The Evolution of a Revolutionary Material

Innovation, sustainability, and creative curiosity have long stood at the core of the Carnegie’s company philosophy. These ideals are exemplified by Xorel, an inventive interior textile that has enticed the design industry since it first emerged in 1981. Embedded with inherently high performing properties, an adaptable aesthetic appeal, and an advancing environmental awareness, Xorel is a revolutionary material that has garnered global attention over the last four decades. Tracing the trajectory of the textile’s evolution reveals the pervasive impact of Xorel’s innovative inception.

Early Experimentation and Development

In the 1970s—a decade during which designers and architects faced a somewhat scarce selection of material choices—Carnegie presented the pioneering concept of using textiles for commercial wallcovering applications and launched a line of backed linens and linen/cotton mixes. Aiming to address any limitations, Bob Goldman—Carnegie’s founder and owner—embarked on early experimentations endeavoring to finetune the textiles and raise the bar for both their beauty and performance. “He began to experiment with using an incredibly strong and durable yarn that had only been used for industrial purposes,” says Carnegie’s Chief Creative Officer Heather Bush. “This yarn had a bevy of inherently strong attributes that were all built into the yarn itself. However, making a high-quality textile for wallcoverings was a high bar. From 1975 to 1981, through constant experimentation and much trial and error, this new concept evolved.” 

Photography Courtesy of Carnegie

Seven years of work culminated in the introduction of Carnegie’s first Xorel collection. “It was named Xorel in a sideways homage to Superman’s father Jorel,” explains Bush. “Bob wanted the material to begin with the letter X—an ode to his scientific approach to the development and the incredibly strong attributes that the final material delivered.” Defying the market’s established methods of sourcing and manufacturing, Carnegie maintained complete control over Xorel’s production process. They sourced and owned all of the raw material, while engaging with their manufacturing partners to help develop the unique product. “The concept was so new that following traditional sourcing methodologies would not have been successful,” says Bush. “It was a big risk/reward scenario. In effect, for the first time in this industry, Carnegie was both the mill and jobber.”

High-Performance and Aesthetic Advancements

As a remarkably durable addition to the world of wallcoverings, Xorel emerged as an embodiment of environmentally conscious material advancements. “During this development process Bob gained a great deal of knowledge around material safety and effect on the environment,” says Bush. Combining a construction of almost unbreakable yarns with a steadfast stain-resistance that allows for aggressive cleaning, Xorel features a foundation of polyethylene. The simple yet highly functional plastic does not require additives nor topical finishes to enhance its performance. Moreover, Xorel’s new material construction was unlike others in that did not utilize chlorine chemistry or require plasticizers.

Photography Courtesy of Carnegie

At the time of its initial launch, Xorel had a very unique aesthetic that set it apart from other modern materials on the market and its contemporary appeal was embraced by the industry: “Designers tired of the status quo saw this new material as a breakthrough or break out of the usual,” says Bush. “They began to use it, love it, and spread the gospel of this unique new material.”

Additional advancements over the years allowed the burgeoning Xorel brand to evolve its applications to include not only wallcoverings but also upholstery. Moreover, the 1990s brought a desire for more complex patterns. This led to the launch of a number of jacquard designs, the addition of new yarn concepts that expanded the aesthetic palette, and the development of other design techniques such as embossing, embroidery, appliqué, and digital printing. “The intention was to elevate Xorel from a sound and reliable high-performance material to one that could additionally deliver design excitement,” says Bush. “Internally the plan revolved around moving Xorel from a material that designers and architects needed to use to one that they wanted to use.” Throughout the 2000s, Xorel’s palette has persistently expanded with a plethora of new colors, constructions, and design possibilities. 

Sustainability Standards

Continuing to adapt to contemporary textile needs, Carnegie embarked on an incremental improvement plan during the decades that followed Xorel’s debut. In 2007, Xorel became the first wallcovering product to earn Cradle to Cradle Silver Certification, and soon after Carnegie started to investigate the fledgling industry of bio plastics. “We worked with our suppliers from 2007 onward to test and prototype a new plastic derived from plants,” says Bush. “Our goal was to create a new Xorel yarn that matched all the performance and aesthetic deliverables the original Xorel had.” After more than six years of tests and trials, a biobased Xorel product was introduced in 2013.

Photography Courtesy of Carnegie

Boasting a construction of 60- to 85-percent biobased content, Xorel textiles are resourced from rapidly renewable sugar cane with a significantly lower environmental footprint. “Carnegie has been committed to raising the bar in creative materials that combine performance, design, and sustainability,” says Carnegie Chairman Cliff Goldman. “We’re extremely proud to have developed this product that looks and performs exactly like the original Xorel, proving that enhanced sustainability doesn’t have to trade off beauty and durability.” The high-performance plant-based textile has acquired attention, awards, and third-party certifications since its inception—including Cradle to Cradle Gold Recognition and Living Product Challenge Certification. “Commitment to the original premise for Xorel remains constant almost 40 years later,” says Bush. “High performance, design versatility, diverse applications, and an absolute commitment to sustainability and improvement. Today the product is a brand known and admired by architects and designers around the world.”