• Thomas Lester

Building a better machine-made rug

Engineering, innovations offer the look at a value

There are numerous reasons machine-made rugs continue to gain more and more of the rug market share.

They’re (generally) less expensive at the retail level, so consumers can keep up with the latest trends without worrying about breaking the bank. Additionally, as technology continues to improve and those innovations are incorporated into the rug looming process, the designs, the colors and the perceived value of these rugs continue to track upward.

Even among those with a rug pedigree, the products coming from machine-made rug category continue to impress.

“I have a machine-made rug in my home,” said Cyrus Loloi, a principal of Loloi. “Our Anastasia product is so stunning. It’s a look that you almost can’t get at a hand-knotted product or you can but it’s at an astronomical price point. You get such a great look and it’s only getting better.”

Rug makers who deal almost exclusively in handmade products are taking notice of the things that can be done with machines. For example, Harounian Rugs International, a handmade rug specialist, rolled out its Mastercraft Collection a year ago. The machine-made rugs are cross-woven of polyester on a Wilton loom. Instead of the typical eight colors available on a Wilton loom, these rugs contain 16 shades and polyester is used for its stain resistance, durability and for the way it “reflects color just like very fine wool,” according to officials.

Building value

Building a better machine-made rugMade in Georgia by Karastan, the Intrigue Collection is made of Everstrand, which is a yarn derived from recycled plastic drinking bottles. Officials say using these proprietary fibers allows Karastan to address all price points in unique ways.
For years, the machine-made market was limited to the high and low ends of the spectrum. There were either poor quality rugs or high-end Axminster-made wool rugs from Karastan, which began making rugs by machine in North Carolina in 1928.

“Years ago, the majority of machine made rugs were just plain ugly compared to handmade rugs. It did not take a trained eye to tell the difference,” said Brandon Culpepper, vice president of specialty sales for Mohawk, which owns the Karastan brand. “Karastan built its business as a lower-cost, high-quality option to hand knotted rugs – it offered the consumer a beautiful, New-Zealand wool, American-made version of the hand knotted Asian import at a sharper price. The brand became its own entity. Just as people making a photocopy call it making a ‘Xerox’ in the 1960s, consumers buying a power loomed rug went to a top retailer to pick out their ‘Karastan.’”

That gap between Axminsters and low-end machine-made rugs started filling in in the 1990s and early 2000s as hand-tufted wool rugs and better-looking, better-quality machine made synthetics began entering the marketplace.

Deonn Baker, vice president of e-commerce and marketing for machine-made specialist Orian Rugs, said the rise of electronic Jacquard looms a little more than two decades ago opened new opportunities for design and reduced the time it takes to take a design from concept to finished product by around 90%.

“Recent improvements in CAD equipment have further advanced design capabilities and opportunities. The combined effect of the evolution of looms and yarn process advancements create indoor and indoor/outdoor woven rugs that have better performance (withstand spills, resist stains) are more durable, long-lasting,” Baker said.

In October, the Anderson, S.C.-based manufacturer rolled out three new collections that incorporate the new Fusion 24 Color Technology developed by Director of Design Scott Miller and Vice President of Development and Design Jeff Hughes. Fusion 24 allows the company’s designers to control precise placement and infusion of up to 6 shades of each color, in essence, creating space-dyed looks without space-dyeing the yarn.

More and better synthetic fibers are also changing the game, according to Culpepper. In recent years, Karastan has produced rugs made from Smartstrand (derived from corn and switchgrass) and Everstrand (made from recycled water bottles).

“We now have the ability to address all price points in unique ways and that has propelled Karastan’s growth,” Culpepper said. “Our continued growth depends on our team’s ability to design, weave, market, and sell innovation into the American market and we are focused on doing just that.”

Plus, he said, workers in rug factories are becoming more sophisticated as well. Culpepper likened it to the quality of music from musicians at differing skill levels.

“Music is a good analogy. Music is a function of instruments and musicians. You can give great instruments to bad musicians and end up with noise,” he said. “Also, you can get good music from skilled players with bad equipment. The leaders in our business have the most talented people working with the best equipment.”

Thomas LesterThomas Lester | Business Editor
tlester@homeaccentstoday.com

Thomas Lester is Business Editor for Home Accents Today. A graduate of Emory & Henry College's Mass Communications program, Lester spent a dozen years working for newspapers in Virginia and North Carolina covering an array of subjects, ranging from community news, government, education, ACC sports and more before joining Progressive Business Media in 2013. As business editor, Lester covers all aspects of business in the home accents world, from the latest news from manufacturers to successful retail strategies and business analysis.

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