Why carpet maker Bremworth hasn't looked back after giving up synthetics in favour of wool

The country's wool industry has struggled in recent years.
The country's wool industry has struggled in recent years. Photo credit: Bremworth/Getty

Carpet maker Bremworth says it hasn't looked back after vowing to move away from using synthetic materials in its carpets earlier this year.

The company - which recently changed its name from Cavalier Bremworth - said turning its back on synthetics would lead to an annual reduction of 2.5 million kilograms of imported synthetic fibre. It was also hoped to provide a lifeline for the country's ailing wool industry.

Paul Alston, the company's chief executive, told Magic Talk's Rural Today programme the move has "been received really well" by farmers.

"It's kind of creating a little bit of momentum," Alston told host Dominic George on Wednesday.

"People are wanting to support the wool industry - and the wool industry is at an all-time low at the moment; wool prices have probably never been as low as they are and for farmers, the cost of shearing is above the cost of selling the wool."

In July, when it announced its intentions, Bremworth said it would take 12 months to make the transition away from synthetics, which the company described as having "negative impacts on people's health and the planet".

"If you look at your synthetic carpets on the floor you have the equivalent of about 22,000 plastic bags on your average synthetic floor - so it's not the future," Alston said.

"You're getting cheaper and nastier synthetic products coming into this country - over 50 percent of carpet [is] now imported - and those products really don't perform that well and they're becoming cheaper and cheaper. 

"We had to make a stand."

Alston said the company was happy it made the move.

"We had a look at what we're good at [and] what we've done for the last 50 or 60 years is make wool carpet better than anyone else - we thought that's what we're good at, that's what we're renowned for and that's where we're going to push hard." 

First-quarter trading had been "better than we expected post COVID", Alston said, adding he was "pretty comfortable with the position we're in".

The company's shift in focus comes amid a push to breathe life back into the struggling wool industry.

Last year the Government set up the Wool Industry Project Action Group to look into ways of improving the sector, with Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor describing the group's findings as "grim" when they were released in July.

The group made several recommendations to help the strong wool sector grow, with O'Connor saying it was "the start of a new chapter" for the industry.

Not everyone is so optimistic, however, with some accusing the Government of "greenwashing" and saying more concrete steps need to be taken.

A petition calling on the Government to mandate the use of New Zealand wool products in public-funded buildings and KiwiBuild homes also received popular backing this year

Although the industry remains precarious, many in the sector remain hopeful, with the global pandemic leading to increased demand for wool carpets both here in the US.

Alston said Bremworth was working on developing new woolen carpets, with the focus on making products with textured loops, which were "coming back into fashion".