadecloth, shade sail

Shade cloth manufacturers refer to many of their products as “Commercial” – but what does it really mean and how does it differ from non-commercial products?

The apparent purpose of the term it is to differentiate one fabric type from another. More specifically, it implies a “Commercial” fabric is suitable for the manufacture of shade sails which can be used in commercial applications. In the early days of the shade industry this was indeed what the term meant. Unfortunately, as typically happens, the term looses its value when the marketing departments of less than scrupulous suppliers attempt to pass off inferior products in order to garner market share.

By way of example, a leading fabric brand offers complete shade sails made from “Commercial Fabric” with a 10 year warranty at many leading hardware stores – the trouble is, if anyone in the shade industry were to use this same fabric to make a shade sail, the warranty is void. Other sails available on-line are made using a fabric which they claim to be commercial however, it is so inferior that it can be torn by hand after only months in the sun making it completely unsuitable to the task.

Quality fabrics are tested by accredited independent testing authorities and the results of these tests are published allowing comparisons based on real data and not marketing hype. Unfortunately, this data is not easy to understand unless you are familiar with the tests so it’s important to get specialist advice when choosing shade cloth. Don’t accept the interpretation of the supplier’s sales person – they obviously are not going to tell you about shortcomings of their products. If you want to learn more about this subject start by collecting all the available data from all the suppliers and placing it in a spreadsheet so you can compare the results.  If a supplier does not provide all the test results then it may be best to assume the fabric has either not been tested or that they do not want you to know the results. Either way, it would be best to avoid the fabric.

For the consumer wanting to purchase a ready made shade – remember the old adage – “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is”. Real commercial shade cloth costs $20-$30 per metre and a 5m square sail uses 10m of fabric – how then is it possible to sell a “commercial” shadecloth sail for $30, $50 or $100 or even $159 at retail – even if it were made a country where labour costs little or even nothing for that matter.

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