Finishers of Broadwoven Fabrics of Cotton

SIC 2261

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in finishing purchased broadwoven cotton fabrics or finishing such fabrics on a commission basis. These finishing operations include bleaching, dyeing, printing (roller, screen, flock, and plisse), and such other mechanical finishing as preshrinking, calendering, and napping. Also included in this industry are establishments primarily engaged in shrinking and sponging of cotton broadwoven fabrics for the trade and chemical finishing for water repellency, fire resistance, and mildew proofing. Establishments primarily engaged in finishing wool broadwoven fabrics are classified in SIC 2231: Broadwoven Fabric Mills, Wool (Including Dyeing and Finishing); those finishing knit goods are classified in knitting mill industries; and those coating or impregnating fabrics are classified in SIC 2295: Coated Fabrics, Not Rubberized.

Industry Snapshot

Approximately 900 U.S. establishments were engaged in the dyeing or finishing of broadwoven cotton fabrics in 2010. Employment in this industry totaled 12,700 in 2009. More than 88 percent of these establishments employed fewer than 25 workers. The vast majority of broadwoven fabric finishing mills were in the southeastern United States, particularly in North Carolina and South Carolina. Other states, such as California, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, had vested interests in this industry. Some establishments, such as Burlington Industries Inc. and Thomaston Mills Inc., were engaged in both the manufacture and finishing of broadwoven cotton fabrics. Some companies, such as Cranston Print Works, were engaged only in the dyeing and finishing of broadwoven cotton fabrics.

More than 95 percent of manufactured broadwoven cotton fabrics receive some type of dyeing or finishing treatment. However, the textile industry in the United States underwent tremendous changes during the last decades of the twentieth century, and more and more of the U.S. textile industry was outsourced overseas. Unable to compete with cheap labor and low import prices, many U.S. textile companies consolidated their operations or closed their doors. As a result, the U.S. textile industry shrank tremendously between the 1970s and 2010. Those in the broadwoven finishing business simply did not have as much U.S. fabric to process. The number of employees at U.S. textile mills dropped from 503,300 in January 1990 to 121,600 in January 2010.

Organization and Structure

The finishing of broadwoven fabrics is subdivided into three general processing categories: fabric preparation, fabric coloration, and fabric finishing. Fabric preparation consists primarily of bleaching and preparing fabrics with chemical agents to aid in subsequent processing, which is based on the result desired. Fabric preparation may be performed in open-width fabric form or in fabric rope form.

Fabric coloration includes a variety of dyeing methods completed by batch or continuous process procedures and printing. Broadwoven fabrics may be printed using screen printing machines, roller printing machines, roller-screen printing machines, or transfer printing.

Fabric may be finished with either surface (dry) finishing or wet finishing. Surface, or dry, finishing may be completed using such processes as sueding, sanding, and napping, which are selected based on a desired texture for the fabric. Wet finishing includes preshrinking or sanforizing, mercerization, or heat-setting. Chemical finishes for water repellency, flame retardancy, mildew proofing, and wash-and-wear characteristics are applied during finishing processes. Fabric straightening (elimination of bow and bias) and width setting are also performed during finishing.

Almost all establishments that dye and finish broadwoven cotton fabrics have some part of their operations involved in commission work--dyeing and finishing services performed on fabrics owned by other companies. Dyeing and finishing facilities generally use much more complicated production processes than facilities designed for other textile processes because of the volume of water used in dyeing and finishing operations and the amount of chemicals used in each dyeing and finishing process. Dyeing and finishing machines and equipment are generally custom-designed to meet specific applications and needs. In addition, piping requirements for water, steam, and chemicals mean building facilities used for dyeing and finishing operations are usually custom-designed. While buildings for such other textile processes as yarn manufacturing, knitting, and weaving carry structural specifications due to the weight and vibration potential of the machines, the specifications for buildings housing dyeing and finishing equipment must consider machine weight as well as machine and piping design and configuration.

Establishments engaged in dyeing and finishing of broadwoven cotton fabrics generally serve three market categories: apparel, home furnishings, and industrials. In the apparel segment, companies dye and finish broadwoven cotton fabrics for men's and ladies' shirts and blouses, children's wear, men's trousers and ladies' pants, leisure and sportswear, and other clothing. Advances developed by Cotton Incorporated, which is the research arm of the Cotton Growers' Associations, have enabled companies to produce water repellent broadwoven cotton rainwear. Cotton Incorporated has also developed some finishes that allow production of wash-and-wear (easy care, no-iron) cotton fabrics.

In home furnishings, dyers and finishers of broadwoven cotton fabrics supply bedding products (sheets, pillowcases and shams, light comforters and blankets, and dust ruffles); bath products (bath towels, hand towels, and wash cloths); and such other household items as draperies and curtains, napery products (napkins and tablecloths), kitchen towels, upholstery fabrics, and cushion covers. In the industrial segment, broadwoven cotton fabrics are dyed or finished for production of medical and hospital goods; abrasive fabrics, such as sanding belt fabrics; conveyor belts; tents; awnings; luggage and similar products.

Background and Development

Along with numerous technology advancements, finishers of cotton broadwoven fabrics were significantly affected by trade agreements during the 1990s that allowed the industry to compete globally through effective brand recognition and marketing. The industry also took advantage of capital investments in systems like Demand Activated Manufacturing Architecture (DAMA) that increased efficiency.

According to American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) officials, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which reduced or eliminated tariffs among 117 nations throughout the 1990s, was not expected to have a positive impact on U.S. producers of dyed and finished broadwoven cotton fabrics. However, since global textile usage had the potential to grow dramatically due to developing economies and increasing populations, any negative impact on U.S. dyers and finishers was not immediate.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), enacted in 1993, essentially removed all trade restrictions among Canadian, U.S., and Mexican businesses, which created a positive economic effect for U.S. dyers and finishers of broadwoven cotton fabrics. North American countries were the U.S. textile industry's most important export markets throughout the 1990s, and Mexico was expected to continue to be a growing market.

By the end of 1999, the textile industry as a whole continued to be influenced by global trade conditions and the demands of certain markets. The ATMI reported at the end of 1999 that textile shipments had decreased in 1998 and 1999 as a result of competition from low-priced Asian textiles. Asian textile prices fell by 6.5 percent, negatively affecting the American textile market. On the other hand, American textile imports to Mexico continued to grow, increasing 19 percent during the first ten months of 1999. By the end of 1999, Mexico and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) region remained the two largest American textile export markets. Textile shipments in 1999 decreased, continuing a trend from 1998. American textile shipments during 1999 fell three percent to total $7.8 billion.

Along with increased international competition, domestic conditions began to affect the industry negatively in the early 2000s. As the U.S. economy weakened, the textile industry faced not only a growing number of inexpensive imports, but also waning demand. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicated that the value of finished broadwoven fabric shipments declined throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, falling from $9.1 billion in 1997 to $6.95 billion in 2001. Reflecting this downward trend, broadwoven fabric production declined from 13.2 billion square yards in 2001 to 12.5 billion square yards in 2002, according to the American Textiles Manufacturers Institute. These figures reflected a broader industry downturn: between 1997 and 2002, more than 200 textile mills shuttered operations, dropping U.S. textile employment to 435,000, compared to 489,000 just a year earlier.

Many leading textiles manufacturers struggled throughout the early 2000s. For example, after five years of consecutive losses, Thomaston Mills Inc. liquidated operations in 2001. Sales for another industry giant, Greensboro, North Carolina-based Burlington Industries Inc., declined 29 percent in 2002 to $993 million, and the firm posted a $100.8 million loss. In 2003, Burlington filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. W.L. Ross and Co. paid $614 million for the troubled firm later that year. Similarly, Cone Mills Corp. filed bankruptcy in 2003 and was acquired for $90 million by W.L. Ross and Co. in 2004.

Total shipments of finished broadwoven fabric continued a downward spiral in the mid-2000s, dipping from $6.6 billion in 2002 to $6.2 billion in 2003 before plunging to $5.3 billion and rebounding slightly to $5.5 billion in 2005, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to industry statistics, there were an estimated 966 establishments engaged in dyeing or finishing of cotton broadwoven fabrics in the mid-2000s. Industry-wide employment plummeted from a high of 45,031 in 2000 to 15,390 in 2007 with an average of 16 workers per establishment. States with the majority of mills were centered in California, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The screen printing of cotton broadwoven fabrics category was valued at $478 million, making it the largest generator of industry revenues, followed by cotton finishing plants that shipped an estimated $365 million in finished products. Last, the dyeing of cotton broadwoven fabrics was valued at roughly $108 million.

In the meantime, textile manufacturers teamed up with the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition to lobby Congress in an effort to voice the need for unfair trade practices to cease, as well as the loss of domestic manufacturing jobs offshore. The overall performance of this industry according to some industry watchers predicted that production of U.S. textiles and knitting products would increase at an annual compounded rate of 5.6 percent between 2007 and 2012.

Current Conditions

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total value of products shipped from textile and fabric finishing mills in 2008 was $5.1 billion, as the U.S. textile industry continued its downward spiral through the late 2000s. Total broadcloth produced in 2008 was 3.787 million square yards, which fell to 2.683 million square yards for 2009. Not only was the broadwoven finishing sector battling ongoing competition from China and other overseas processers but also a recession in the United States, which began in 2008, caused many firms to trim costs--and jobs--in an effort to streamline operations. For example, in February 2009, textile and chemicals processer Milliken & Co. announced that it was cutting its workforce by 650 jobs.

According to a 2010 report by Research and Markets, the broadwoven fabric finishing mills industry revenues for 2009 were an estimated $2.9 billion. Gross profits were approximately 27 percent. However, the industry only operated at 37 percent of its full production capacity. If operating at full capacity, the industry has the potential to generate approximately $7.8 billion in revenues.

Cost of doing business was also increasing for finishing firms as cotton prices rose during the late 2000s and early 2010s. In June 2010, cotton was selling for $0.76 a pound, compared to $0.50 a pound in June 2009. Yet, due to the weak economy, finishers were unable to pass the costs along to consumers. In late 2008, Bradford Dyeing Association, Inc., which had done business in Bradford, Rhode Island, since 1911, closed its doors due to the rising energy costs, 2007 fire that destroyed part or the facilities, poor economy, and unsettled union issues. In early 2009, the plant reopened as Bradford Printing and Finishing LLC.

In January 2009, Cranston Print Works, the largest company engaged solely in finishing broadwoven cotton fabrics, announced that it would begin outsourcing its print operations to factories in Massachusetts, Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan, and China. Although the company continued to design patterns, buy raw fabric, and sell finished materials, the production arm of their operations ceased, causing the loss of approximately 75 jobs. Cranston Vice President Frederic L. Rockefeller, Jr., said the move was made due to the slow economy and customer requests for smaller runs, which drove up the cost per run. Rockefeller also pointed a finger at a failed U.S. trade policy that resulted in a trade imbalance.

Industry Leaders

Cranston Print Works, located in Cranston, Illinois, had sales of $113 million in 2009. The next two largest companies in this industry were Santee Print Works, headquartered in Sumter, South Carolina, and Cecil Saydah Co., headquartered in Los Angeles, California, but with primary manufacturing facilities in Kentucky. Other finishers of broadwoven fabrics of cotton were Bradford Printing and Finishing LLC;. Caitac Garment Processing, Inc., located in Gardena, California; and Fortune Fashions Industries LLC. of Los Angeles, California.


Pressure from low-priced Asian textiles had its impact on the American textile industry work force. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), textile product and apparel manufacturing employment totaled 497,100 in 2008. Of this total, roughly 31 percent were textile mill jobs. Finishing and coating jobs accounted for about 10 percent of all industry jobs. BLS reported 121,600 jobs in 2010 for the textile mill sector, as the industry continued to lose jobs.

Outlook for jobs in this industry was dismal as advancing technology allowed fewer workers to produce more output and as competition from overseas markets and the trend toward outsourcing continued to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that jobs in the textile product and apparel manufacturing industry would drop by 48 percent between 2008 and 2018. If so, in 2018, only roughly 25,000 jobs would remain in the fabric finishing and coating sector.

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