With open floor plans and spacious homes, today’s consumer is likely choosing hard surface as her primary flooring while considering carpet or rugs on a room-by-room basis. With this in mind, mills are developing high-quality, differentiated carpet styles that complement the hard surfaces that dominate the home.
Fortunately for mills, that effort has become easier with advances in fiber and extrusion technology that have produced striking looks that appeal to even the most discerning consumers. “If you haven’t been in the market for carpet in the last five years, you’d be shocked at how much the aesthetics have improved,” said Jamie Welborn, vice president of product management, soft surface, Mohawk. “The technology for all of us to make cleaner finishes, better color definitions and pop and pattern definitions, is there.”
Increasingly, the fiber at the center of this makeover is polyester—in most cases solution-dyed PET. As Brad Christensen, director of residential soft surface category management for Shaw Floors, explained, “While high-performance nylon is still widely desired—and preferred in commercial settings—preference for high-performance PET continues to increase in retail and builder/multi-family due to technological innovations in fiber manufacturing as well as increased market demand for pet-friendly, stain/fade-resistant carpets.”
By some estimates, polyester now accounts for roughly 70% of the residential fiber market, with nylon in the low to mid 20s. A decade earlier, nylon commanded more than 50% of the residential share.
Despite the turnaround, not every mill has abandoned fiber. A case in point is The Dixie Group, which has doubled down on its commitment to nylon. “While the rest of the industry seems to have migrated to polyester, our fiber of choice is nylon,” TM Nuckols, president of the residential division of TDG, told FCNews. “Throughout our EnVision Nylon product line, we blend various nylon fibers with different luster levels, dyeabilities and softness levels to create the most beautiful carpets in the industry.”
On the subject of beautiful carpets, Nourison has long been lauded as an upscale carpet and rug manufacturer, leaning toward natural fibers like wool, which for some customers is an outlier, albeit one that stands apart. “The biggest objection we get from a flooring dealer to selling wool is ‘Nobody ever asks for wool,’” said Don Karlin, director of broadloom sales or Nourison. “And my response is, ‘No one has ever asked you for polyester either. You need to present to your customers what best suits their needs.’ Be less focused on the carpet ‘ingredients’ and more on what the carpet will add to her home.”
Nourison has added polyester in the last several years as a silk-like accent or as a soft background in some of its face-to-face Wilton’s.
Invista exit impacts nylon
In perhaps the biggest development related to fiber this year—although not unexpected—Invista informed several of its carpet fiber customers about its plans to stop production of nylon 6,6 carpet fiber by July 2022.
The Invista-owned production facility in Camden, S.C., will continue to produce nylon 6,6 polymer for use in the engineered plastics market but will stop converting that polymer into carpet yarn.
Invista’s customers for carpet yarn have included Bentley Mills, TDG and Mannington for both its commercial business and Phenix residential business. The move by Invista is expected to shift the industry to use more nylon 6 and less nylon 6,6.
In response, Phenix, which historically focused on solution-dyed polyester, has made a big push into nylon, specifically extruding cationic dyeable nylon—a more expensive fiber but one that is notable for reducing acid-based stains. Cationic nylon is used in Phenix’s FloorEver Pet Plus, the mill’s 2022 launch. “The reception at Surfaces and beyond has exceeded our expectations,” said Matt Johnson, senior director, residential carpet. “You don’t want nylon to go away in the market; it’s a better product [than polyester] from a durability standpoint.”
In light of Invista’s exit, TDG is aligning itself with alternative nylon suppliers, according to Nuckols. “As we make this conversion, it is important that we maintain our position atop the high-end residential market. We have to continue creating beautiful and differentiated looks the market expects from TDG.”
To make matters more challenging for nylon suppliers, BASF, which makes polyamide 6 and polyamide 6,6 polymers, has implemented four price increases already in 2022, thus contributing to a softening in residential sales.
Mohawk and Shaw are not impacted the way others are by Invista’s departure as they both produce their own carpet yarns and have invested heavily to maintain their leadership positions.
Mohawk has enjoyed success with its carpet styles made from triexta, also known at PTT, which is used in SmartStrand. Building on that success Mohawk has since introduced several styles of broadloom made from a blend of two fibers: Triexta blended with PET polyester. Mixing two fiber types together provides color variations that are not available in any other single fiber type.
Shaw, meanwhile, recently invested $400 million in its Aiken, S.C., operations to serve customers regardless of their fiber preference. Pet Perfect and Pet Perfect+ carpets feature Shaw’s Anso high-performance fibers (in both nylon and PET), in addition to stain/soil protection and bleach/fade resistance. Pet Perfect+ carpets from both Anderson Tuftex and Shaw Floors come with the added protection of LifeGuard spill-proof technology.
The Dixie Group has made capital investments in its tufting technology—including Colorpoint—and its new TECHnique machines, which the company says can essentially transform any idea you can visualize into broadloom carpet.
Engineered Floors’ state-of-the-art technology, meanwhile, produces a synthetic fiber that is inherently stain and fade resistant. “PureColor [our proprietary fiber] continues to set the bar for what manufactured fiber can be,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing. “Consumers demand a product that is easy to live with while also delivering on their needs of style and comfort.” In 2022 EF is adding five new styles to its popular DW Select line.
TDG standouts for 2022 include Masland Pedigree, a striking linen-look pattern made with EnVisionSD Pet Solutions nylon; 1866 by Masland and Décor by Fabrica, which are new collections within the new decorative segment.
Tarkett’s newest Lifetime Style collection boasts a variety of patterned, textured and loop products that reflect the latest color and design trends. Papyrus offers a textural surface from 100% solution-dyed Primus PET fiber that reflects the look of a natural chenille fabric, featuring eight tonal colorways. Tribaleigh, constructed of 100% solution-dyed Primus PET fiber, is a handwoven flat weave that provides unique textural and design appeal.
Stanton is making some noise as well in 2022 with the introduction of its proprietary yarn system—L.I.O.N. (luxury indoor outdoor nylon). L.I.O.N. leverages solution-dyed, UV-stabilized nylon for enhanced color retention as well as stain and weather resistance for both interior and exterior applications. San Martino, for example, is the newest introduction under L.I.O.N. fiber, boasting a cut and loop construction that creates dimensional color.