Diversity Plays Big Role in Success for National Spinning

Diversity Plays Big Role in Success for National Spinning

By Judy Malone, ASI

(December 1, 2013) N ational Spinning Co., Inc. is deeply rooted in the wool industry. Beginning as a worsted yarn distributor in New York in 1921, it began combing, spinning and dying wool in the late 1920s. Wool has always been and will continue to be an important part of National Spinning’s DNA. When nylon and acrylic were introduced as wool substitutes in the 1940s and ‘50s, National expanded its operations to spin and dye synthetics.

In 1950s and ‘60s, National Spinning expanded and relocated manufacturing from New York to North Carolina. Diversification continued as the company began spinning and dyeing a wider variety of fibers on both long-staple and short-staple systems. In the early 2000s, Hampton Art, a manufacturer of paper-based craft products, was acquired; and in 2012, Carolina Nonwovens, a producer of nonwoven fabrics for a wide variety of industrial end-uses, was purchased. The wool spun at the National Spinning plants is 100 percent U.S.-grown. This makes National Spinning the second largest consumer of domestic wool in the United States at well over 1 million pounds of domestic wool purchased and processed annually.

Two North Carolina spinning facilities – a long-staple spinning plant in Whiteville and a short-staple operation in Beulaville – allow National Spinning to simultaneously process a variety of natural and synthetic fibers and blends, making it rather unique in the world of spinning. To control contamination between blends, the plants are compartmentalized into separate rooms/business units for each blend. In the Beulaville plant alone there are enough walled-off rooms to accommodate up to 21 different fibers being fed-in at any one time. Rooms vary in size from one spinning frame to multiple frames, depending on the amount of the fiber being processed.

“As recently as five years ago, we would say that we spun most anything except cotton. Now, we even spin cotton,” confesses Booterbaugh. “There are very few exceptions to the type of fiber we won’t work with at this time, though acrylic, polyester and wool are the dominant raw materials. A recent, exciting innovation is long staple meta-aramid yarns, something we might have avoided in the past.”

National Spinning’s third manufacturing location is the Alamance dye plant. This Burlington, N.C., facility is the most modern yarn-dyeing plant in the United States. The 12-year-old plant is fully automated and has the ability to dye both spun and filament yarn of virtually any fiber or blend.

Markets

National Spinning is proud to be a key player in many markets. The sweater market has been a signature hallmark of its success since day one. Fashion and color preferences are difficult for knitters to predict far enough in advance in order to purchase yarns from the Far East, therefore, much of that yarn is purchased and knitted in this hemisphere. National Spinning maintains substantial stocks of volume shades and, with its yarn-dying capability, custom orders can be quickly dyed and shipped.

Hosiery is another important market. Wool and socks make a perfect pair–whether in solids, stripes or patterns.

“We enjoy our unique position in the sock market,” explains Booterbaugh. “Whether through the spinning system, fiber selection, brand offerings or enhancements in the dyeing process (to reduce pilling or to increase wicking), our sock customers know they have a real partner in National.”

Several years ago, says Booterbaugh, retailers and brands recognized the importance of domestic sock suppliers. With socks lead

“The Alamance Dye Plant went along a similar path as the spinning plants,” continues Booterbaugh. “Ten years ago, 80 percent of what we dyed was acrylic or wool. That number is now around 50 percent and the other half is any other fiber you can name, which continues the company’s broad diversification business strategy.”

Branching Out

National Spinning boasts two other divisions, a nonwoven division and a craft division.

Carolina Nonwovens produces one- to seven-inch-thick pads for insulation, sound control, bedding products and cushions. Made from mostly recycled fibers – shredded jeans and t-shirts are taken back to fiber form and reprocessed – this division offers a fantastic recycling story. The automotive industry consumes the majority of this product, helping make for a quieter ride and improved fuel efficiency. Booterbaugh emphasizes the synergy of using textile by-products as raw materials. Since the nonwoven equipment will accommodate anything from fabric to wood to plastic or even rubber pellets, it offers an opportunity for National Spinning to reclaim a large portion of what would otherwise leave the facility as trash. In fact, National is now 100 percent landfill-free as a company.

“The last division is highly unusual for a company primarily known for textiles,” Booterbaugh allows. “Our Hampton Art division sells scrapbooking materials (paper, glitter, glue, rubber stamps and embellishments) to the big-box craft and general-retail stores. Believe it or not, our entry into this business was logical and organic.”

Since National Spinning was distributing yarn to big-box craft stores, it made sense to think about enhancing the product-line. Decorative rubber stamps came to National through the purchase of Hampton Art. Rubber stamps led to ink pads, paper, glitter, glue, glass beads and more. Unlike the yarn division, Hampton Art is mainly a wholesale distributor with goods designed locally and manufactured in certified off-shore facilities to company and customer specifications.

Ownership

The family has always been extremely supportive of the company’s goals and of maintaining its sterling reputation. Founded in 1921 by brothers Phillip and Carl Leff, the family still some ownership of the company, in addition to certain management and board positions. In the early 1990s, majority ownership of the company was sold to the employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The expanded ownership base has benefitted the company, giving all shareholders a mutual interest in the company’s continuing success. A strong balance-sheet and rock-solid relationships with trading partners, associates and communities are key measures of that success.

Today, National Spinning employs 650 associates at two spinning facilities, a yarn-dye plant, a fiber-blending facility, a distribution center, a nonwoven facility and offices throughout North Carolina, New York and Central America.

Markets

National Spinning is proud to be a key player in many markets. The sweater market has been a signature hallmark of its success since day one. Fashion and color preferences are difficult for knitters to predict far enough in advance in order to purchase yarns from the Far East, therefore, much of that yarn is purchased and knitted in this hemisphere. National Spinning maintains substantial stocks of volume shades and, with its yarn-dying capability, custom orders can be quickly dyed and shipped.

Hosiery is another important market. Wool and socks make a perfect pair–whether in solids, stripes or patterns.

“We enjoy our unique position in the sock market,” explains Booterbaugh. “Whether through the spinning system, fiber selection, brand offerings or enhancements in the dyeing process (to reduce pilling or to increase wicking), our sock customers know they have a real partner in National.”

Several years ago, says Booterbaugh, retailers and brands recognized the importance of domestic sock suppliers. With socks leading the charge, sweaters are now following. Retailers’ recognition of the value of a shorter and closer supply-chain has helped bring apparel items back onto U.S. shores. National Spinning also prides itself in its ability to supplying the home furnishings, industrial, and craft-yarn industries.

“Craft stores need relatively small amounts of yarn in a large array of colors,” asserts Frederick Barton, Whiteville plant manager. “We have a ‘pit crew’ at the Whiteville plant whose job it is first thing every morning to creel in a new shade of raw material on the craft yarn line. “A 1,000-position spinning machine is designed to run 6,000 pound lots in a 24-hour period. By running a different color each day, we are able to supply a wide assortment of yarn colors to this important specialty market.”

Innovation

The American Sheep Industry Association partnered with National Spinning on a project to apply a bio-polishing procedure/enzyme treatment to wool yarn to prevent shrinkage and allow wool to be washable. Through stretch-break trials, the process was fine-tuned and fully commercialized as an alternative to the superwash treatment.

The use of the enzyme treatment process was limited since, at about the same time, a superwash combing line was reintroduced in the United States. Superwash treatment, like bio-polishing, allows wool products to be machine-washed and -dried without shrinking. Bio-polishing is a viable option for National Spinning customers on a smaller scale, in that the treatment is applied at the dye kettle mixing tank along with dyestuffs.

Other wool developments include blending of wool with technical fibers for flame-retardance and arc-flash protection.

“In order to endure in the textile business in the United States, a company has to learn how to be flexible, how to re-invent itself and how to engineer value-added products.

“We strive to be the essential, reliable, “go-to” resource for a diverse range of yarn, consumer products and industrial nonwoven products, helping to achieve success for our trade associates,” said Booterbaugh.

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