Kiwi carpet company Bremworth is saying sayonara to synthetics and leading the charge for change.
Tony Timpson and Grant Biel founded Bremworth more than 60 years ago, unpicking Grant’s favourite red woollen jumper thread by thread to get the yarn they needed for their first square of carpet. From the beginning, Tony and Grant were evangelists for the versatility and resilience of natural New Zealand wool, and believed this miracle fibre needed to be shared with homes all around the world.
But times change, and over the years Bremworth added synthetic carpets to their range. ‘Synthetic’ is, of course, just another way of saying man-made – and because of their ease of manufacture and low cost, synthetic fibres such as polyamides, polyester and polypropylene have come to make up most of the commercial carpet market.
Synthetic fibres inevitably become microplastics, small pieces of plastic waste caused by the breakdown and disposal of consumer products. These microplastics – which become airborne when exposed to friction, heat or light – are in our homes, our workplaces, our rivers, our soils and our oceans. Early studies suggest that microplastics are a potential threat to human health, and that we’re each ingesting up to a credit card’s worth of the stuff each week.
A woolly wake-up call
Even as a relatively small synthetic carpet manufacturer, Bremworth used 180 shipping containers’ worth of plastic fibre in an average year – that’s 2500 tonnes, or almost five Olympic-sized pools, of synthetic fibre that was imported and distributed as plastic carpet.
Kirstine Hulse, Bremworth’s GM of Health & Safety, People and Sustainability, says it was this statistic that shocked the company into action and led them to take a hard, honest look at what they were doing to the environment.
“An average Kiwi household with synthetic carpet is equivalent to approximately 150 kilograms of plastic on the floor, or 22,000 plastic bags by weight,” Kirstine says. “It was clear to us that change is needed in our industry. We believe we need to be part of an environmentally conscious solution. While recycling is a positive step towards repurposing plastics that already exist, stopping it at its source is a better outcome.”
That’s why Bremworth is calling it quits on its dalliance with plastic fibre, turning off production of synthetic carpet and reaffirming its commitment to wool, the natural fibre on which the company was founded. Bremworth now has its sights set on becoming a global leader in safe, sustainable natural interior products – but just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t mean it will be easy.
“We’re walking away from what was a huge part of our business,” Kirstine says. “This change has been huge for us and we’ve only taken the first steps towards a natural, more sustainable tomorrow. Being authentic is important to us, which means our transformation runs much deeper than simply exiting synthetic carpet production.
“It’s about becoming transformative thinkers, being united in our beliefs, introducing disruptive innovation, creating new product categories, grounding ourselves with science and integrating sustainability throughout our design and manufacturing process.”
Bremworth says 87 per cent of its carpet is now sourced from natural materials, and the company is exploring avenues to get that figure to 100 per cent.
“We are exploring how we can continually improve, and this takes time, as we are investing in research, science and innovation to achieve this,” Kirstine says. “We are systematically working through our supply chain to look for opportunities to be more efficient, reduce waste and green our processes to see how we can reduce our environmental impact.”
As part of Bremworth’s ‘farm to floor’ approach, all carpet and yarn manufacturing takes place in New Zealand. Bremworth only uses wool grown in New Zealand, and specifies the fibre’s cleanliness, length, strength, diameter and colour to meet stringent quality standards.
“Wool is nature’s super fibre,” says Rochelle Flint, GM of Marketing & International Operations. “It’s naturally fire retardant, it ages gracefully, feels comforting, provides insulation benefits and functionally absorbs sound and smell.”
The wool fibres are also hypo-allergenic, meaning they are unlikely to cause allergic reactions. Similarly, wool is more efficient than other textiles at absorbing sweat and releasing it into the air, before bacteria have a chance to develop and produce unpleasant odours.
“We’re fortunate in that we’ve had first-hand experience with many different fibre types,” Rochelle says, “and for design, innovation and overall performance on the floor, we are yet to find a better fibre than wool.”
Making natural the new normal
Of course, Bremworth’s timing in eschewing synthetic fibres and emphasising its local supply chain is fortuitous – the move comes at a time when more and more customers are choosing to buy less, but buy better.
“We know that people are becoming more aware of the impact of their decisions on the environment and we are seeing an increasing interest in natural materials,” Rochelle says. “There is a groundswell of organisations across multiple industries integrating sustainability into their products.”
In New Zealand, where the government has declared a climate change emergency, ‘going good’ is slowly becoming the norm for companies operating in an age of conscious consumption.
“The long-term dangers posed by plastics are becoming clearer,” Kirstine says. “It’s a global problem and there’s growing awareness that plastic comes in many forms, including synthetic carpet, upholstery, curtains, clothing and more.
“Government-led initiatives such as banning plastic bags in supermarkets, and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s Gen Less initiative, are also helping to educate consumers about the decisions that we can make and how they impact on the environment and the health of people.
“We believe consumers are becoming more aware of the materials used in clothing, furnishings, food packaging and so on, and we are doing our bit to help with this education. We are connecting with consumers and inspiring them to fall in love with beautiful, high-performing natural fibres such as wool.
“The world is changing and we all need to change with it. I would encourage other manufacturers to join us, because we have only got one planet, so we need to look after it.”
This article was produced in partnership with Bremworth.