The problem with U.S. factories is that there are very few high-volume ceramic factories and very little innovation at commercial (affordable) price points. They make the old 6×6 and 3×6 glazed tiles. Not much new design going on there. They cost more than internationally sourced tiles, making them prohibitive for commercial applications. No high-production factories make tiles like our Gilt Brick at an affordable price. The U.S. has a long way to go in innovation to do that. China has made it easy to develop quality porcelain-based subway tile and ceramic decorative wall tiles at an attractive price. Many other countries don’t have the machinery or the development staff to produce them. Spain is probably the front runner after China for developing a tad more expensive decorative wall tile.
White wall and floor tiles are still the predominant tiles sold in the USA, and most come from China primarily comprised of mosaics, white subway tiles, and larger thicker white wall tiles. Overall, the porcelain and ceramic mosaics you buy from U.S. “manufacturers” are made in China. Those white and black hexes, penny rounds in awesome colors? Yup, almost all from China. If the mosaic is higher priced, it’s from Japan or Europe. Mosaics have caught a lot of us with our pants down. We are scrambling to source from other countries since there isn’t similar pricing with the USA made materials. Many Chinese factories are setting up shop in Vietnam and other Asian countries. Importers are speaking with Central and South American countries. The challenges are the quality and prices we all enjoyed.
When we first started importing mosaics twenty years ago from Asia, they weren’t outstanding quality. Product quality from China got better over the past decade, prompting former mosaic makers like Mexico and Brazil to stop producing them. Most have Chinese products in their catalogs. Our solution will be a mixture of recycled glass and porcelain mosaics we will develop with a few different factories nearer to the States.
For white subway tiles, unless it’s a USA specialty tile company (you’ll know by the higher price, and it’s usually thicker; even some of those were developed and come from China sold under their label), those subway tiles we love come from China. They had the perfect storm. Now we are looking to South America, Mexico, and India for these products. The problem is, the tile body under the white glaze is really attractive from China. Brazilian, Mexican, and Indian produced tiles have different clay bodies creating a darker background for the white glaze to sit on. The saturation of the white isn’t always as opaque. Some countries use primarily red clay bodies to put the white glossy glaze on.
We’re working on getting the best possible look we can. We also may not get the sizes we love right away because these countries’ standard sizes are unlike ours. The U.S. has been making their rectangles longer and longer. From 3×6 to 2×8 (love it), 3×9 (love it), 4×12, and 4×16. Some of the new sizes we’re seeing excite us, but others probably won’t fly in the U.S. market. The craftmanship is also lacking in many cases. We want the glaze to go over the edge of the tile a little, so it doesn’t look like it has a dark picture frame around it. The last comment on this: finding a socially responsible factory will be challenging in a few of these countries.
Larger and thicker white glazed wall tiles are the top seller commercially. These are usually a harder ceramic or a porcelain tile with a polished white glaze that sells 80% glossy and 20% in the matte finish. It’s as thick as a regular porcelain tile at 3/8″. The most typical size is 12×24, but there can be other similar sizes. Our most common size and thickness isn’t manufactured in the USA. Recently, we asked a tile manufacturer in Tennessee if they would please open up a ceramic wall tile line. The best prices aren’t in the Western hemisphere, so possibly India will be the go-to place as they already do a fair job of this type of tile. The best quality, sizing, pricing, and social responsibility will stand up.