Driving towards a more sustainable bath mat
What makes a good bath mat? It should definitely catch water, warm up the floor and save us from an almighty slip if we exit the shower too wet. If bath mats cover those bases, we're pretty happy with them. The new KARKEN bath mat does all those things, but what makes it a little more special is how it was made. The story involves recyclable materials, innovative ways of construction and a collaboration with a luxury car interior factory.
How do you make a lot of something, but still have as low environmental footprint as possible? This was the question that the team behind KARKEN wanted to answer.
"We knew that we wanted to make a lot of these bath mats and still have a good conscience from a sustainability point of view," project engineer Jenny Håkansson says. "Our solution was to use nothing but recycled and recyclable materials".
The team first looked for a suitable material.
"The material that made the most sense was recycled polyester," Jenny explains. "It's quick drying, soft enough to be used as a mat and importantly is made from collected PET bottles, which helps reuse existing resources."
The only problem was that they'd never made a bath mat like that before - and not at the price range they wanted the mats to be.
"We started by using our traditional bath mat technique to make up a sample, and it was absolutely terrible - it wasn't even really a product," she says.
An innovative solution from an unlikely source
Going back to the drawing board the team tried out another style of construction called needle punch.
"Our next stop was a visit to one of our suppliers who specialise in this technique," Jenny says. "They're normally making car interiors for expensive European car brands, so a bath mat was a bit new for them."
While car manufacturers and sustainable bath mats might rarely be used in the same sentence, using the needle punch technique proved perfect for turning large sheets of recycled polyester into a soft feeling textile. The team also decided to rule out harsher production processes such as dying, printing or bleaching.
"We wanted to stay clear from colours or chemicals so we kept the natural cream colour of the polyester," says developer Sara Onsmark who worked on the design. "It was very important to me to use a technique that didn't make any waste, so we worked in a way so that all the trimmings from the mats could be reused for other products at the factory."
Testing for durability and friction
To make sure the bath mats were durable and non-slip the next stage was to fix a recyclable rubber base and test it out.
"We have a method where you can put a weight on the product and then pull it over a wet and dry ceramic floor to make sure it grips safely," Jenny explains. "We also washed it over 15-20 cycles at our test lab and gave it to colleagues to try out themselves — it proved to be very durable".
But it was the sustainability focus that decided the final design for the bath mat.
"We even trimmed a centimetre off the size so that we could ship a lot more at the same time," Sara says. "Which is a good way to lower our environmental footprint too. It goes to show a small change can make a big impact."