Building a better machine-made rug
February 9, 2017,
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.
“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.
Made 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.
“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.”
Importers taking notice
Rug manufacturer Surya has made a big push in machine-made rugs in recent years, including this colorful rollout from the Anika Collection, which was on display in Atlanta.
“We’ve definitely put more of an emphasis on it for sure. Just by the demand of our customers looking for that is the No. 1 reason, great looking product at a value price,” said Seth King, vice president of sales for Surya. “We follow what our customers need. The demand has focused our attention on that category.”
Arash Yaraghi, a principal of Safavieh, said dealing in machine-made rugs is a way for producers to stay on top of trends and offer their retailers the looks consumers want.
“There are many reasons but among the most compelling from our prospective are speed to market, technological innovations at every level of production - from yarns to looms to distribution - and perhaps most compelling and exciting for us, our ability to quickly create new rug designs, textures and variations in color that respond to, and speak directly to, the latest trends in contemporary fashion,” Yaraghi said.
Cyrus Loloi said Loloi pays as much attention to its machine-made offerings as it does its hand-knotted and hand-loomed collections.
“We go to our machine-made vendors as frequently as we go to our vendors who make handmade products,” Loloi said. “We go to them with ideas and concepts and the time and attention we pay to them is just as significant. We stock it because the market tells us to because it sells.”
King said innovations in the production process have taken the category into areas that were unimaginable a decade ago.
“They’re doing a way better job of mixing the materials. You can mix synthetic polypropylene with viscose, which adds a lot of different texture,” King said. “Each of the fibers absorbs color a little differently. You can get a lot different look on the product which creates a higher perceived value on the product. You flip through any area collection, you look at the different yarn deniers and textures and you see the diversity whereas 10 years ago, the product was just flat or just one material.”
Added Loloi: “Engineering and capabilities of what you can do have become amazing. When people see this amazing product from Loloi or another vendor that’s machine made, they tell themselves they want it in the home and it’s selling at retail.”
Market share grows
Producers agree that the channel will continue to gain market share in the category for numerous reasons.
King said as consumers are more in-tune with trends, having a less expensive, trend-right rug makes it easier for a shopper to go after another item as her tastes change.
“There are a couple of main things. One, the overall price of a machine-made rug is typically going to be less than a handmade product. Part of it is the people think of accessories and rugs in general. They’re no longer thinking of it as an heirloom piece but more of a decorative piece,” King said. “With a machine-made rug you can get the style you want today and if you want to change it a couple of years later, you don’t feel as bad about it because it’s less expensive.”
Added Baker: “Lower cost, color consistency, and replicable design are also notable advantages of manufactured rugs. Consumers who are much more likely to be fashion-forward and trend focused will re-decorate often.”
Plus, there’s the attrition factor, according to Loloi. As the children of weavers in India and other places where rugs are made by hand go on to careers outside the family business, the supply of available weavers is slowly shrinking.
“Weavers are getting harder to come by in India,” he said. “Naturally, as the supply diminishes a bit – it’s not at the point you can’t get goods out of India – machine-made vendors are there to pick up the slack.”
The ever-closing gap in quality between handmade rugs and machine-made rugs is another factor, says Culpepper.
“The range of effective retail price points has now stabilized in a tight zone where machine-made rugs are the best medium for addressing the market,” he said. “This has hurt the hand-knotted side of the business, as the percentage of people willing to pay for handmade quality has declined. The consumer has set the price range and we manufacturers are challenged to fit fashion and quality within it. Machine-made rugs are the way to do that.”
Related Content By Author
Red hot year continues for Crestview Collection
Home Accents Today eWeekly
AmericasMart ICON Honorees
Excellence and superior achievement in the home and gift industry were recognized in July at AmericasMart's eighth annual ICON Honors. Enjoy these video stories celebrating the 2017 award recipients: Spicher and Company, Bloomingville, Wolf Gourmet, Her Majesty's English Tea Room, Kurt S. Adler, Inc., and Chris Rosse, Rosse and Associates. See the videos!