Metropolis Magazine September 6, 2017 – Metropolis Magazine publishes Carnegie’s 35-year journey of material innovation

Sometime in the mid-1970s, textile entrepreneur Bob Goldman hit upon an ingenious solution for wall-coverings that looked beyond paper, paint, and vinyl. In 1981 his company, Carnegie, launched a material called Xorel that was durable, cleanable, sustainable, and revolutionary in its simplicity—it was made of polyethylene. "That's the simplest plastic," says his son Cliff Goldman, president of Carnegie. "it's hydrogen and carbon and doesn't need a lot of additives. It needs color and some UV resistance."

In the past 35 years, Carnegie has taken that simple material to places Bob Goldman might never have imagined—introducing new colors and applications, and most important, changing the source of the polyethylene from fossil-fuel-based hydrocarbons to biobased materials. Biobased Xorel is now used in a variety of ways, as wallcovering, upholstery, acoustic paneling and drapery. It's so versatile that designers often turn to the material as a customizable solution: "I'd say 50 percent of the work that our studio is doing is working on custom projects," says Heather Bush, executive vice president at Carnegie's Creative Studio. But this was all made possible by Bob’s original vision, Cliff says: “Having an investment in the raw material in the very beginning—that really separated what he was doing from anybody else.”

Bob Goldman first tried introducing fine linen wallcoverings, then devised a fabric coating that would make linen walls cleanable. But it still wasn't a practical solution, so he began looking into other options. "It took him almost seven years from the time he started playing around with plastics in the mid-'70s until the first Xorel sample book came out in 1981," Cliff Goldman says. The name of the material is a nod to Superman's father, Jor-El, and the first collection of wallcoverings was introduced in three designs and 30 colorways.

The Strie pattern came out in 50 colorways and demonstrated a clear advantage of the Xorel yarn. "It actually takes color amazingly well," Cliff Goldman says. Slowly other pluses emerged: It contained no PVC and needed no plasticizers, making it both healthy and durable. "We also started to discover that people could use it very successfully for wrapping panels without the backing," he says. "It was so stable because polyethylene doesn't absorb humidity."

Since Xorel could be woven in patterns like any other fabric, upholstery seemed a logical use for it. However, furniture manufacturers had a learning curve with the new material. To help them along, Carnegie commissioned designer Brian Kane to create a chair with Xorel upholstery, which went on to win an IDSA industrial design award in 1995. Xorel is now routinely used as an upholstery material.

Under the design leadership of Heather Bush, Carnegie began experimenting with new yarn concepts as well as techniques like embroidery, applique and digital printing. "Internally the plan revolved around moving Xorel from a material that designers and architects needed to use to one that they wanted to use," Cliff Goldman says. Xorel Embroider, released in 2008, was the first breakthrough in decorative techniques; applique patterns followed in 2011.

Xorel's advantages over PVC-based products were always apparent, since polyethylene is simpler to produce, contains no harmful additives, and is easier to recycle. But in the late 2000s, Cliff Goldman began to wonder whether it might be possible to make Xorel sustainable at the source." Many designers don't think about where things like polyester come from," he says. Together with partners in the yarn industry, Carnegie invested in research to produce Xorel from sugarcane waste and introduced Biobased Xorel. "We have basically gone from a fossil-fuel product that is carbon impactful to one that is practically carbon positive," Cliff Goldman says. "It's remarkable."

The next stage in Xorel's evolution is a drapery collection that was previewed as a prototype at NeoCon 2017 and will be available next year. "We're seeing that walls are coming down and fabrics are designating space," says Bush. Whether used as curtains or in panels, the new collection could provide an alternative way of dividing spaces while maintaining transparency and sight lines. Along with the Xorel Artform acoustic panels, to which a 3D version was added this year, these fabrics open up exciting interior design possibilities for years to come.

To read the full editorial, go to Metropolis Magazine.

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Biobased Xorel