The oldest fibre in the carpet business is wool. Traditionally prized for its warmth, resilience and hard wear, it has been around as a textile fibre for a couple of thousand years, and not much has changed. The sheep are much the same, the yarn has hardly altered, even the carpets still have a surface pile. So what's new?
Improvements, if any, have been mainly in manufacturing techniques, production efficiencies and design styles, but the carpet industry has been evolving, colours are more exciting, textures more interesting, designs more adventurous. This information is available to the whole world on the Internet. Carpets for the 21st century have arrived.
The British Wool Marketing Board, in conjunction with Ryalux Carpets, has created an information structure on the worldwide web which will eventually enable viewers to find out practically anything about choosing a carpet. Called The Carpet Information Centre and already holding details of about 100 different carpet ranges, information is being added weekly and by early next year it should be possible to surf through 500 or so carpets. But this is just the start. The products shown are not simply a repeat of the manufacturers' brochure, but are divided into areas such as fibre, style and texture.
If you're looking for, say, a patterned carpet, you can see a selection in several styles from a number of manufacturers. You can bring information on borders, traditional designs, tonals, modern patterns, borders and even florals to your screen with the click of a button. You may want to known more about plain carpet, so you can see a selection of twist, velvet or Saxony. Texture? You can view a range of loop pile, twist pile or sculptured carpets. You can see carpets in British Wool or man-made fibres. Rugs and squares will be added soon as well as hand-knotted pieces from the Middle and Far East. Information will also cover carpet care and cleaning, measuring and estimating, accessories and the importance of underlay to the life of your carpet, with sound advice from the Institute of Carpet and Floorlayers. British Wool Marketing Board will tell you more about sheep and fibre, but there is even information from Thomas Carrs - a leading Yorkshire spinner - about the skilled spinning processes which convert this raw material into sumptuous yarns. The web pages also touch on additional processes such as stain-release and easy-clean systems, and a brief history of carpets.
Complete ranges from well-known manufacturers, such as Axminster and Cormar are there at the push of a button; in fact British Wool has entered details of 25 of its best-known licensees, including Brintons, Stoddard, Associated Weavers, Woodward Grosvenor and Hugh Mackay.
The web site invites you to E-mail, telephone or fax for further information, samples and brochures. As only one example of each range is shown, and some ranges have up to 100 colours, and colour reproduction on individual screens is inevitably different and prices are an indication only, the Carpet Information Centre can tell you the name of your local retailer for any specific carpet so that you can visit to see and feel the actual carpet and ask for advice.
Already, over 600 independent carpet shops from the leading carpet buying groups, Green Group, Metro Group and SMG - The National Furnishing Group are arranging to list all their members, from whom you can arrange for an estimate and to see samples in your own home.
The Carpet Information Centre is probably one of the first 'industry' based web sites, a boon to those who like to research from home before visiting shops. Time is money; the net will make life just a little easier.