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Wearbest Sil-Tex Ups Performance

New York —With the launch of its proprietary high-performance fabric collection pegged for next month's Showtime, Wearbest Sil-Tex is expanding its distribution, design and pricing horizons.

“About 18 months ago, we decided to go outside our core business, which is the interior furnishings segment. We looked at 'outdoor' fabrics as becoming more important, but we didn't want to be a me-too player. If we did something, it had to have more panache as well as more performance than what is on the market,” said Irwin Gasner, president.

At that point, he organized a task force internally and brought in an outside textiles expert with the challenge of identifying all the high-performance fabrics on the market to analyze the pluses and minuses of each.

The findings, Gasner related, “showed the leader to be solution-dyed acrylic, a wonderful product with many attributes like 1,500 hours of lightfastness for outdoor fabrics, and 40 hours of lightfastness for regular interior fabrics, and it's cleanable and water repellent.

“What is missing is bleach cleanability, a limited color palette because of the need for huge quantities for new colors, and the specs of residential Wyzenbeck tests rather than hospital Wyzenbeck levels.”

Once done, Gasner and his senior executives interviewed every domestic fiber producer to work on product development from the fiber on up. “We're basically an American mill, and we wanted this product to be developed from an American fiber company,” he related.

“One of our major goals was that the fabric would not just be an outdoor fabric, but that it would cross-pollinate to residential indoor, contract, and hospitality,” Gasner explained.

The result: Bella-Dura, a trademarked high-performance fabric with a weft yarn that is proprietary to Wearbest, according to Gasner, who describes it as having “the hand of cotton and beautiful drapability.”

From a performance perspective, all colors have a minimum of 1,500 hours of lightfastness, “and many are in the 2,000 hours range,” he said. The range has 45 full colors, 14 warp solid colors and 12 end-on-end with two size repeats: 13-inch jacquards to 27-inch.

As for the Wyzenbeck standards, all fabrics hit the 50,000 double rub mark, with many in the 75,000 to 100,000 double rub level, he said. In addition, the fabrics are mildew resistant and anti-microbial.

The fiber, a polyolefin developed exclusively for Wearbest, comes with a fiber warranty from the fiber producer for two years in contract use, and three years in residential use for color fastness to light, crocking, water and stain resistance. American Fiber and Yarns is the producer.

To support Bella-Dura, the company has added a new warper and installed four new looms which will increase capacity by 10 percent. “By mid to third quarter '05, we anticipate that we'll need another boost in capacity,” Gasner said.

Initially, Bella-Dura will use basic yarns, but later there will be novelty, chenille and boucle yarns to expand the collection.

The first collection will kick off with 30 to 50 fabrics with designs across a number of markets including stripes and tropicals for the outdoors; damasks, contemporaries and transitionals for residential; and tight contract wovens, Gasner said. Price points are from $10.95 to $15.95 “and higher price points are on the horizon as customers develop exclusive product,” he added.

The development of Bella-Dura follows a strategic corporate shift, Gasner explained. The company developed a five-team approach, each positioned for a specific market channel: high-end residential, mid-range residential, furniture market, retail and contract.

Previously, the company had a design director, now it has senior stylists, junior stylists and product development people, Tom Notaro, vice president, sales and marketing explained. The senior stylists report to Notaro who said, “Everyone has responsibilities and niches and answers to a specific market.” But, he added, “The cross-pollination is just fantastic.”

The high-end group has two senior stylists because, “It requires the most work and is the most detail oriented. We added 30 warps just for this business, mostly mercerized cotton and 12 silks,” Notaro reported.

The line dedicated to the retail channel is done twice a year and is marketed by a separate organization, Tritex in High Point, N.C. While the company is a Crypton licensee for contract, “and it's an amazing marketing story with outstanding reorders,” said Gasner, Bella-Dura will bring a different perspective.

Though positioned as an American mill, Wearbest uses mills in Asia for its silk collections “and for one-shot contract orders,” Gasner reported.

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