Design is a journey.
At Shaw Contract Group, it starts as an idea in Cartersville, GA and ends as a pattern, sometimes half a world away.
But what happens in between?
For Shaw Creative Director Reesie Duncan and her team, that question is more than just conceptual. In their quest to push the limits of how carpet tile looks and feels, they have found themselves in college classrooms, tropical villages and teeming megacities.
And now that Shaw’s tile production plant is under construction in Nantong, China, the creative process is leaping languages and time zones anew.
Luckily, Duncan is prepared. When she first arrived at Shaw 15 years ago, the company was largely unknown outside of the U.S. Since then, the company has become the world’s biggest carpet manufacturer. “I’ve seen Shaw climb and climb — making that journey from where no one knew who we were to the biggest in the industry,” she said.
Shaw’s global strategy shares a common fiber with its creative process: innovation.
Duncan works year round to rethink carpeting, just as the company’s business side is constantly questioning best practices in order to enhance quality and efficiency. Though it’s doubtful they have as much fun.
To wit: although carpeting is made of synthetic materials, which are more robust and easier to maintain, they chose to tackle an ancient material impossible to create with machines. That fiber was silk. Centuries ago, this fabric treasured by kings was carried across deserts and mountains by camel and horseback. The devotion to silk and the painstaking natural process to create it is still revered. In the modern era, luxury is as much about new technologies as old crafts, and Shaw is eager to unite both practices in its search for the highest quality carpets.
Rather than just buy silk Stateside, Duncan and crew journeyed to Thailand, where they crisscrossed the country to learn how silk is made. “We saw how silkworms are grown and went to villages responsible for dying, spinning and weaving the yarn,” said Duncan. “We never would have been able to get so hands on if we’d stayed home.”
Taking their newfound knowledge of an ancient craft, the team returned to Georgia, where they developed Shaw’s most plush yarns yet. While the ensuing collection, called “Silk” is synthetic, their exploration and Shaw’s financial backing allowed them to invest in new technologies that mirror the delicately soft threads of silk. The collection is a contemporary carpet version of the age-old regal fabric, and covers the floors of executive suites across the globe.
To discover new colors and patterns, Shaw finds inspiration everywhere, including in the minute details and elements of daily life. For Shaw’s latest collection, DyeLab and Natural Palette, the design team played with organic fibers like wool and silk, and ingredients from the kitchen and garden: pomegranates, black tea, blackberries, coffee, wood and root. The results were as breathtaking as they were surprising.
“We really view process sometimes as more important than end result,” said Duncan of the three-month experiment. What they found is that mother nature is delightfully unpredictable. Think pomegranate dyes red? Guess again. The crimson fruit comes out a rich amber and green. “It was fascinating to experiment with dyes and see where it took us,” Duncan said. “The result is really natural and organic.”
Once they found the right hues, the team tackled texture by bundling, twisting, dipping wools and silks. The textures look and feel like an artist’s impressionistic canvas, awash in light and depth. The organic influence carries through to the final pattern, as no two carpet tiles are the same.
What sounds easy in fact takes an entire year — but that’s the beauty of the in between. “In our design cycle we challenge ourselves to make it a process,” said Duncan. They’re not just playing with colors. Once the patterns are finalized, it’s time to test the market. That focus allows the design team to gage just what works on real floors and how real people engage with the color and texture.
Then comes the most exciting step in design: the next journey.