1986-present — A Changing Association

Stephen M. Warner, the director of the operations department, was named the association’s executive vice president at the 1986 IFAI convention in Boston. Warner joined the association in 1976 and had been promoted through a number of management positions. His title changed to president in 1991.

Since the time of the financial crisis in 1986, IFAI has undergone substantial changes. The association has grown to more than 2,000 members, an operating budget of more than $9 million and a 70-member staff.  Three formerly independent trade associations have merged into IFAI as divisions — the Marine Fabricators Association, the American Casual Furniture Fabric Association and the Narrow Fabrics Institute.

The overall number of divisions within IFAI declined from 21 in 1987 to 14 in 2009. The organizations that have ceased operations include Balloon Manufacturers Association, Camping Products Division, Fabrication Management Division, Filtration Division, Inflatable Recreational Products Division and Sailmakers Institute. Three divisions — the Inflatable Boat Association, the National Window Fashions Association, and the Personal Flotation Devices Division — left IFAI. Several mergers within the divisions have also occurred. 

As the association grew and changed over the years, so did its annual meeting. Long-time former employee Bob Smith recalls his first convention in 1970, which featured 200-300 attendees. “There were five exhibits in a hallway and no one staffed them half the time. The next year we dropped the exhibits altogether.”

In 1972, exhibits appeared again at the convention with the creation of Market Day and the participation of about 35 exhibitors. The convention has now grown to an internationally recognized trade fair featuring 500 exhibitors and more than 7,500 participants. The event is still the annual convention for IFAI members, but now more than half of those attending are not members.

The convention terminology was dropped from the title of the event when in 1991 it was renamed the Industrial Fabric & Equipment Exposition. In 1997 the decision was made to call future events IFAI Expo.

Since 1986 the association has introduced five magazines and a technical journal -- Fabric Architecture (formerly known as Fabrics & Architecture), Safety & Protective Fabrics, InTents, Marine Fabricator and Geosynthetics International. In 1995 IFAI ceased publication of Safety & Protective Fabrics. In 2002 IFAI purchased the magazine Upholstery Journal, and in 2007 launched Fabric Graphics.

A significant change in the association has been the international expansion in the last decade. There are now members from 50 countries.

With this growth it became clear that IFAI needed a new home. The Board of Directors made the decision in October 1996 to purchase a building in Roseville, a nearby suburb of St. Paul. In August 1997, IFAI moved to the building, where it still remains today.