Hasta Invista, Baby: The rise and fall of carpet’s most prominent brand - Aug/Sept 2022

By Darius Helm

The Stainmaster branded nylon 6,6 was born in secrecy in 1986, conceived away from the watchful eyes of DuPont Chemical higher-ups on the large deck at the Pennsylvania home of Tom McAndrews, who at the time was president of DuPont Flooring, and wear-tested in his garage. The revolutionary concept of branding a carpet component that was essentially a commodity and launching it through a splashy advertising campaign went against the cultural grain of DuPont, a massive chemical firm that did very little in the way of branding and advertising. But McAndrews and his team felt that the firm’s stain-resistant technology was perfectly positioned and timed to transform the carpet market.

There were six people at the meetings, and secrecy was paramount. In fact, a seventh associate was, according to McAndrews, “a guy who couldn’t keep a secret,” so they went dark on him. And when it came to test marketing, the team went to the mills-Shaw, Burlington and Salem-armed with secrecy agreements. They even gave the mills different code names for the fiber so that, if there was a leak, they’d know where it came from.

The campaign launched with an initial investment of $5 million, and the first ad, a 30-second spot, ran during the American League baseball playoffs. And that turned into a three-year $85 million campaign. Carpet mills couldn’t sign up fast enough. By the time McAndrews left the firm in 1989, Stainmaster had cemented its position as the premium carpet brand.

The other fiber producers quickly pursued. Monsanto, which had actually learned how to make nylon 6,6 from DuPont during World War II, when the government needed another supplier, quickly responded with Wear-Dated fiber. And Allied Signal, which made nylon 6, came out with Anso Worry Free. Monsanto, which became Solutia in 1997 and Ascend Performance Materials in 2009, still produces nylon 6,6 for the carpet market. Allied Signal became Honeywell in 1999, and in 2005, it was purchased by Shaw Industries. And in 2003, DuPont’s textile division was renamed Invista and bought by Koch Industries the following year.

It’s also worth noting that on the commercial side, DuPont had Antron, also well branded, though not as heavily as Stainmaster, but still the most prominent commercial fiber. And Antron, which DuPont introduced in 1960, is arguably the most unique synthetic carpet fiber, largely due to its unique cross-section, which is square, while all other nylon fibers (including Stainmaster) are trilobal, and features a four-hole hollow core.

Shaw’s purchase of Honeywell was part of a wave of vertical integration of fiber and backings by the major mills. Cognizant of how the chemical firms had priced their fibers to ensure not just profit but also enough money to build their brands, many mill executives, including Bob Shaw, had always been frustrated with their reliance on the fiber producers, and in-house fiber extrusion put the mills back in the driver’s seat.

Vertical integration also shifted the industry toward nylon 6, since that was the fiber that mills could self-extrude. Nylon 6,6 carpet fiber annual production peaked in 2004 at a billion pounds. Over the following years, it started to lose share to nylon 6, and carpet itself was already losing share to hard surface flooring. And with the advent of PET filament just a few years later, nylon 6,6’s share loss accelerated. By 2021, it was down to about 130 million pounds.

Soon after Stainmaster’s launch of PetProtect in 2014, its final consumer campaign, the brand started shifting its focus, expanding to include, most notably, PET fiber. Retailers that had for years used Stainmaster fiber to distinguish their offerings were displeased with the move. The fiber brand effectively came to an end in April of last year, when it was sold to Lowe’s, sending mill partners scrambling to come up with new fiber systems. And Invista followed up by announcing that it would stop producing all nylon 6,6 carpet fiber to focus on the engineered resin market, and this summer marked the official close of the 36-year chapter.

What happens next with nylon 6,6 is unclear. Ascend and Universal Fibers both continue to supply the carpet market with nylon 6,6, with Ascend producing white-dyeable fiber and also supplying the polymer that Universal uses for its solution-dyed nylon 6,6 offering. Many mills still have a lot of respect for the fiber, though most industry experts feel that a lot of business will shift to nylon 6.

“There’s a future for 6,6, but limited availability,” says Dixie chairman Dan Frierson. “It will continue to be used by high-end goods, which we do. Both 6 and 6,6 will be part of the industry. But you won’t see as much differentiation between the two because they’re fighting over a smaller piece of the pie.”

Copyright 2022 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc.