PVC fabrics are used in a diverse range of products, ranging from toys, furniture and handbags to construction tarpaulins. Another very common application is in the advertising industry. Remember that billboard you drove by earlier? It was probably printed on a sheet of PVC fabric.
It’s a rather simple product. However, certain types of PVC plastics contain toxic and cancerogenic substances such as phthalates. In this article we tell you what you need to know when importing PVC fabrics, and other products partly made of PVC, from China.
There’s no universal definition of “good quality”. Instead, God gave us technical product specifications. A product specification is anything that defines a physical aspect of a product. PVC fabrics can be produced according to various product specifications which have a major impact on both the durability and pricing.
Coated PVC fabric
A coated PVC fabric is more durable and commonly used in industrial and construction applications. It’s also 20 – 30% more expensive than a laminated PVC fabric.
Laminated PVC fabric
A laminated PVC fabric is not as durable as the coated PVC fabric. However, it’s strong enough to be useful for various applications such as toys, furniture and advertising.
While certain other plastics are measured by their thickness, PVC fabric is measured in grams per square meter. The PVC fabric weight is the product specification with the biggest price impact. The weight depends on the application. Below follows a list of guidelines for common applications:
Construction tarpaulins: 550 – 700 gsm
Advertising and display: 350 – 550 gsm
Toys: 300 – 650 gsm
Furniture: 300 – 450 gsm
PVC fabrics are commonly produced as rolls. Therefore the width of a single PVC sheet is limited by the roll width. Most Chinese PVC fabric manufacturers can produce rolls with a maximum width of 3.2 meters. However, a handful are capable of manufacturing roll widths up to 5.1 m.
Most Chinese PVC fabric manufacturers use Pantone and RAL codes for color reference. However, many suppliers can also replicate colors based on physical color samples.
With more than 7000 suppliers (mostly based in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong), China is the leading manufacturer of PVC fabrics. However, there are far more companies trading in PVC fabrics than actually producing them. While there are middlemen in every industry, only a minority of the suppliers selling PVC on sites such as Alibaba are actual manufacturers. It makes sense. Since PVC plastics are used in so many industries, it’s not strange that many manufacturers of other products, trades PVC plastics as a side business.
However, if you are looking for the “raw material” rather than buying finished goods (partly made of PVC), it makes no sense to purchase from a middleman. Apart from the obvious price disadvantage (nobody works for free, especially not in China), critical product related information is easily lost or misinterpreted when filtered through an intermediary.
Getting the right PVC fabric requires that you are aware of a supplier’s capability to comply with your product specifications. Some suppliers are specialized in producing PVC fabrics for advertising while others are geared towards construction and consumer product applications. This is even more critical in the case of product certification compliance. I can tell from experience that less than 10% of the PVC manufacturers in China are capable of producing phthalate free PVC plastics. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Based in the United States, Europe or Australia? Read this!
PVC contains “by default” a number of restricted substances. While PVC plastic can be rid of the worst toxins, far from all Chinese manufacturers are able to do so. A common mistake made by importers is assuming that Chinese suppliers are aware of the certification standards in your country or market. This is not the case. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Chinese manufacturers, including those in the PVC industry, barely have a clue about how to comply with European and American certification requirements.
The certification requirements vary depending on the usage of the PVC plastic. Below follows a list of the most important standards together with a description of when they apply.
Commonly used in PVC, phthalates are a group of esters used to increase the flexibility of PVC plastic. Flexibility is quite important for certain applications that are used in cold environments. However, there’s a slight drawback. Phthalates are cancerogenic and children’s toys containing them are prohibited in both the United States and the European Union. Below follows a list of the phthalates that you need to steer clear of when importing toys from China:
Compliance is critical when importing children’s proucts and a lab test is the only way to be sure. Noncompliance is likely to result in a forced withdrawal and buyer compensation. In the EU, phthalates are regulated by the REACH directive while the US restricts usage of phthalates under the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) directive.
PVC fabric used for construction applications and furniture are required to be fire retardant. Depending the specific product and its usage, one of the following fire retardancy standards apply:
NFPA 701 (USA)
BS 5852:2006 (UK)
Compliance with mentioned standards shall not be taken for granted when sourcing PVC suppliers in China. In fact, most are not able to control chemical content with enough precision to satisfy American and European product safety regulations. Based on our experience, I’d say less than 10% are able to ensure that their produce is free from substances such as phthalates, and compliant with a cetain fire retardancy standard.
That’s why finding the right supplier is hard. But there’s help to get. When you order a Starter Package, right here on Chinaimportal.com, we both confirm applicable regulations in your country – and source suppliers able to show previous compliace. Click here to watch a demonstration video.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
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