By Steven Feldman Amid reports that residential soft surface sales were up about 10% in 2020’s fourth quarter, Mohawk is beefing up all its soft surface brands for 2021 with a bevy of new introductions. The initiative encompasses all fiber types and price points.
Beginning with its flagship SmartStrand franchise, this year Mohawk is coming to market with a focus on sustainability by taking latex and polypropylene out of the backing and substituting that with polyester-based fibers. The result, dubbed Recover backing technology, is a fully recyclable product.
According to Thomas Kilgore, senior director of product management for the Mohawk brand channel, SmartStrand built a reputation for being durable and forever stain free in addition to the cleanability and soft story. “This year, we are going to go down the road of changing out the backing, which actually improves our sustainability story beyond the renewable resources that are used to make the face fiber,” he explained.
Mohawk said it sees the innovation appealing to two customers: those who are environmentally conscious and those who are worried about allergies. “We get a hypoallergenic product by taking out the latex and by eliminating the polypropylene; we have a VOC-free product,” Kilgore told FCNews.
More good news for consumers: Pricing is very similar to that of Mohawk’s premium backing, OptiBac. “If you look at what some of our competitors have done, or even our Air.O product, you’re looking at a pretty substantial upcharge compared to latex,” Kilgore said.
Mohawk is doing a soft launch for Recover with selective placement for the time being. “We’re going to gauge how the market interacts with it and make sure we’re talking about this the right way,” Kilgore said. “Then, we will have a full launch of products inclusive of standard SmartStrand, SmartStrand Silk and patterns.”
EverStrand, the carpet made from recycled plastic bottles—50 billion of them to date—is also undergoing a change in construction for 2021. “People are looking for style and design and opportunities for us to simplify our product offering,” Kilgore said. “So, one of the big things we did this year is basically exit olefin as a face fiber. We’ve taken products like Pristine Sensation and Enduring Amazement and given them updated berber looks—something we couldn’t do with olefin. This allows us to offer a better service proposition for our dealers and end users because we’re more simple.”
The move from olefin to PET also improves durability, according to Mohawk. “We are on par or better when you look at ratings and lab testing, but you also get a softer hand and the ability to bring those looks into today’s world,” Kilgore explained. “There’s not much innovation that can be done with olefin. I think a new era of berber buyers will be out there for these products. We’ve heard good feedback from dealers who had some sneak previews.”
The 10 new EverStrand loops for 2021 will offer anywhere from five to 40 colors. Retail price points range from $1.99 to $3.99 a foot depending on the product. The higher-end products are patterns within the Soft Appeal collection. “When the dealers and consumers see these products, they are going to think they are a much higher price point than they actually are,” Kilgore said. “Soft Appeal offers very high style and design by virtue of machinery that allows a very high-definition pattern.”
The overarching goal this year is to elevate style and design for Karastan, according to Harry Scott, senior product director for Karastan and Godfrey Hirst. He said he is getting more support from Mohawk to take risks and go bigger with design. “These past two years we have made strides to differentiate the brand,” Scott explained. “We want to be the leaders in the fashion category, which we think we are after this launch.”
Karastan comprises three fibers: SmartStrand, Kashmere nylon and wool. For Mohawk, this year the focus is on patterns within the KaraLoom assortment, which now features ColorMax technology. “That speaks to high definition of color, color clarity and crispness of the visual,” Scott stated. “Previously, you would see it only in our textured cut piles. We said, ‘Hey, what can we do in the pattern category?’ We know patterns are a growing segment of the market and represent 30% of our business. So we decided to do something a little bit different here.”
That difference is the next-generation ColorMax. “This is exclusive to Karastan,” Scott said. “You’re starting to see some two-color effects. Typically, our patterns would be a tone on tone. Now, we can do two distinct colors. Plus, we can do more of a subtle tone-on-tone visual here, which is pretty popular as people take a little more risk given they are putting carpet only in the bedrooms and not full house.”
Also new for 2021 is blending of fibers. “We are uniquely set up as a mill that has nylon, triexta, PET and wool,” Scott added. “We’ve been investing a lot in R&D to see what we can find. We actually have blended our two premium fibers, Kashmere nylon and SmartStrand, and we realized with our proprietary dye technology we can get a different visual that we couldn’t get with a 100% SmartStrand or 100% nylon product. The idea is to keep the line fresh and provide a contemporary, distinct color line to appeal to that younger generation we know is growing in the buying population more and more every day.”
One of the other goals with Karastan is to make it more affordable to the masses. “People want that woven wool look, but the price point often scares them,” Scott said. “So, they trade down. What we’re trying to do is to give them that look, that design, but at a much more approachable price point. The KaraLoom collection mimics the look of a woven wool. It gives you the visual, that high-end style and the aspirational look, but it’s a synthetic, which offers more of an approachable price point.”
The new KaraLoom products use the next-generation ColorMax where Kashmere nylon is blended with SmartStrand. As a result, according to Scott, “you get the two-color look and a tight tailored loop that could only have been achieved with a woven product. So you have the low/high depth and dimension to the pattern with the two colors.”
This year, Mohawk is making a concerted effort to grow the Godfrey Hirst brand here in the U.S. While the brand’s products have been constructed exclusively of wool, synthetic fibers will now be a part of the mix.
“Being in New Zealand and Australia, they are very close to the raw material,” Scott said. “They’re probably one of the largest producers of wool carpet in the world. We have been leveraging their tufted wool in both the Karastan and Godfrey Hirst lines. But one thing we are also doing is growing the Godfrey Hirst brand in the U.S. by adding EverLux nylon plus SmartStrand.”
Mohawk said it is positioning Godfrey Hirst somewhere between the Mohawk and Karastan brands. “We saw a gap at the higher end of the market between those two brands that needed to be filled,” Scott explained. “With Karastan, we have partnered with key dealers in key cities. But Godfrey Hirst allows us to hit that space slightly below Karastan where we see a vacuum.”
Godfrey Hirst is adding 12 styles this year, including four wool updates to existing styles—best sellers that are getting a facelift—along with two new styles. The other six new products are synthetics. Also new this year is a display system that holds 52 cards. “Placing those displays will be a big focus for us this year,” Scott said. “The reaction has been great; we already have sold all the displays we have right now, so we are getting more on order.”allergies. “We get a hypoallergenic product by taking out the latex and by eliminating the polypropylene; we have a VOC-free product,” Kilgore told FCNews.