Narrow Fabric and Other Smallware Mills: Cotton, Wool, Silk and Manmade Fiber

SIC 2241

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

Weavers of broadwoven fabrics, those that are generally greater than 12 inches in width, are covered in SIC 2211: Broadwoven Fabric Mills, Cotton; SIC 2221: Broadwoven Fabric Mills, Manmade Fiber and Silk; and SIC 2231: Broadwoven Fabric Mills, Wool (Including Dyeing and Finishing).

There were 206 U.S. operations engaged in the production of narrow fabrics in 2007, according to the Economic Census, which is published by the U.S. Census Bureau every five years. These companies produced and shipped $1.1 billion worth of narrow fabric products and employed 8,582 people, 78 percent of whom were production workers. About 56 percent of companies employed fewer than 20 workers, whereas 28 percent employed between 20 and 99 and 16 percent employed 100 or more. Total annual payroll was almost $270 million.

Narrow fabrics are usually divided into two categories: elastic and rigid (or nonelastic). Narrow fabrics that, when stretched, will return to their original shape and size fall into the elastic group. Elastic narrow fabrics include waistbands and some straps.

Narrow fabrics weaving machines differ from broadwoven weaving machines in more ways than the width of fabrics produced. Narrow fabrics weaving machines produce more than one fabric at a time. Generally speaking, the wider the fabric, the fewer multiples of fabric pieces are woven. Some narrow fabrics are produced on broadwoven weaving machines, and the fabric is slit into the narrow widths after it is woven.

Electronic machinery has become increasingly important to this industry, largely because of the need to be versatile. For example, a company that supplies labels for apparel has to be able to respond quickly when a garment manufacturer suddenly needs to change the labels on its products.

While demand for some other textiles often fluctuates with the economy, the market for narrow fabrics tends to remain fairly stable. This is especially true for webbings for industrial and military use and tapes, bandages, and gauze for the medical trade.

During the early 2000s, products made for cargo and transport, such as cargo lifting straps and automotive tow straps, remained a primary source of income. Sporting goods products, such as golf-bag straps, came in second, followed by automotive seat belts. Sling devices, including many products for use in the medical field, and pet products, such as leashes and collars, rounded out the field.

In 2009, California was home to the most narrow fabric mills, followed by New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Like many other textile manufacturers, some companies in this category were merging to form larger corporations, shutting down their less profitable plants and reducing production at other plants. This trend toward consolidation and greater efficiency was triggered in part by changes in international trade agreements, which opened the industry to global competition. In fact, imports of narrow fabrics from China totaled approximately $55 million in 2005, up from $43 million the previous year. The price of raw materials, decreased demand for certain textiles, and technological advances also were factors.

Industry leaders included Hickory, North Carolina-based Worldtex Inc., which emerged from chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002, and BGF Industries of Greensboro, North Carolina. With 2008 sales of $177.4 million and 864 employees, BGF (formerly Burlington Glass Fabrics) was a subsidiary of Porcher Industries. Other leading companies included Conso International Corp. of Antioch, Tennessee, which was acquired by Wm. Wright Co. in 2006 and had sales of $62.6 million and 1,147 employees in 2008; and C.M. Offray and Son Inc., of New York. C.M. Offray was acquired by Berwick Industries, a unit of CSS Industries Inc., for $45 million in 2002. Finally, after more than 100 years in business, former industry leader Spartan Mills Inc., of Spartanburg, South Carolina, went bankrupt and ceased operations in the mid-2000s.

In this category, as with most textile-related industries, employment is expected to decline because of technological advances and imports of apparel and textiles from lower-wage countries. Extensive on-the-job training is required to operate new high-technology machinery. About one of every three jobs are in three states: North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

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