A guest blog by Martin Curtis, Chairman of the Wool Carpet Focus Group. Originally written for the SMG Group, as featured in SMG News – Spring 2018 (issue 187, published 1st March 2018) hosted on ISSUU.com
Some people are surprised that I am still involved in the wool industry – some, indeed, might be disappointed that I am! On the other hand, a lot of people understand my reasons and perhaps appreciate them.
My father married my mother immediately after the Second World War. She came from Yorkshire and in those days the wool industry was a thriving part of the economy. Bradford, once the capital of the wool world, still had a rich wool heritage and there were many wool merchants, scouring and combing companies and a whole army of linked trades that supported it.
Bradford was blessed with naturally soft water, essential for washing wool and had local manufacturers of textile machinery and customers like spinners, weavers and tailors. Unfortunately, in the 1950’s and 60’s the wool industry met with increasing competition from synthetic fibres and all sorts of petrochemical products were developed and flooded the market.
In actual fact, there was absolutely nothing wrong with wool; it was just a massive advertising campaign by the synthetic fibre conglomerates that overwhelmed it. We were told that synthetics were the future, oil was plentiful and cheap and in actual fact people exaggerated hugely about the benefits that some synthetic fibres were supposed to have. I remember being told by a senior manager of one company that they used to heat wool carpet in an oven to dry it to the bone so that it would burn for the demonstration they were giving!
I hate false advertising! I am not keen on those snake-oil salesmen who come out with false claims like a carpet is bleach cleanable! Bleach is not a cleaning agent, it is a strong and effective disinfectant. Its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, denatures protein in micro-organisms and is therefore effective in killing bacteria, fungus and viruses. So use it in your lavatories, kitchens and drains but don’t put it on your carpets because if you do and you don’t neutralise it it will stay there and can be harmful to children and pets. So the next time a salesperson says this carpet is bleach cleanable you should smile and ask them if they pour bleach on their carpets? In actual fact most carpet people I speak to all prefer wool carpets and they clean very well and very easily!
Drying out wool carpets in an oven to make them burn is quite a hideous thing to do. Can you imagine? The fact is that wool needs more oxygen than exists in our atmosphere in order to burn.
Everything can be made to burn but that is not the point. Wool will self extinguish itself if a candle, or a match or a cigarette or a burning ember from the fire lands on it. Perhaps there is an electrical fault? It will char, singe and it will form a barrier which stops the flame from spreading and from going through the carpet into the underlay. It can slow the spread of a fire in your home, hotel, block of flats or wherever it is fitted. I think we all recognise the singeing smell of wool, it isn’t the same as the black acrid toxic fumes that come from oil based synthetics! Synthetics melt and if you are wearing something plastic and it catches fire heaven help you! Wool won’t melt and stick to your skin…..
So, put to one side the throw away comments made by the synthetic fibre people, take a closer look and see what other benefits we seem to have forgotten about that wool has in bundles!
We have called these special attributes Woolabilities! We wanted to be able to describe them in memorable terms and hopefully in a single word with a simple but honest meaning – I confess we did invent one or two of them ourselves!
The first was that wool has Bouncebackability! Wool has natural crimp, curls along its length just like a spring. When wool is pressed down it has the ability to bounce back to its original shape. This leads to the carpet looking better for longer.
We invented the word Unflammability! Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing which we felt was a little confusing so we made it perfectly clear ~ wool has natural resistance to fire which makes me feel safer for one.
Talking about being safe, I think we are beginning to learn more and more about the air we breath and the environment in which we live. One of wool’s least know properties is that it is able to filter Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) from the air we breathe and lock them safely and permanently into its core. We call this Breathability and it also describes how wool actually absorbs and releases moisture which makes it more comfortable to wear, sleep on or under and live with.
Following from the environmental benefits above we have to mention the much underrated sheep itself. I coined the phrase that sheep are “the original free range animal”. They are able to graze the hills and dales and keep the countryside neat and tidy. They fertilise the land, naturally. They grow a fleece during the spring and summer that protects them from the autumn and winter weather. They produce lambs, another fleece and the cycle continues. They provide us with protein and in some countries they are milked. We really should appreciate these wonderful animals more as we should their wool! We have called this natural cycle Sustainability.
One leading industry expert has told me that wool carpets actually clean better and look better after cleaning than synthetics and without the use of harmful chemicals. I have personally seen him demonstrate the removal of a whole spilled glass of red wine from a light beige carpet and it never left a trace. Without more of a do we call this Cleanability.
If we were to bundle all the benefits of owning and living with a wool carpet or rug we would use the word Wearability. It says it all. Wool wears better, it is better for you, it looks better, feels better and by golly it is better!
I have rambled on a bit but I hope some honest truths will get home the message that wool is the best fibre for your carpets and rugs and many many other products too for that matter. I am delighted to say that Dr Mike Madden of ENco would be happy to discuss all the above with you and verify that there is true science behind the woolly stories.
Perhaps this is what keeps me interested and enthused about this wonderful wool industry and why I am still hanging around….
Wool Carpet Focus Group