Interview: Armin Scharf | Photos: Ettlin Lux, Wolf-Dieter Gericke, Nikolay Kazakov


Founded in Ettlingen in 1836 as a spinning and weaving mill, Ettlin was a classic textile manufacturer for many years. Today the company is a specialist for technical textiles and is at the forefront in areas like abrasive backing materials. At the beginning of the new millennium, Ettlin began looking for new application scenarios for technical textiles with enhanced functionality – and found the LED. The combination of textile and light source produces astonishing visual effects that appear three-dimensional and interact with the beholder. With the Ettlin Lux brand, the Ettlin Group is establishing a new field of business – initially with custom-made, project-specific solutions, in the meantime also with independent products like luminaires and wall mirrors. Today Ettlin is also active in the sensor technology sector. The integration of electronic functions and components is a new field that Ettlin is focusing intense attention on.

An interview with Jasmina Hrustanovic, marketing manager at Ettlin Spinnerei und Weberei GmbH & Co. KG.
Combining textile structures with light opened up a whole new area of business for you. How did it come about?
We presented our lighting textiles for the first time in 2010: we showed them at two trade fairs and got very good feedback. For us as a classic textile manufacturer it really was a totally new approach that we first started exploring in the early 2000s. Back then, LED technology was just becoming relevant and that opened up new possibilities, like visual interaction with our fabrics. We were actually in the process of developing a concept for a fabric that would diffuse light. While we were working on that, we discovered an interesting effect: backlighting it created a fascinating impression of depth.
How does that three-dimensional effect come about?
We work with LEDs that are mounted on a backplate, either across an extensive area or in strips. Then, we stretch a single layer of our textiles over the plate at a distance of at least two centimetres. Then the points of light emitted by the LEDs are scattered through the fabric in a crescent shape, and the lighting effect gently fades to nothing. The effect can be varied depending on the orientation of the fabric. And when the light is off, you’re left with a very attractive textile surface that has acoustic benefits as well. Decolux is our universal solution and is available in white, light grey and black. And because it’s printable, it can also be customised. What’s more, it has a Class B1 fire rating, which is an important aspect when it comes to designing interiors. And we’re just about to launch a version with an air purifying function too.

With the Ettlin Lux brand, you became a product manufacturer as well. Was that a big step for you?
We come from the project business, so we develop individual solutions together with the planners and then implement them ready for fitting. With the Ambiloom wall mirrors, we’re selling standard products for the first time, and the requirements are very different, for instance with regard to their functionalities. In this case, as with the luminaires, we collaborate very closely with our partners and bring their specific competencies together in such a way that they result in a product. And yes, that really is a new business model for us. We’d always been geared to the B2B market, and now with the mirrors and luminaires we’re opening up to consumers too.
At first glance, the wall mirrors look very simple. The special feature isn’t actually apparent until the internal LEDs are activated.
When the backlighting is active, they become a source of ambient light with the three-dimensional effect I described earlier. They’re a real eye-catcher, and proving particularly popular for hotels, restaurants and retail. We’re in the process of developing two more mirror variants that will be in the collection from autumn.

Photo: Nikolay Kazakov
Would you describe Ettlin Lux as technology-driven or design-driven?
Our background is in technical textiles, so first of all I see our company as technology-driven. But in the meantime, design plays an almost equally important role. Besides an interior designer, there’s a designer on the development team as well. And both of them are just as much involved with the selection of suppliers as they are with creating new product concepts.
What role do external designers play?
Right now we’re taking the first steps and building contacts – partly thanks to the Design Center: they’ve been advising us on how to proceed. In principle, we can envisage implementing new and exciting ideas together with external design firms and our own in-house design team.
Earlier on you mentioned project-specific developments – what’s the procedure with that kind of assignment?
We take a pretty classic approach. We get enquiries from planners or developers, and we’re often recommended by lighting designers who are familiar with the kind of thing we do. Essentially, it’s always a question of creating special visual elements in a space. To begin with, we visualise the effect the luminaires, frames or mirrors will create with the involvement of the planners. Then local companies install the end results on site.
That all sounds as if you’re expanding your portfolio.
Yes, we’re working on it. I already mentioned the new wall mirrors. Our internal team is developing a new luminaire as well. Besides the Decolux fabric there’s also the Mood textile, which is laminated in glass or acrylic and produces a more technical-looking and less playful lighting effect. And because we can coat the textile, it’s possible to vary its appearance in other ways too. So we’ve got no shortage of potential.

Photo: Ettlin Lux, Nikolay Kazakov

In 2017 you implemented a fascinating installation in Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall for Stuttgart artist Rosalie. How important was that for you?
Very important, because it meant we could demonstrate the possibilities our textiles open up, in terms of size as well. The suspended panels were 12 metres high, equipped with Decolux and illuminated by RGB LEDs. That permitted dynamic light structures that interpreted the Symphony of a Thousand in light and colour.
Besides light, your company is also focusing intense attention on sensor technology.
Yes, we use conductive textiles to deliver a wide range of different functionalities. We can use them as a basis for measurement systems or surface heating, but also for data lines. We partnered with Reutlingen University and signed up for the publicly funded InBiO project (Interactive, bio-based surfaces for the user-oriented car interior). It was a question of how textile substrates can be used to replace classic switches or buttons with interactive, pressure-sensitive textile elements that are activated via proximity sensors. That’s a very interesting approach that we’d like to use to expand our technological expertise.

Photo: Wolf-Dieter Gericke


Today the Ettlin Group consists of three divisions: Ettlin Textiles, Ettlin SmartMaterials and Ettlin Real Estate. Among other things, the latter takes care of the two large production sites in Ettlingen and Berlin-Marienfelde, which have been transformed into industrial parks since the 1990s. Ettlin Lux is a brand of the Ettlin Group.