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[This article originally appeared on page 12 of the June 2011 print issue of Rug News andDesign Magazine.]

In an industry that is constantly changing and adapting to the current world, our need for redefining and expanding rug terms is a necessity. For decades defining rugs was easy, a basic black and white scenario. With creative individuals who have broken the boundaries of traditional materials, we see four new words that have been popping up in relation to rugs and rug companies.

RECLAIMED ◊ REUSED ◊ RECYCLED ◊ UPCYCLED

The word reclaimed is first noted being used in the 14th century. It is a transitive verb that means ‘to obtain from waste product or by-product’, ‘to rescue from an undesirable state’, to restore to a previous natural state’ and to make available for human use by changing natural conditions. The term reuse is first noted being used in 1843. It meaning ‘to use again especially in a different way or after reclaiming or reprocessing’ is a simpler way of stating something was reclaimed. By 1926 the words reclaimed and reuse were adapted into the word recycle, also a transitive verb. Recycled took on the meaning ‘to adapt to a new use’, ‘to bring back’ and ‘to pass again through a series of changes or treatments.’ (www.merriam-webster.com)

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Reclaimed, reused, and recycled materials have been seen in the rug industry for many years. Silk from old saris has been reused to make eye catching rugs in a new material. Recently we have even seen “old” rugs be recycled by being re-dyed to make “new”/stylish rugs. The concept of taking byproducts of something old and making it into something new is not unheard of in the rug industry or the countries that produce rugs.  However, what is different in today’s rug world is how we are using these words to promote and market our rugs.

Recently, the word upcycled has been popping up in defining materials. It first known use is in debate, some say the mid-90’s while I have heard the mid-70’s. Either way it is a new enough term that even Merriam-Webster online dictionary did not have it listed. To find a basic explanation I turned to Wikipedia. They stated that upcycling is ‘the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.’  Sounds a lot like recycling does it not? Recycling is actually a process of “down cycling”, where a material is made into a different grade material while upcycling maintains or improves the quality of the material.

To better understand upcycling it is worth looking at two different companies that use the term for their materials.

Patchwork denim from Kelly O’Neal has become a much sought after item in home furnishings.
Patchwork denim from Kelly O’Neal has become a much sought after item in home furnishings.

Kelly O’Neal is an interior designer out of Texas who has his own brand Design Legacy. At High Point I had the opportunity to see his showroom and speak with him personally. O’Neal has a line that can only be described as upcycling. He is working with a branch of GoodWill to collect unused denim, khaki, and other articles of clothing. These materials are then turned into couches, chairs, and pillows.  As O’Neal said, it is not easy to piece together denim into an attractive eye catching couch. The material he gathers has not been used for the purpose it was made for. A pair of jeans might not have passed the inspection for perfectly stitched jeans. This is why the denim would be considered upcycled and not recycled. Its material use has not been used. O’Neal also works with reclaimed wood from India that once was used as flooring, window treatments and balconies to make ottomans and tables.

Loloi, on the other hand, has introduced area rugs made of recycled used jeans that have been patched and pieced into rugs.

Dreamweavers’ rugs  are all about upcycling. They have been around since the late 70’s. These rugs are made from material that would have otherwise been swept into the trash. My favorite example is what I call the teddy bear rug. It is a rug made from the remains of stuffed animal clippings.  When a teddy bear’s arms, legs, body and head are clipped out of the soft plush material, the scraps fall to the floor, get swept up and usually thrown out. Dreamweavers purchases these clippings and makes plush, dynamic three dimensional rugs out of them. All their rugs are made by upcycling material.

In the last couple of months, all these terms, reclaimed, reused, recycled and upcycled, have been used in describing materials and are being promoted in marketing of products. It is important moving forward that we understand the differences in the use and terminology of these words. More importantly, when using these words with our customers, they too are using the words not always in the same context. It is very easy to sound like one is doing good for the environment, it is another to actually understand and be able to relate how one is doing good for the environment.

(From the senior editor) As a footnote to this article, we should note that Recycled can also be used to lower the cost of new products with reused old products that creates more problems than it solves. For example, there is a probably apocryphal story about a carpet sweeper in a factory who swept up the clippings from the rugs at the end of each day. When he died his family found that the walls of their mud hut were stuffed with money he had made from selling the clippings. The difference today is that it is the loom owner who is selling or reusing the clippings not the carpet sweeper.

In High Point I saw a tufted carpet that was sprouting yarn. Last years carpets in a near by showroom were pristine. When you start to see yarn fuzz balls it generally means short staple wool has been used. Clippings fit the bill. A blend of 50% clippings and 50% new but short staple wool will lower the cost of yarn a lot. The price point gets met, but also the probable return rate increases, and the rug sheds forever.

While on the subject of lowering the cost of materials, there is another technique using pulled or dead wool. When sheep are slaughtered, the  skin and fleece are dipped in caustic soda to release the wool from the skin. Because a cut fleece is more valuable, it is likely that the sheep will be sheared before slaughter. Now the resulting fiber is both short staple, and chemically altered with the result that the fiber is brittle. Spinning the dead wool with new wool lowers the cost, and actually creates a two colored yarn, because dead wool takes dye differently than live wool. This is generally not apparent for several years until the yarn starts giving up its colors.

As we learned last year from some promotional goods that were widely advertised as Pure New Zealand wool, the promise does not always equal the performance especially with the mass market so price sensitive. (LS-senior editor).

[This article originally appeared on page 12 of the June 2011 print issue of Rug News andDesign Magazine.]

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