Thursday, 21 October 2010

Harry Reilly, Managing Director, Brintons Limited - Weaving a Bright Design Future

Brintons likes to remind its customers that their carpet business is only 6 years younger than the USA.
And as we all know, quite a lot can happen in 227 years.
During that time Brintons has built up a global business employing 1700 people, turning over £80m with an 80 person strong design team around the world. 
Brintons - Carpets since 1793
Harry Reilly is bringing me up the main stairwell of the building beside the vast No. 6 factory, in
Stourport Road, Kidderminster leading the way to the archive room.
Our design archive collections represent a resource which is about authenticity and tradition – something that cannot be replicated and whilst designs can be ‘knocked off’ 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 aims and 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,” says Harry Reilly.
Managing Director, Harry Reilly
Harry Reilly has been Managing Director of Brintons Carpets for nearly 7 years.  His previous experience was in automotive, latterly in Rover and Land Rover in the Midlands where his focus was primarily on quality production, lean processes, error reduction through six sigma,  just in time production, minimising stocks in hand and of course managing an extensive supply chain. 
This is in stark contrast to the near vertical integration found at Brintons with a yarn mill in Telford, using wool from 1 in 7 of the UK’s sheep, and their dyeing facility in Factory No. 6, Kidderminster, together with innovative weaving technologies being updated and patented to this day.  These processes are replicated in their overseas plants in Portugal and India, with a new factory in China due to come on stream in the near future.
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.  In the rest of the UK Ulster carpets remains a strong competitor, but few producers are left in the Western economies with most woven Axminster carpets now 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 and resorts such as Butlins to the Atlantis in Dubai, casinosin Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and cinemas such as the Odeon and Vue groups.
“It takes 6 people to change a loom and the best part of a shift. The majority of looms work on 12 colour patterns – we’re just developing new technologies to give us greater flexibility in colour range. We have looms of different widths and they have to be threaded ready for weaving.  If we take a 12’ loom there are 7 tufts per inch which means 1008 locations on a 12’ loom. If we have a 12 colour pattern,  then we have to prepare 12,096 feeds of yarn before we can start. 
“We’re rolling out a new patented process enabling sequential tufts to be placed taking yarn from a limited number of feeds onto the loom – this is a revolutionary technology and will enable a far greater colour palette in the future with faster changeovers and much lower waste.”
Brintons Unique Design Archive
Brintons Design Archive Collections from around the world have been brought together over the past 15 years but they keep discovering works that they never knew they possessed. 
On reaching their archive room, I’m introduced to their archivist, Yvonne Smith, whose enthusiasm is an inspiration in itself.  Yvonne tells me how only recently she discovered an extensive collection of 800 Japanese stencils dating to 1890 that they never knew they had, which turned out to be one of the largest collections outside the V&A. “However”, she says, “a lot of work has never been archived as it was designed with the thought that it would never be used again and discarded.”
This Design Archive room represents about one third of their total archive collections - they have 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
Brintons has a dozen offices in the USA, a London Design Centre in Clerkenwell, offices in Singapore and Australia with an international team of Field Designers based around these offices and elsewhere worldwide.  These teams work on the biggest chunk of their business, the commercial contract market, representing around two thirds of turnover, the residential market accounting for the rest. 
Their Field Designers send in ideas discussed with their clients, perhaps interior designers working with client businesses, perhaps client businesses themselves, 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 design materials amounting to a collection to inspire further designs, discussion and ultimately a contract for a carpet design. 
She sends out about 500-600 designs a week from their archive materials and no other carpet manufacturer has such an extensive design resource. 
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 and eccentric (and brilliant) Glaswegian designers, Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons”, says Harry, 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 with Edouard Benedictus and E A Seguy producing work for the company from 1890’s-1910.  Other notable designers for the firm 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 sometime after this period and can still be seen on original designs in their collection.  Louis Silas sold his designs to Brintons and also to major Midlands silverware producers of the time
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,” sighs Yvonne, “but these have since disappeared.” 
During the restoration of Kew Palace carpet designs were inspired by those woven for Osborne House on the Isle of Wight drawing on the original hand-painted artworks in the Brintons archive, 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.
Local artist, John H Mellor, designed for Brintons in 1930’s later becoming Design Director Carpet Trades and producing a design in 1947 which is still being used today. More recently Brintons collaborated with Milwaukee Museum on Biedermeier designs.
Yvonne doesn’t know off the top of her head how many handpainted 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.

Brintons Carpets Collaborations with Designers worldwide

Laura Ashley                            

Edouard Benedictus               


Manolo Blahnik                           

Christopher Dresser                     

Anna Maria Garthwaite              

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen          

Henri Matisse                               

William Morris                             

E A Seguy                                      

Timorous Beasties                       

Charles Voysey                            
Vivienne Westwood            

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