Weaving the Future by Uta Abendroth | 1st September, 2017 | Offices
Rag rugs go way back in Scandinavia, but there’s no reason floor coverings cannot be reinvented. After inheriting Swedish company Bolon, which their grandfather founded, Marie and Annica Eklund subjected the label’s image and products to a radical transformation.
Giorgio Armani is one of their biggest fans. The fashion designer was among the first to discover the benefits of the Swedish vinyl flooring for himself and his brand. In the mid-2000s, he used the firm’s products to outfit not just his stores and a hotel but his own house and yacht as well, even choosing Bolon’s woven synthetic flooring as a backdrop for catalogue photos of Armani products. So how do the two go together – Italian elegance and Swedish carpeting, luxury and downto-earthness? The answer lies in the Eklund family, or to be more precise, in the third generation of Bolon entrepreneurs. Sisters Annica and Marie Eklund have been running the firm that was founded by their grandfather since 2003. In 1949, together with his business partner, Nils-Erik Eklund had started out with a little weaving company in Stockholm. It was the sight of textile waste from a neighboring firm (garbage cans overflowing with strips of brightly colored fabric) that gave him the idea of producing rag rugs – a decision that seems all the more progressive in view of the fact that the postwar economic boom had only just started and nobody had even heard of recycling back then. The company name is a reference to these beginnings: Bolon was coined from the first and last letters of the words bomull (Swedish for cotton) and nylon. The next generation, the founder’s son Lars Eklund and his wife Monica, took over the helm in the 1960s. The couple loved camping, and it was this private passion that provided the impetus for a very successful range extension: awning mats for campers, inspired by the traditional Scandinavian rag rug, passed through the gates of the Bolon works in their thousands. At the time, daughters Marie and Annica were adamant that they would never join the family business: the two of them found flooring thoroughly boring. But in 2003, everything changed. Marie ended her model career in Italy and Annica her equestrian show jumping days as a member of Sweden’s national team. Bolon was an opportunity for a new beginning. Right from the outset, however, the sisters agreed that they would reposition the brand and ensure the products reflected their personal interests: fashion and design.
“Bolon isn’t just about flooring, it’s about lifestyle as well. But it goes without saying that we’ve got the right design for any architectural space you can think of.” Annica Eklund
The discovery that Armani was using Bolon products came as a huge boost. If a creative of his calibre appreciates the qualities of our woven synthetic floor coverings, thought the sisters, there must be potential we can develop. Time has proved them right. Today Bolon’s flooring products are used by Mercedes and Adidas, Google, Reebok, Hugo Boss and Chanel, as well as in beach clubs in Cannes, the Brenners Park-Hotel in Baden-Baden and on Aida cruise ships. Top designers and architects like Giulio Cappellini from Italy and Jean Nouvel from France create products for the company, which is now based in Ulricehamn, southern Sweden, or use its flatweaves made of vinyl yarn for their own projects. “A lot of our success is due to the fact that we’ve been collaborating with most of the people we work with for many years,” says Annica Eklund. She is Bolon’s managing director, while her sister Marie, who is three years older, is in charge of the creative side. “We believe we can learn something from every single encounter. That attitude to life is part of our DNA: we’re just following the example set by our parents and grandfather.” Bolon sells a unique product that makes a very independent design statement. The special technology involves weaving different-colored warp and weft yarns to form a pattern – an art the Swedes master perfectly. The weft yarns can create glitter or mélange effects, while wool felt or yarns with shiny foils create surfaces with a three-dimensional character. Jean Nouvel loves the floor coverings: “Using Bolon is a bit like choosing the fabric for a suit: it makes you want to look closely and touch it. Bolon products have a very tactile quality – such fine weaves aren’t normally used for flooring. But that’s exactly what gives the products their identity.” And that’s not all: the flatweaves are very hardwearing, easy to care for, breathable, water resistant and fast drying. In retrospect, those are precisely the properties that explain the success of the camping mats – and why, today, the woven flooring is used for stores, offices, hotels and ships. Ultimately, vinyl is ideal for any location that needs a hardwearing floor – which is also why, among architects, it is becoming an increasingly popular choice for wellness facilities, hospitals or schools.
Vinyl is one of the oldest synthetic materials of all. For many years now, the sisters have been manufacturing the Bolon products without the use of phthalate softening agents, which are believed to have a negative impact on health. In Ulricehamn, recycling and environmental protection are part of the corporate philosophy. As a result, the machinery is not confined to looms for making rolls or tiles of woven vinyl but also includes equipment such as the agglomerator. Any surplus materials that accumulate during the production process such as edge trimmings and yarns, as well as waste products from suppliers, are chopped in a grinder before being mixed with new materials and fillers in the agglomerator, where everything is melted together and thus permanently bonded. The result is a totally new raw material that Bolon can use to make flooring. As part of the firm’s sustainability drive, recycled materials are to be used in all its collections by the end of this year – regardless of whether they’re by Italian fashion house Missoni, Jean Nouvel or the in-house design team. Once Annica and Marie had taken over the family concern, they began issuing regular invitations to friends and business partners – partly because they want to show their products off in an informal setting, but also because it’s in keeping with their pronounced sense of family and hospitality. In 2014 the sisters opened the Lake House guesthouse in Ulricehamn, followed by the Farm House in stables outside the town and the Villa La Madonna in Piedmont, Italy. But there’s much more to it than special products; it’s about the family legacy as well. Marie Eklund explains the bond she feels with her family and Bolon: “Because our parents always had complete trust and confidence in us, we could develop the company as we saw fit, without any limitations. As a result, Bolon started out as a very traditional flooring firm and evolved into a design brand with a lot of personality.”