Multidisciplinary Innovation Leadership Laboratory Ink jet technology Knit technology Ethical Noble trees
This Fall, four Whitneyites adventured to Spartanburg, South Carolina to learn more about Milliken flooring and were pleasantly surprised to embark on a journey which would explore an innovative multidisciplinary company and the Upcountry and Blue Mountains region of South and North Carolina.
The team began the trip at the Skidmore Owings & Merrill designed headquarters (1958), which consists of 6 minimalist modern buildings, tucked into a former peach orchard. The peach trees have long since been replaced because of their high maintenance, and now stands an arboretum home to 500 local and hybrid tree varieties. The buildings are positioned in harmony with framed vistas, sculptures, water features and the largest US flag in South Carolina. Rectilinear fountains and ponds on the property collect recycled water and have a dual purpose of aesthetics and function for they play an integral role in the building air conditioning system. The Whitney team was welcomed into the Innovation Center, by Mary Lou with warm coffees and a sincere welcome, which reminded us of our very own Mary D!
Kris and his team hosted Whitney at both the Innovation Center and Design Athenaeum on the campus beginning with an introduction to the Milliken history, wellness initiatives (the headquarters is safer than your home!), multitude of patents, awards and technologies. A person will typically come into contact with 50 products per day that have ingredients developed by Milliken, including plastic shampoo bottles, washable Crayola markers, duct tape, fire retardant fabric, automobile tires, etc. The Design Athenaeum houses the flooring design studio with a kayak suspended overhead, a motivational reminder to the team to keep moving forward. The Whitney team was briefed on the Milliken ink jet printing, design processes and endless capabilities. Milliken has been an innovator in the commercial design industry with their carpet tiles, broadloom, luxury vinyl tile and the Whitney team was thrilled to gain more insight into the company. While exploring the studio, the team was introduced to 2018 products that are still in the works, which was exciting! The methodology and detail oriented approach that the Milliken team takes as well as the forecasting techniques, with inspiration from around the globe and the fashion industry is evident in their innovative products. Though the aesthetic properties of the carpet tile are the focus of design and visual impact, the performance and construction of carpet is paramount, especially when the threat of water is present in the subfloor. Luckily Milliken has not had such damaging issues because of the carpet tile backing specific to their tiles, which is good to know for future projects. The Whitney team also gave some industry feedback on sample, colorways and sample book layouts and format. The first day ended with a sunset golf cart guided tour through the 600 acre arboretum with cozy blankets and some Milliken hot spiced cider. The arboretum seems like a mad laboratory with exotic hybrids and staff has cultivated a relationship with an Oregon nursery and the local community college to foster many sustainable initiatives, including a magnolia seed archive. We timed our trip perfectly; the forest was stunning with the fall colors. Luckily the tornado from the previous week hadn’t wrecked too much havoc, the only remaining evidence were some lonely old growth tree stumps and an arborist cleanup crew.
The trip came to a close in Ashville, North Carolina, where the team was treated to a Rooftop tour at the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, some local flavors and live fiddling. The Whitney team would like to thank Kris Imala and his team, Holly, Leslie, Dale, Stacey, Stewart and the rest of the Milliken family for the southern hospitality and a better understanding of the Milliken mission: Inspired, passionate engagement in Unique Insights, deep Science and Meaningful Design to Do Good, Create New Experiences and Build for the Future.
"The entire campus was inspiring; from all of the products of everyday use that Milliken has helped to create, to the Arboretum that they have developed for the public to enjoy. It was also very interesting to review upcoming products with Holly and seeing the creation rooms with inspiration and yarns." - Veronika Massie, Project Manager
"My favorite part of the trip was seeing where all of the carpet design happens and learning a little of the background on the process of how they get from inspiration to a final product! I thought it was neat to see new products that are going to be released soon and that they really wanted to hear our input and comments!" - Katie Lane, Designer
"My favorite part was the innovation gallery tour. Learning more about all of the innovative products that Milliken has been a part of over the years, as well as their history as an ethical company." - Courtney Zastrow, Project Manager
"Selecting the male model for the City Proper EC1 collection–just kidding! Loved touring the Design Athenaeum and the Arboretum in the beautiful fall evening. Such an inspiring and vivacious place!!" - Laura Hancock, Project Architect
Written by: Laura Hancock