High Point, NC – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stall industry events, delay production schedules, and alter product demands, home furnishings manufacturers at all levels fought to work with their new normal.
One of the biggest challenges to this? A general decline in orders for traditional upholstery fabrics across the industry.
“Like everyone else, as some of the business slows down, like retailers closing due to lockdown rules, we’re also starting to see demand in our business come to a halt,” said Anderson Gibbons, vice -president of marketing for Specialty Textiles Inc. “So we are adapting to this change, as are our partners, until things pick up again.”
While a slowdown isn’t necessarily good for the companies affected, it has, according to Gibbons, given STI some flexibility, allowing it time to shut down the Kings Mountain, North Carolina, plant for four weeks.
“It was done largely in response to trying to flatten the curve and follow the rules set by the state,” Gibbons said. “We’re in a small community, and we mean it when we say we don’t want our people to get sick or for this situation to continue.
“It doesn’t help the industry or anyone else if some people are complying with stay-at-home orders and some are not,” he added.
The closure was announced to the public on social media on April 1 as a two-week closure before being extended for a third week. During the shutdown, STI continued to fulfill online design orders, which Gibbons said continue to pour in, through its Mississippi facilities, working employees on modified shifts loosely based on created safe work patterns. by companies such as Amazon.
At the Crypton plant, also in Kings Mountain, similar declines have been seen, although new orders continue to come in, leading the company to lay off about a third of its plant workers as ‘It is reducing its operations to meet current security demands and protocols.
“We just really needed to scale early on,” said Jack Eger, senior vice president of Crypton Fabric. “And we hope that by maintaining our regular operations, participating in the production of masks and new and growing things, we can continue to stabilize our workforce.”
Crypton has taken similar action at its Abercrombie Textiles factory. Employees at its Michigan-based headquarters have also transitioned to working from home.
Valdese Weavers lifted a two-week temporary furlough for many employees in his organization on April 13. The furlough was initially partly due to security concerns and partly to a rapid decline in orders and cancellation requests.
“We have taken the time to source and secure the supplies needed to keep our employees safe, have closely examined the changing needs of our customers across all business segments, and have also assessed several ways in which Valdese Weavers could help with personal protective equipment,” Blake Millinor said. , director of sales and marketing at Valdese Weavers.
Turn to the production of PPE
Focusing business and production partly on medical supplies seems to be key to every textile resource’s strategy during COVID-19 in one way or another.
Glen Raven Inc., parent company of performance fabric brand Sunbrella, got into the game in a big way, donating and selling thousands of yards of fabric for medical use.
“Through our business units, we are actively working with our partners across many industries and have aligned our resources to focus on PPE inputs where we are best placed to deliver solutions,” said Leib Oehmig, CEO of Glen Raven. “These include inputs for gowns, face shields, mask covers and temporary structures.
“As part of our response, Glen Raven has organized a manufacturing group with several of our customers who produce face shields and gowns. This group works with hospital systems across the country to design and scale production of these important products.
Milliken & Co. has undertaken similar efforts.
“Many of Milliken’s U.S. customers in the workwear, workwear and flame retardant industries have refocused their operations to manufacture PPE,” said Chad McAllister, president of Milliken’s textile division and executive vice president. from Milliken & Co. “When we saw the need to move to medical-grade textiles, our team grew quickly. Starting today, we have increased production of these new products so that together with our customers, we can help protect medical personnel.
At Crypton, the company has worked with a number of partners to supply fabrics for things like face masks and tier one and two robes.
“One of our businesses is fabrics for hospital cubicle privacy curtains, and it’s washable and antimicrobial, so it has the characteristics that they’re already looking for in these other items,” Eger said.
Crypton’s work in healthcare has given the company a head start in many ways. Due to its investments in supplying fabrics to the medical industry, Crypton has already developed relationships in the healthcare field and, most notably, its own EPA-certified sanitizer.
Crypton’s disinfectant and deodorant has traditionally been sold in bulk to healthcare facilities and contract customers for use on Crypton’s moisture barrier fabrics, but it now sells the product directly to consumers through the Crypton website. Crypton at much higher rates than normal.
“It’s a tested and certified hard surface cleaner, because that’s what our barrier fabrics qualify for,” said Elise Gabrielson, marketing manager for Crypton Home Fabric. “So people are buying it not for their residential Crypton fabrics, but for use throughout their home.”
Bleach cleanability, durability, and other fabric performance attributes have been a plus for many fabric manufacturers looking to get into PPE production.
For STI, its performance fabric material – polypropylene – has proven useful in a unique way, according to Gibbons.
“While the search for N95 masks has really accelerated over the past month, we’ve had massive exposure online because even though we don’t make the right fabrics for N95 masks (because this is a non-woven polypropylene), we were still getting over 12,000 searches per day on our site. There were just people trying to find out more about polypropylene and what we make.
This, coupled with a clear need for fabric, inspired STI to work on opening up new medical divisions for the company beyond the pandemic. Working with its national yarn suppliers and several new partnerships, the company has already embarked on the development of its first line of medical grade fabrics. Currently, the most promising piece of its engineering team is a level four polypropylene medical gown fabric.
“In upholstery, we were making bigger, nicer yarns, and now we’re working with the same material to make fabrics that organisms can’t pass through,” Gibbons joked. “So it’s just a little bit different.”
‘A little different’
Maybe that’s a good way to describe the textile industry as a whole right now. With the largest upholstery fabric market, Showtime, canceled for the spring by its organizing body, the International Textile Alliance, and the pace of orders interrupted by industry delays, companies are adapting daily.
Going forward, STI plans to host its own virtual Showtime through online shopping portals; Crypton Prepares to Demonstrate New Fabric Introductions Virtually; and the opening of the new Valdese Weavers showroom, originally scheduled for later this month during the original High Point Market dates, is at the mercy of the show date changes.
“Do I think this will change the way we do business? Yes. Do I think this might change consumer interests? Sure. But I also think we will come out of this with new skills and new activities,” Eger said.
“When people come out of there, they will all have spent weeks, months looking at their furniture and their homes and seeing everything that is wrong, and they will want to make changes.
“That’s what we need to be ready and excited about.”