Style with substance
As early as the 16th century, Manchester’s wool trade made it a hub of European textile production. It is for good reason that cord is popularly also known as “Manchester.” Yet the city’s importance waned from the 1970s onwards; above all cheaper production sites in the Far East competed with the Brits in the clothing sector. Yet it is a somewhat different story in the upholstery fabric industry. Textile manufacturer Camira for instance is holding its own on the global market with rising growth rates. Its fabrics are in demand even in China, company management says, as the Chinese value their quality.
This also has to do with the fully integrated textile production that Camira has established around its headquarter in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, circa 50 kilometers from Manchester, over the course of the last few decades. And that makes it very special indeed, for only few textile producers spin their yarns themselves – and that is precisely one of the things setting Camira apart.
The firm was founded in 1974 by one David Hill as a pure fabric supplier under the name “Camborne Fabrics.” Hill’s idea was to offer fabrics that were in stock and thus available for immediate sale – a novelty at the time. It was only in recent years that the company bought the surrounding partner factories, in order to secure production on site. Today the three production plants, where fabrics are spun, dyed, woven and knitted, warp-woven und sewn, are located within a radius of 20 kilometers from the Head Office.
Fabrics by Camira are primarily found in hotels, offices and hospitals, and in means of transportation such as buses and trains. Anyone who has used the London Underground will probably have already sat on Camira fabrics. And in the offices of Google, the BBC, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Skype, to name just a few, Camira counters the masses of cool technology with warm fabrics. Even today, Camira still keeps huge amounts “on stock” – 2,500 lines in total. Something else that sets Camira apart is that you can order its materials in lengths starting from one running meter.
Even if the design of the fabrics is predominantly created in-house, now and again the British manufacturer collaborates on projects with other renowned designers and architects, such as Foster + Partners, Kinzo and Ippolito Fleitz. Recently the firm collaborated with Norwegian designer Torunn Myklebust, producing a special woven fabric with a geometric pattern, whose name “Corrosion” alludes to its rusty color.
Camira can certainly be termed the hidden star of the upholstery sector. Whereas other manufacturers may be better known among the wider public and catch the eye with extravagant designer collaborations, Camira is nonetheless a highly valued and long-term – albeit “quiet” – partner of leading furniture manufacturers such as Girsberger, Herman Miller, Haworth, Interstuhl, Knoll, Steelcase and Wilkhahn.
It was partly due to the interim owner “Interface” that Camira entered the furniture sector. The British carpet manufacturer bought the firm in 1997, but ten years later the management bought Camira back together with other shareholders. Grant Russell has headed the company as CEO for two years now. By 2020 he aims to unite all company departments under the key term “style with substance.” In detail, this means: “To celebrate textile design and manufacturing, pushing boundaries, valuing people, and bringing interiors to life.”
Wandering through two of the production sites – the spinning plant Bay Hall Mills in Huddersfield and the weaving plant in Meltham – large posters in the halls catch the eye illustrating the vision to employees. Russell consistently champions not only a customer orientation, as did the company founder, but also collegiality. Correspondingly, a friendly and cooperative tone is used to address the approximately 750 staff members. Some of them have been working for Camira for as many as 40 years. That too is what is meant by the motto “style with substance.” This becomes even clearer talking to Paul Arnold, in charge of corporate social responsibility (CSR), or sustainability, and who examines all company processes and departments in order to put them on a sound basis for people and planet.
In 1996, Camira obtain wool from old military sweaters for the first sustainable fabric called "ResKu". Since then, much has happened: At the Orgatec 2016 they present the lightly structured hopsack fabric “Rivet”, made 100 percent of “Repreve,” a recycled polyester yarn made of PET bottles. Camira recycles also materials itself – the selvedges from textile production or jute fibers from used coffee sacks, for example. In this way, the firm has succeeded in reducing annual production waste from 340 tons in the past to less than one ton today. Moreover, Camira has installed a return management system that takes customers’ used materials back to the factory. The future belongs to the recycling economy; the Brits are certain of that.
The bast fibers that Camira is increasingly including in its collections are also sustainable. The benefit of these fibers over synthetic ones is that they are renewable and biodegradable. And suitable for commercial uses to boot. Since the introduction of stinging nettle fiber, or the “Nettle Collection,” in 2008, Camira has launched eight new fabrics on the market containing hemp, flax or recycled jute. Be it bast fibers or recycled wool or polyester, Camira calls it “moral fiber.” Put in figures, around 50 percent of the firm’s fabrics for commercial uses are certified with the EU Ecolabel.
The example of the stinging nettle yarn clearly demonstrates what Camira means by “pushing boundaries:” Two whole years’ development time was needed to produce a fiber from stinging nettles and spin it together with wool. Incidentally, the use of stinging nettle fibers is not entirely new – the plant was a well-known raw material for textiles for centuries. In Germany, for instance, stinging nettles were used for fabrics after World War II. Yet the industrial processing of this raw material, to be more precise the mechanical removal of the outer layer to obtain the inner fibers, is what makes it challenging. Thanks to collaboration with a German professor and De Montfort University in Leicester, the company finally found a way.
If it were up to Camira, we wouldn’t throw anything away in future – after all, all waste is raw material. And to demonstrate precisely that, in 2015 Camira teamed up with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and rescued an old sofa that someone had thrown on the garbage dump, refurbishing it with recycled material and exhibiting it at Clerkenwell Design Week in London. It’s plain to see – it is possible!