Brintons likes to remind its customers that their carpet business is only 6 years younger than the USA. Clearly, quite a lot can happen in 231 years. During that time Brintons Carpets has built up a global business and a globally significant design archive.
Brintons turns over £80m and employs around 1500 employees worldwide. Within this over 80 regional field designers work globally and the company has design offices in London, Los Angeles, Pune in India, Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, and most recently in Dubai.
20% sales residential – 30-35% products sold represent new designs; 80% commercial – 85% products sold represent new designs; averaging total new products produced annually amounting to around 65% of turnover.
Representing a near vertically integrated production process, with a yarn mill in Telford, using wool from 1 in 7 of the UK’s sheep and their dyeing facility located at their factory in Kidderminster as well as their innovative weaving technologies being updated and patented to this day. These processes are replicated in their overseas plants in Portugal and India.
In its heyday Kidderminster was home to carpet-making worldwide, now there are just a handful of operators working in the town including Adams, Brockway and Victoria, all making tufted carpets with Brintons the only sizeable business working on Axminster looms producing woven patterned carpet with a similar finish to the hand-knotted carpets of earlier times. These work alongside their face-to-face Wilton looms, which produce plain carpet for the residential market. Unlike the other carpet businesses Brintons does not produce tufted carpets weaving the entire carpet, back and face at the same time. Elsewhere in the UK Ulster carpets remains a strong competitor, but few producers are left in the Western economies with most woven carpet makers, such as Taiping Carpets, produced in the Far East.
“We have a broad mix of clients from The White House to The Kremlin with commercial clients including cruise ships, five star hotels such as Hilton and Marriott, and resorts including Butlins and the Atlantis in Dubai, Casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and cinemas such as the Odeon and Vue Groups,” says Andrew Wilcock, Group Marketing Manager.
“It takes 6 people to change a loom and the best part of a shift” continues Andrew. “The majority of looms work on 12 colour patterns – we’re just rolling out our newly developed technologies to give us greater flexibility in colour range which are able to weave 32 colour carpets, which is unique in the industry. We have looms of different widths and they have to be threaded ready for weaving. With a 12’ loom, for example, there are 7 tufts per inch which means 1008 locations in total. If we have a 12 colour pattern, then we have to prepare 12,096 feeds of yarn before we can start.
“Our newly patented 32 colour process enables sequential tufts which takes yarn from a limited number of feeds and threads the loom as the work progresses – this is a revolutionary technology and will enable a far greater colour palette in the future with faster changeovers and much lower waste.”
Andrew Wilcock has been with the business for just over a year following a career working in marketing for amongst others, Silent Night and luxury vinyl tile producer, Karndean, based in Evesham, but for him the range and depth of Brintons design expertise has been an eye-opener.
“Design drives the sale,” says Andrew. “So creating something striking, on trend, but original is really important.”
These days Brintons is owned by Carlyle who bought the company three years ago when it ran into troubled times following the financial crisis. Carlyle, renowned as one of the biggest investors worldwide and known as global alternative asset managers, is one of the world’s largest and most successful investment firms with 40 offices worldwide. Interesting that Brintons was on their radar and that they considered it worthwhile investing in an industry and location that had been experiencing around thirty years decline. For whilst Brintons founded the modern carpet industry in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, in 1783 driving tremendous growth and prosperity with over thirty carpet manufacturers in the town by 1951, today there are just a handful of globally recognised operators there. “Carlyle have invested £8m in us over the past 2 years ensuring that we could complete the development of our new technology looms,” says Andrew.
We were pleased that recently the consumer basket used to judge and monitor inflation removed laminate flooring and included carpet – this sort of thing, whilst small is good for us. It shows that carpet is coming back.
“In terms of design trends we are seeing much more pattern again at the moment. This might be Victorian inspired or Bohemian, with some quite vivid colours reappearing. Especially in our one-off pieces. It is quite good to see the move away from neutrals after all this time. Plaids are our best-selling pattern and we are currently re-launching them with a modern twist and in more contemporary colours. We see this as contemporary country for city living theme. Both Checks and Damasks have also had a revival too.”
Brintons Unique Design Archive
When asked about their design archives they are clear about the unique asset this represents. Their Archive Collections have been brought together with painstaking care and attention to detail over the past 20 years, with the company still discovering works they never knew they possessed.
Brintons archivist, Yvonne Smith says, “Our design archives represent a resource which is about authenticity and tradition – something that cannot be replicated and whilst the designs can be copied no one has the provenance that our collections represent. The company has a great design heritage and it’s still as vibrant and cherished as it’s ever been.
We rely on design, referring back to our archives for design inspiration, re-interpreting this in light of today’s trends and our clients’ aspirations, as well as encompassing other design elements such as detailed project management, planning and estimating which, if done properly, can save thousands of pounds on a project. It’s this approach, coupled with constant innovations to processes and technologies in our production, that’s helping to keep us ahead in such a fiercely competitive global market.”
Yvonne Smith recounts how she recently discovered an extensive collection of over 1,000 Japanese stencils dating to circa 1890 that they never knew they had, which turned out to be one of the largest private collections outside the V&A. “This has led to producing our Katagami collection which has done very well, based on our Japanese paper stencils. The company has 3 rooms full of their archives. Whilst they’ve managed to digitise about half of their archives, this is very much an ongoing project and one which occupies Yvonne’s mind as she juggles the archive management with the day-to-day demands for design inspiration coming from their global design team.
A Unique Global Design Resource
Their Field Designers send in the ideas they have discussed with their clients representing the types of look, feel and specifications that they want to achieve in their carpeting approach.
Yvonne searches the archive materials for designs matching these approaches, sending out designs in a proposed collection that may inspire further designs, discussion and ultimately a contract for a carpet design and production. Brintons sends out about 500-600 designs a week from their archive materials and they are constantly updating their collections through their partnerships with emerging and established designers.
Alongside this approach Brintons produces brochures with new commercial and residential collections and have enjoyed very successful design collaborations with designers including Timorous Beasties, “two wonderfully colourful, eccentric (and brilliant) Glaswegian designers, Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons“, says Yvonne, together with Laura Ashley and the flamboyant, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. The company has also enjoyed high profile creative collaborations with designers, Vivienne Westwood and Manolo Blahnik, resulting in some stunning advertising campaigns.
Earlier design relationships include Christopher Dresser and even Henri Matisse. Anna Maria Garthwaite was a silk designer at Spitalfields who died c1760 but who was considered such a craftswoman that her name was used on the finest designs for some time after this period and can still be seen on original designs in their collection. They hold a selection of original artwork from Morris & Co as Brintons supplied the esteemed William Morris business with carpets over an extended period. They have 3-4 works by architect and designer, Charles Francis Annesley Voysey; “We had more,” says Yvonne, “but these have since disappeared.”
The carpet designs for the Kew Palace restoration were selected from the archive; there are also the original design papers for Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, where Prince Albert’s signature can be still be seen, clearly written – an elaborate hand executed with some flourish, able to impress over 100 years later.
Their earliest dated pattern is from 1798. Paper was very expensive as it was taxed with all the patterns represented in the smallest feasible scale. Carpets at this time were handwoven and Seymour Reginald Brinton subsidised little factories all over England and Ireland, including Kildare carpets, later responsible for the carpets on the ill-fated Titanic. When ‘Titanic’ was being filmed the production company came to Brintons who were able to supply them with designs from the Kildare carpet company archive. More recently Brintons collaborated with Milwaukee Museum on Biedermeier designs . Yvonne doesn’t know off the top of her head how many hand-painted papers are in their archive, but reckons a conservative estimate must put it at over 30,000 – all needing to be filed, referenced, digitised and ready to draw on as the company re-invents itself to satisfy our insatiable appetite for design.