No doubting Thomas:

STA prez offers hope

Week of July 5, 2004

By Devin Steele

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC — In his President’s Address, Lee Thomas briefly covered the hot topic of change during the Southern Textile Association’s 96h annual meeting here last month.

“Boy, how things change in 10 years,” said Thomas, executive vice president of the Parkdale America division of Parkdale Mills, Gastonia, NC. “Ten years ago, in 1994, profits were high, production rates were good and (Parkdale President) Max Huntley was busting my butt on speeds, efficiency, more, more, faster, faster, pounds, pounds. The only real concern we had was, how will they stop that white Bronco traveling down the LA freeway?”

That’s Thomas — putting his humorous spin on the subject at hand.

Which was somewhat reflective of the mood of this gathering of more than 200 industry executives and their spouses — pensive yet festive. For a few days, at least, members were able to put worries about the industry’s future aside long enough to enjoy fellowship, frivolity and fun with kindred spirits.

Thomas went on to expand on that topic.

“In 1997 things started changing,” said Thomas, who was succeeded as president by Russell W. Mills Jr. of Buhler Quality Yarns Corp., Jefferson, GA. “Even though this association was enjoying its highest membership since its beginning, with over 600 members, things were rapidly starting to change.

“In the past seven years, our Industry has closed 299 textile plants in the U.S. — 119 in North Carolina, 66 in South Carolina, 30 in Georgia, 15 in Virginia and 12 Alabama. And our membership has fallen now to a little over 400. Yes, we are fewer in number of members, but we still have one of the strongest trade associations in the country and we continue to fulfill our charter, which was established 96 years ago.”

He concluded by acknowledging the “textile crisis,” but showed that he’s no “doubting Thomas.”

“It is the people in this room who will pull together to persevere,” he said. “We must help each other remain competitive, for all of us to survive.”

In other elections, Mitch Hensley of Ramtex, Inc., Ramseur, NC, was elected first vice president and George Abbott Jr. of Inman Mills, Inman, SC, was named second vice president. Khal Shreitah of Carolina Mills, Inc., Gastonia, NC, was tapped member-at-large.

Elected to the board of governors for four-year terms expiring in 2008 were Emmett Davis, Celanese; Christina Graham, Wellstone Mills; Wardlaw Hamrick, Hamrick Mills; Jay Self, Greenwood Mills; Bill Steen, Central Textiles; and Jim Thomas, GTP Greenville.

Elected to an unexpired term ending in 2006 was Mike Freeman, UCO Fabrics. Elected to an unexpired term ending in 2005 were Donald Arrowood, Ameritex Yarns, and David Schmidt, Weavetex, Inc.

Other speakers included John Friesen of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina; Jim Chesnutt, CEO of National Spinning Co. and vice chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations; and Dr. Farris Jordan and Ralph Hood, both humorists.


Supima head extols brand’s finer points

July 5, 2004

Editor’s note: Jesse W. Curlee has been president of Supima, the organization representing U.S. growers of Pima cotton and promoting Pima in the U.S. and abroad, since 1981. In this exclusive interview for Southern Textile News, Curlee talks about the current crop, Pima’s worldwide licensing program for textile/apparel manufacturers and retailers, Supima’s growing use in high-end apparel as well as home fashions, and other issues.

Curlee heads Supima’s home office in Phoenix, AZ. For more information, visit

Q: Let’s start with the crop itself. What is the crop size expected to be this year? Is that up or down from, say the previous five years?

Curlee: The 2004 crop of American Pima cotton is expected to be between 600,000 to 675,000 bales — up considerably from last year’s total production of 430,000 bales, but less than the 2002 and 2003 season when production was 700,000 and 678,000 respectively, record production levels. Decline in 2003 was due to two factors: one, prices were not that attractive to many growers; and two, wet and cold weather at planting time delayed planting. Pima is usually planted first, so this caused Pima planting to be reduced.

Production of American Pima has increased dramatically, and really started to expand in the early ’80s when the U.S. began to be a major exporter of American Pima to the major markets in Asia and Europe. Pima production averaged only about 70,000 — 80,000 bales annually in the ’60s and ’70s and has averaged 450,000 bales annually in the past 20 years.

Q: What makes Pima cotton — and specifically U.S. Pima — different?

Curlee: Pima cotton or “Supima” cotton is a completely different species of cotton than regular “Upland” cotton. It is a barbadense species and these cottons are recognized as premium cottons because of their fiber length and high strength values.

American Pima is known as an Extra-Long Staple cotton (ELS), a designation that the U.S. and other countries use for cottons with staple length of 1-3/8 inches or longer.

American Pima is superior to regular cotton in three key areas:
• length — the majority of the American Pima crop measures 1-7/16 inches or slightly longer. This is 35 percent longer than the average 1 1/16 inches length of regular cotton;
• strength — the average strength of last season’s American Pima crop was 40.55 gpt. This compares to an average of about 28.8 gpt for regular U.S. Upland cotton, so it’s over 40 percent stronger than most cottons; and
• micronaire — American Pima’s micronaire, measuring fineness and maturity, is an average of 4.1, which is within the optimum range for dyeing of 3.7 to 4.2.
This especially long and strong cotton allows spinners to make a finer and stronger yarn to meet strict yarn and fabric specifications. The premium micronaire of American Pima allows for superior dye uptake and lasting color.
Fabrics made from American Pima or Supima cotton also have a beautiful luster appearance and a nice hand.

Q: What percentage of the total U.S. grown cotton crop is Pima?

Curlee: About 3 percent of the total cotton grown in the U.S. is American Pima cotton, or Extra-Long Staple cotton.

Actually, the U.S. has become the world’s largest producer of ELS cotton in the last 10-15 years, surpassing Egypt. If you count Egypt’s long staple cotton production and Extra-Long Staple together, they produce more than the U.S., but with the ELS alone (cotton with staple length of 1 3/8” or longer), we are the largest producer.

Q: Where is Supima’s customer base these days? Who’s buying it, and what are they doing with it?

Curlee: While American Pima cotton is mostly consumed in the export market (more than 85 percent of the crop is exported), much of the cotton comes back to the U.S. in the form of shirts, woven and knit garments, sheets and towels. Our largest customer in recent years is Pakistan and much of its American Pima production is for sheeting for U.S. textile firms and brands such as WestPoint Stevens, Springs, Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart and others.

Supima’s top five markets today are Pakistan, Japan, India, China and Indonesia. Other strong markets are Taiwan, Bangladesh, Korea and Thailand. There has been somewhat of a shift in these markets. A decade ago the major markets included Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland and Italy. The European fine spinners have suffered some of the same difficulties as U.S. mills have and many European fine count spinners have closed due to the increased competition from the Asian countries.

The major change, though, has been the increased consumption in South Asia and China. China has increased Supima consumption from only 10,000 bales two years ago to 65,000 last year and up to over 76,000 bales so far this year. The South Asian countries of Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh are also large users and continue to increase consumption of Supima.

Most of the Pima consumption is used for fine count yarns of 50s to over 100s. Shirting, fine knits and sheets are a big part of the market. However, even coarse count yarns are being made out of American Pima and other ELS cottons. Products such as towels, bottom weights for trousers, etc. and now even high-quality denim is being manufactured and marketed with Supima cotton.

Q: Supima has a well-developed licensing program. How many Supima licensees are there in the world? Can you break down the number by country, starting with the U.S. and then other countries with significant numbers of licensees?

Curlee: We currently have more than 175 licensees worldwide — 35 from the U.S., and 140 foreign licensees. The largest numbers are in India with 26, then Pakistan with 17, followed by 16 in Hong Kong and 14 in Japan. Applications are being received weekly, so the number continues to increase.

Q: How did the licensing program get started?

Curlee: It began in the early ’80s in Japan. The Japanese are dedicated to quality and they like to use brands to differentiate products from regular quality. We met with textile leaders in Japan in 1980 and shortly thereafter licensed 10 of the largest textile companies in Japan, authorizing them to use the “Supima” name and trademark on only the highest quality products and only at better retail outlets.

No discounters were allowed to use the brand or sell the brand. Japan did such a fantastic job of making Supima known — not only in Japan, but also in other parts of Asia — that requests soon came from other countries. For 10 years we had an exclusive with Japan, but this was changed and now we have licensees in 22 countries.

Q: What is involved in becoming a Supima® licensee?

Curlee: Supima® is a registered trademark owned by the growers of American Pima cotton in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The name Pima, by the way, was given in honor of the Pima Indians who were helping to raise the ELS cotton on the USDA experimental research farm in Sacaton, Ariz. The name Supima comes from “Superior Pima,” and is applied only to U.S.-grown Pima.

Anyone using the name or brand must be licensed and in most instances the textile products must be made of 100 percent American Pima cotton.

Spinners, weavers, knitters, garment, home furnishing manufacturers and retailers must apply for a license and submit proof of either raw cotton purchases or in the case of fabric and garment manufacturers, they must submit names of their yarn or fabric suppliers.

The success and added value of the Supima licensing program depends on the quality and reputation of the licensees and their products. Therefore, Supima is being cautious in approving licensees and not everyone who applies is approved.

There is also an annual licensing fee of $1,000 per year.

Q: Supima has a well-established name in home fashions. Now, the move is into apparel. Is that something that your organization has initiated and encouraged, or is it something that is happening from the designer end?

Curlee: Yes, the Supima name and brand is now well-recognized in home fashions with many of the leading U.S. home furnishing manufacturers and brands having a line of Supima sheets, towels or blankets. That happened primarily because the U.S. textile manufacturers have been able to capture the market for high-end or better-quality home fashion products such as sheets and towels. And, there has been a consumer trend toward higher-quality home fashion products. These products need better quality cotton, especially high-thread count sheets that require fine and strong yarns.

American textile manufacturers have not been as successful or haven’t been able to competitive in manufacturing high yarn count for the more luxurious apparel fabrics. The majority of fine-count woven and knitted textile products are imported into the U.S. Therefore, the Supima brand or name has not been as successful in apparel.

But most of our foreign licensees use the Supima name and brand for apparel products. Textile manufacturers in countries such as Japan, India, China, Indonesia, Taiwan, etc. are very competent in making fine shirting and knit fabrics and want to use the Supima brand.

So yes, we are initiating an aggressive marketing plan aimed at the U.S. apparel market. Supima’s New York office is the focus of this effort, as New York is where so many designers, manufacturers and brands are based and where fiber selection decisions are made.

The fabric and garments are for the most part being imported from Asia, so Supima is working with companies in Hong Kong or elsewhere, as well as the New York designers or brands, who are importing these Supima products. Supima’s new advertising campaign is also putting more emphasis on apparel and this will continue in the future.

Q: Can you tell us some of the major designers that are using Supima® and the Supima hangtag for their apparel products?

Curlee: There are many top designers and brands using Supima in their apparel collections. Established brands using Supima include Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, Perry Ellis, as well as newer brands such as Three Dots and Michael Stars.

Q: What have been the trends in consumption of Supima cotton in the last five years?

Curlee: Consumption reached an all-time high last year of 737,000 bales and surpassed the previous high of 586,000 bales in 2000 by 26 percent. Supima’s consumption last year (2003) of 737,000 bales compared to an average consumption of 520,000 bales for the previous four years. So the trend is definitely up.

There is also an increase trend in the consumption of all ELS cottons. In fact, total worldwide consumption is up 27 percent since 2000.

Q: Some economic experts are saying that — in the U.S., at least — there is a strong consumer trend toward luxury goods, and that includes high-end apparel. Are you seeing that trend reflected in consumption of Supima cotton?

Curlee: Definitely. Not just luxury goods, but the consumer is looking for value and Supima cotton textiles offer added value in the way the products look and wear.

Sheets are a good example. Just a decade ago sheets were in the 200-thread count or lower. Now it’s 300-plus to 400-plus thread count. The consumer is demanding the look and feel of sheets with at least 250-thread count. This requires American Pima cotton because of the yarn counts necessary and the strength that is required.

Q: What is Supima doing to increase its market share and consumer recognition, to capitalize on that consumer trend for luxury goods?

Curlee: One thing is the licensing program that I’ve discussed. This program and its success builds upon itself. The restrictions or requirements that Supima has demanded of licensees have made it more valuable. Not everyone can or is willing to meet the strict standards. Licensed products are required to be made of 100 percent American Pima cotton — not Egyptian cotton or any other ELS cottons. This is increasing our market share.

Of course, we are continuing to advertise and conduct propositional and marketing activities. Some consumer advertising, but now primarily trade advertising.

And, there is no substitute to personal visits and relationships. Our objective is to visit all of our large customers at least once a year. This requires frequent travel to maintain strong relationships and keep them informed. However, this is essential in order to maintain and increase the recognition and reputation of Supima and the brand.

Q: As a supplier to high-end textile mills and manufacturers around the world, Supima should be pretty good barometer for where the textile industry is going. What’s your read on the industry’s future?

Curlee: The industry’s future is excellent. It is just a question of where textiles will be manufactured.

The two countries that we see as leaders are China and India. At least at this stage. All of the other Asian and South Asian countries will also do well and perhaps Turkey in the European region.

In the U.S., we still have some strong companies, but it is more and more difficult to manufacture in this country. The successful companies will find niche markets, source more product offshore, or develop joint ventures. Competing with China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia is going to be difficult or impossible. Their labor and regulatory cost gives them too much of an advantage. An argument can certainly be made as to whether this is fair, but it seems to be reality.

Summit on Fair Trade in Textile and Clothing

Leaders meet in Brussels, call on WTO

July 5, 2004

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — Textile and clothing trade associations attending the Summit on Fair Trade in Textile and Clothing released a communiqué June 17 calling for an emergency meeting of the WTO to analyze and identify WTO solutions to the pending crisis associated with the expiration of textile and apparel quotas on Jan. 1, 2005.

The summit report also expressed support for a three-year extension of textile and apparel quotas, the implementation of automatic safeguard mechanisms to prevent disruptive surges of textile and clothing imports and expedited and effective remedies to unfair trading practices employed by certain major suppliers.

Textile and clothing executives and government observers from 25 countries attended the summit to affirm their original commitments in the Istanbul Declaration.

“The expiration of worldwide textile and apparel quotas represents a crisis of unprecedented worldwide proportions,” said Suleyman Orakcioglu, chairman of ITKIB Association (Turkey). “Thirty million textile and clothing manufacturing workers will lose their jobs and $200 billion in world market share will be lost if one or two countries monopolize the world’s textile and clothing market.”

Allen Gant, CEO of Glen Raven, Inc. and chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations, was one of several Americans represented at the meeting.

“Clearly it is time for governments to act,” Gant said. “Summit attendees are urging all governments whose textile and clothing manufacturing industries are at risk to petition the WTO for an emergency meeting to discuss the textile and clothing trade crisis.”

“Every major region of the world will suffer substantial job losses if nothing is done about China,” added Ziya Sukun, executive director of ITKIB Association of New York.

ATME-I 2006

Deadline near for show deposit

July 5, 2004

ATLANTA — Organizers of the 2006 edition of the American Textile Machinery Exhibition-International (ATME-I) trade show are offering a refundable deposit option until July 16.

Exhibitors who sign up for booth space by that date can have their deposit held on a refundable status until Jan. 15, 2005.

“This offer means exhibitors can choose a booth location in the knowledge that if their plans change before Jan. 15, 2005, they can get their 10 percent deposit back,” said Show Director Tom Gordon of Mack Brooks Exhibitions.
The show will take place at the expanded Georgia World Congress Center here from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4, 2006.

This venue offers nearly four times the space of the Palmetto Expo Center and will allow ATME-I® to consolidate and regain its full size and stature under one roof, organizers said.

Exhibitor prices remain the same as the 2000/2001 shows, at $28 per square foot.

Confirmed to co-locate its trade show with the ATME-I event is the Industrial Fabrics Association International Expo (IFAI Expo). This co-location is designed to enable visitors and exhibitors to participate in a “one-stop shop,” maximizing the pulling power of the overall event while retaining separate identities and management of the individual shows.

To register by the July 16 deadline, call Kevin or Laurie on 770-434-7331. Send e-mail to to find out how you can benefit from this special offer or visit

ATME-I takes place in Greenville, SC, for the last time in September. This year’s event is slated for Sept. 13-17 at the Palmetto Expo Center.

Loose Ends

July 5, 2004

We’re No. 1!

By Devin Steele

YO, LARD BOTTOMS. Yeah, you ... all of you. Put down the remote, log off the Internet, lick the Krispy Kreme glazed off your lip and listen up. And while you’re at it, stand up. You could use the exercise. Even you, Michael “Eats” Moore. (By the way, Monsieur Moore, does “Fahrenheit 9/11” indicate a date or your weight?) Now hear this, Twinkie breath: Your lifestyle is killing you! (We know, we know ... we’re one to talk. We’re rather flabby around the edges, too, but bear with us).

It’s a fact: America’s sedentary, fast-food lifestyle has led to a problem approaching crisis proportions. To put it bluntly, we’re fat. Obese. Elephantine, even. Yep, as countries go, we’re the fattest on earth. In fact, not only are we the world’s lone super power, we’re its lone super-sized power. (Did you celebrate this distinction on Uncle Sam’s birthday by throwing back a couple of extra hot dogs with all the fixings and an extra slice of apple pie?)

WE NEVER REALLY thought much about the ramifications of carrying around the ol’ spare tire until a couple of weeks ago, when a representative of an insurance company (yawn) laid out some facts as plainly as a Shoney’s buffet spread. John Friesen, vice president of actuarial and underwriting for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, gave what turned out to be an eye-opening, motivational presentation on health care costs to the Southern Textile Association during its annual meeting/greeting/eating. The crux of his talk: That a number of drivers to rising health care costs are preventable. Namely, obesity.

According to Friesen (and common sense), obesity leads to so many other problems — diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer even, etc. — that can all be avoided if we eat right, get off our duffs and do something physical. “This is probably the single biggest factor of health costs unique to this country and, if we’re going to control health care costs, this is something each and every one of us can do something about,” he said. (Not to mention doing something about our mortality rate.) Friesen went on to say that Americans spend more on health care costs than any country in the world, yet we’re the 24th healthiest (or rather, unhealthiest) nation.

Suddenly, the prime rib and loaded potato from the night before didn’t sound so appealing. Obesity, he added, leads to more deaths than tobacco use. Friesen is (thankfully) no Richard Simmons, but those words made us want to get up and sweat to some oldies or something. That instant.

JIM CHESNUTT, chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations and CEO of National Spinning Co., later told STA members that the industry has lost a lot of friends in recent years — not because they were bad businessmen, but because U.S. trade policy led to the elimination of their jobs. After Friesen’s comments, that remark made us wonder: How many industry friends (along with family members) have we lost due to obesity? Bet you all know someone who has dropped dead of a heart attack.

We hear of the damaging effects of obesity — and remedies for overcoming it (read: low-carb menus, et al) — every day. But we really should start seriously thinking about what we’re doing to ourselves when we bite into that double McWhopper with triple cheese. Just because our industry isn’t in the best of health doesn’t mean we should follow suit personally. By the same token, you should encourage fellow employees to do the same. Maybe provide healthy snacks in the break room, educate them with health fairs, offer discounts to the local health club — just to name a few ideas.

So, slowly back away from the table, jelly bellies, put on your running shorts and do something. Especially you, Michael. (We definitely want to see less of Moore.)

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