By Jennifer Alexis
Cotton, often overshadowed by wool and even synthetic fibers in the world of rug-making, may shine this year as its affordability and versatility make it a real contender.
Wool is known for its durability, luminosity, and the way it absorbs and flaunts color. Quality synthetics often competently mimic the best of these qualities. But some rug companies are reporting strong cotton rug sales and say cotton’s own unique characteristics are to thank.
In the hands of capable and knowledgeable rug manufacturers, cotton really comes into its own, offering a quality product that is both surprisingly durable and fashionable, according to Kevin Aylward, president of Prairie Rugs.
“In the hierarchy of rugs, people think cotton is a lower caste,” Aylward said, but he adds that his trend-bucking increase in sales this year should prove that premise wrong.
“Not everyone is going to buy an Oriental rug, especially not in this economy,” he noted, “but literally everyone can use this rug.”
Not only can anyone use one, he contends, but consumers can use one in virtually any room with any type of decor, making these cotton rugs as adaptable as they are affordable. It’s their affordability, in particular, that makes them particularly useful in transitional areas like mud rooms or hallways egressing from a garage or backyard where one wouldn’t dream of throwing down a more expensive piece to be trampled by muddy boots or doused in pool water.
The budget-friendly price tag of cotton rugs also means they can be the perfect fashion accessory for the home. A costly Persian rug may be a great investment for some, but many consumers are looking to add color and texture to a room.
“Cotton rugs are appealing because they are an easy and affordable way to change a room,” said Annie Selke, president of Dash & Albert Rugs. “They are less fussy and less permanent than a heavy wool rug.”
Lightweight cotton rugs don’t require much muscle to put down, take up or move around—perfect for the commitment-phobic decorator or those who like to test new looks from time to time.
“Since they are affordable,” she added, “we often hear of customers buying more than one for the same room so they always have a way to easily change the look of a room.”
Consumers can also easily experiment without going over their decorating budgets—it boils down to “style and experimentation that isn’t hindered by price,” Selke stated.
But price, no matter how great a sales driver, doesn’t exist in a vacuum: Without the customer perception and expectation of quality, the lowest-ticketed item isn’t likely to move from its display rack. Vendors concur that fortunately cheap doesn’t equate to cheaply made when it comes to many of the cotton rugs on the market.
Prairie Rug’s Aylward has made quality a top priority. He said he is particular about the dyes and threads he uses to construct his line and consistently chooses better grades of cotton. Pricier materials may mean a slightly pricier retail cost for the end-user, but relatively speaking, the cotton rugs still fall on the lower end of the price spectrum. Aylward insists that selling lesser-quality product would backfire.
“People are not necessarily looking for the cheapest thing,” he said, “and they aren’t going to spend frivolously.”
Value means the product is well made, of course, but consumers having been told over time that wool is the way to go for durability may need to be brought up to speed on what cotton can offer.
Aylward attributes the success of his line largely to the quality component of the entire equation. “I didn’t want my rugs to be disposable,” he said of the care he takes to ensure quality production. “The fact that the product is well made and has longevity is the reason why I have not seen a net decline in sales to date [in this economy].”
Momeni Rugs has found that cotton is the ideal fiber to use to create specific looks.
“I feel the true appeal of [the cotton] rugs is the color that they are able to capture, more so than other qualities,” said Marlys Giordano, director of marketing and product development. “They are perfect for softer color palettes, especially children’s designs that utilize a lot of pastels and softer versions of ‘mature’ hues.”
Momeni’s cotton rugs are primarily in its niche categories, for example, its Coastal collection geared toward summer homes and its new children’s collection ‘Lil Mo. “They are steady and a nice way to round out our assortment,” she said.