Flooring Focus: Matthew Wailes on what's driving change in the flooring industry

The effects of the pandemic and a new focus on sustainability are forcing the industry to change, believes Matthew Wailes

In a Q&A for our Flooring Focus Toby Maxwell speaks to Matthew Wailes about how the pandemic and a new focus on sustainability is driving change in the flooring industry.

Please explain the new SoteriaAV brand that Matthew Wailes London is now using for its carpets and rugs

Anti-allergy technology has been around for some time now within our market area, with treatments and fibres that kill or inhibit replication of dust mites or fungus – the main causes of allergies. In the early stages of the pandemic last year, we, together with a manufacturing partner, submitted our anti-allergy/ wool product samples to a microbiological testing facility in the UK to see what outcome would be obtained against viruses, including Covid-19. The results were extremely positive – the majority of the virus was eliminated very quickly after coming into contact with our fibre, and all of the virus was neutralised in less than 30 minutes.

Further developments were then made to combine our unique anti-viral/allergy fibre with [our] Upcycle Fibre so that we would have a product with both health and environmental benefits. The result is our new SoteriaAV brand. We are now manufacturing bespoke hand-made products using this new fibre blend, and we have also launched a range of SoteriaAV facemasks, again using the AV/Upcycle-blended fibre. We see a multitude of applications for this fibre within the interiors industry. The fibre can also be washed multiple times without reducing its efficiency, as the technology is incorporated within the fibre itself rather than being simply a surface layer.

One of Matthew Wailes London’s LuxuryEco rugs, constructed from reused or recycled materialOne of Matthew Wailes London’s LuxuryEco rugs, constructed from reused or recycled material

How have the events of the last year helped to heighten awareness of the health and hygiene properties of the products and materials around us? What are the opportunities for designers and specifiers?

One thing that has been unavoidable for us all during the last 12 months is an increased awareness of the importance of hygiene to help curb the spread of the virus. I think that any product of this type that can be incorporated into our daily lives will increase in demand, within both the commercial and residential sectors. Although Covid-19 is generally transmitted from one person to another through airborne particles, it can also spread through contaminated surfaces. I would imagine that, given the choice, customers will opt for anti-viral products wherever they are available – be that fabric, rugs, carpets or any other type of surface that may be developed post-pandemic.

You launched the LuxuryEco range a couple of years ago. How have attitudes towards the importance of how materials are sourced changed in recent years?

Public attitudes are changing rapidly, with increased awareness towards sustainability and environmental issues. It is important for every product within every market [to change]; the quantities of waste that human beings produce [are] truly staggering, and there does not appear to be any visible slowdown in the production of single-use materials. So, for the foreseeable future, every one of us should be making an effort to reuse and recycle our waste, [and] use sustainable materials, use materials and production methods that leave a shallow ‘footprint’ behind.

A circular LuxuryEco Nautilus rug, made in recognition that both consumers and clients want to invest in more sustainably viable objects. Image Credit:: ARTJAFARA
A circular LuxuryEco Nautilus rug, made in recognition that both consumers and clients want to invest in more sustainably viable objects. Image Credit:: ARTJAFARA

We happen to produce bespoke carpets and rugs for the luxury market, but this should in no way impair our belief that waste materials can be reused in the creation of our products. There seems to be a really positive ecological ‘surge’ within the carpet and rug industry, driven by the demand for green and sustainable materials. The greater the demand, the greater the need for everyone to get onboard.

In terms of innovative flooring ideas in commercial and retail environments, how could the sector develop in the future?

New, innovative production ideas are constantly being evolved by our manufacturing partners. We are developing a new collection called Inside-Out, which uses hardwearing yet super-soft acrylic yarn. This yarn is used not only for the pile fibres but also the backing materials; this means that we can produce fully customisable hand-woven, hand-tufted and machine-tufted products that can be tailored to both inside and outside living, for commercial or residential specifications. Up until now, the availability of outdoor carpets and rugs has been generally limited to Polypropylene fibre flat-woven structures with no backing materials and to set designs and colours.

This type of product development could potentially revolutionise the way that carpets and rugs are used within this type of environment, giving our customers total design and colour flexibility – while also adhering to important specification criteria such as durability, water resistance, stain resistance, mould and mildew resistance.

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