Malden Mills Industries, Inc.
Malden Mills Industries, Inc.
46 Stafford Street
Lawrence, Massachusetts 01841
Fax: (508) 975-2595
Sales: $425 million (1995 est.)
SIC(s): 2221, Broadwoven Fabric Mills (Manmade Fiber & Silk); 2257, Weft Knit Fabric Mills; 2258, Lace & Wrap Knit Fabric Mills; 2262, Finishing Plants (Manmade Fiber & Silk Fabrics); 2297, Nonwoven Fabrics; 3086, Plastics Foam Products
Although Polartec lightweight fabrics are recognized worldwide for their moisture resistance and thermal qualities, few know this extraordinary product is the creation of Malden Mills Industries, Inc. of Massachusetts. Family-run and -operated, Malden Mills quietly grew by 200% in the 1980s and 1990s as Polartec and a line of high-performance jacquard velvets for home furnishings generated a $3 billion market. Yet what put Malden Mills firmly in the international spotlight was a devastating fire in December 1995 that destroyed much of the factory and injured 33 employees. Rebuilding immediately, Malden not only assured workers of their jobs but paid full salaries to those unable to work during reconstruction. In an era of massive layoffs and closings, Malden Mills’s dedication to the industry, its employees, and the community was a welcome anomaly in the fractured business world of the mid-1990s.
Wool and Woolies, 1906 to the 1960s
Henry Feuerstein came to America in the 1890s from Hungary and found work in New York City sewing blouses. After losing his job twice, Feuerstein turned to selling dry goods across the state. From small push cart to factory to wholesale outlets, young Henry prospered and soon lived among the well-heeled in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. When his real estate investments went awry, Henry answered a classified ad and spent the remainder of his fortune, $50,000, on a small mill in Malden, Massachusetts in 1906.
Malden Knitting produced wool “workman’s” sweaters and bathing suits. Under Feuerstein’s leadership, the company flourished and created Malden Spinning and Dyeing in 1923 to keep up with demand, much of which was producing uniforms for the U.S. Army during World Wars I and II. By the end of World War II, Malden Knitting was experimenting with various fabrics and applications to broaden its production capacity and to anticipate the ever-changing needs of American families. By this time, Henry Feuerstein’s son Samuel had taken charge of Malden Knitting and his teenaged grandson, Aaron, also worked in the family business. Beginning with school vacations and then becoming full-time after graduation from Yeshiva University in 1947, Aaron was appointed factory supervisor and began a long and distinguished career at Malden.
By 1956 Malden Mills achieved what the industry called “vertical” continuous production with dyeing, printing, and finishing all completed within one facility. This year also marked the company’s relocation to Lawrence, Massachusetts, 35 miles north of Boston, and into the historic Arlington Mill complex built before the turn of the century. One former employee of the mill wrote a poem about it, entitled “A Lone Striker”; the poet’s name was Robert Frost.
In 1962 Malden opened a new knitting mill in Bridgton, Maine, and four years later again branched out, this time by dabbling in synthetic fabrics for the upholstery market. With Samuel Feuerstein nearing retirement, Aaron’s role was increasingly important at Malden. Under his tutelage, Malden became more automated and, unlike other textile manufacturers, stayed in Massachusetts rather than relocating to the South or the West Coast where land and labor were cheaper. Instead, Malden relied on the company’s proximity to Boston for the area’s skilled work force and high-tech breakthroughs.
The Fake Fur Faux Pas: the 1970s, and the Early 1980s
As the 1960s came to a close, Aaron Feuerstein took full control of Malden and bet big on fake fur products by pouring $20 million into specialized equipment and opening mills in Hudson, New Hampshire, and Barre, Vermont. “I thought there would be unbelievable growth because of the fur activists,” Feuerstein later told Forbes magazine, yet despite capturing 25 percent of the U.S. market, fake fur demand never blossomed and began declining. Opening still another factory in North Berwick, Maine, in 1976, Malden tried to make ends meet by selling both upholstery fabrics and fake fur products, while continuing to pour funds into researching a synthetic, lightweight, thermal fabric. Though Malden’s fake fur market share grew to 50 percent, Feuerstein realized this was not the huge opportunity he had originally believed it would be.
To head off falling sales Malden started producing velvet upholstery for home furnishings, but not in time. Forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1981, the company laid off hundreds of employees, and Feuerstein vowed to make it up to them some day. Salvation came soon in the form of Polarfleece, which revolutionized the fabric industry. Debuting in 1979, Polar-fleece was 100 percent polyester, capable of drawing moisture away from the body while providing warmth; it became the fabric of choice for high-performance athletic and aerobic apparel. Among Malden’s first major customers was Patagonia, which produced outerwear for mountain climbers and hikers. Thoroughly impressed with the unique shearling knit, Patagonia used Polarfleece for a variety of garments, buying “every yard we could make as fast as we could make it,” Vice-President Henry Ackerman told the Wall Street Journal Polarfleece was not only a huge success for Patagonia, which expanded into several related apparel lines, but put Malden on the map for a variety of other outdoor clothing manufacturers. By 1982, Polarfleece pushed sales to $5 million and helped pull the company out of bankruptcy in 1983.
Polartec—”The Ultimate Answer”— Mid-1980s to Early 1990s
Capitalizing on the incredible popularity of Polarfleece, Malden produced several new lines of high-performance, technically advanced fabrics to service the outdoorsy set. Yet Malden stayed ahead of its many imitators with constant innovation and by producing customized lots of varied colors, thicknesses, and textures so each of its customers could market their own blend. By 1986 overall sales had grown to about $150 million, and Malden began investing $10 million per year in state-of-the-art research, design, and production equipment to keep up with the ever-growing demand for its products. As Polarfleece continued to gain prominence, Malden’s upholstery fabric sales had increased substantially and by 1988 accounted for more than $105 million in revenue. Polarfleece raked in a respectable $69 million. The end of the 1980s also marked Malden’s expansion into Europe, where its nylon velvet and warp-knit upholstery fabrics were especially popular, helping total sales climb to $200 million in 1989.
As the 1990s approached, Malden was a dinosaur in the New England area. The few textile manufacturers who remained either went out of business or were plagued by the state’s harsh environmental laws and ever-increasing labor costs. Yet Malden demonstrated its commitment both to the area and to protecting and preserving the environment by building a water treatment plant to restore the Spicket River systems encompassing the company’s mills. The treatment plant conserved energy and reduced waste, air emissions, and the amount of chemicals necessary to produce its many fabrics.
In 1991 Polarfleece products were trademarked as Polartec Climate Control Fabrics available in light-, medium-, and heavyweight thicknesses with more than 100 different styles (from underwear, bike shorts, and sweatshirts to jackets, wet suits, and gloves) available in 5,000 colors and 1,000 patterns. Polartec remained the industry leader because of its stretch, fast wicking, easy dyeing, and durable, nonpilling finish. Clients like Eddie Bauer, Land’s End, L.L. Bean, Ralph Lauren, and others often based their entire outdoor or athletic lines on Polartec fabrics, which in turn supported 1991’s strong sales of $250 million.
Polartec and Eco-Velvet: 1992 and Beyond
Malden established the Glenn Street Studio in 1992 to develop and produce natural jacquard velvets. This sturdy, stylish cotton adorned a wide array of products from elegant, vibrantly colored furniture to vehicle upholstery and infant carseats. By this time Malden’s home furnishings were sold in Australia, Canada, the Middle East, New Zealand, and South Africa, with such customers as Al Janoub, Carina Polstermobel, Ian Walker, Rexmore, and the Steinhoff Group. In the United States, Malden was a regular supplier to Action, Klaussner, and La-Z-Boy, and was also selling to Century, Frederick Edwards, Hickory Chair, and Southwood Furniture. This year, 1992, also marked the initiation of the Polartec Performance Challenge to sponsor and support outdoor adventures like the Trango Towers Expedition in Southern Pakistan, a 7,000-mile yacht trip around Europe, and a 4,000-mile trek of China’s centuries old Silk Road. Another first was Malden’s sponsorship of the 1992 Winter Olympics by providing Polartec fabric for the official garments worn by U.S. athletes.
In another environmentally conscious move in 1993, Malden debuted a new line of upholstery (including cotton novelty prints in botanical, floral, and jungle motifs) and clothing fabrics made from recycled fibers. By the end of the year Polartec fabrics contained up to 15 percent recycled fibers, a figure Malden hoped to raise when availability increased and costs of recycled products were less prohibitive. Overall sales for the year climbed to $340 million, with Polartec and upholstery each accounting for half of Malden’s sales, but Polartec pulling in most of its $10 million in profits. New products included undergarments for NASA’s astronauts, booties for sled dogs racing in Alaska’s Iditarod, and hopes for newfangled diapers.
In 1994 Malden hired a former leader of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to spearhead their continuing environmental efforts. The company reduced consumption and added further reuse and recycling programs and was recognized by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) for environmental “excellence” and leadership in the textile industry. Exports to 60 nations worldwide now accounted for 20 percent of Malden’s revenues, with total weekly fabric production exceeding 1.6 million yards. Annual research and development investments had risen to $20 million, with another $20 million spent on new computer-directed textile machinery, including looms and weaving equipment to keep operations steady and competitors at bay.
Unforeseen by Feuerstein and the staff at Malden Mills, 1995 would be a year of banner success and shocking tragedy. In February, Dakotah, a popular apparel manufacturer, was given exclusive license to launch and produce a new home accessories line of pillows and throws made from Polartec. Next came the first of a series of blows when the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission televised segments in March of fleece fabrics catching fire. Though the products shown on the air were made by Coville Inc. (which later recalled more than 150,000 fleece products), consumers began returning Polartec garments for fear of their flammability. Malden immediately sought damage control by launching a $8.5 million advertising campaign, stressing the company’s rigid standards and the repeated passing of inflammability tests conducted by the government.
By May the company introduced Eco-Velvet, a new upholstery fabric made from recycled soda bottles, and most of its Polartec products now contained from 80 percent to 100 percent recycled fiber. For environmentally conscious consumers, Malden Mills’s fabrics were both a fashion statement and a political statement! In August, Malden announced several changes in the company: first, restructuring with newly appointed CEO Howard Ackerman (formerly vice-president) taking responsibility for running daily operations; second, integrating the home furnishings and apparel divisions to streamline production and share marketing and research and development staffing; third, funding additional promotion of Polartec fabrics (with projected sales hitting or surpassing $225 million for 1995); and fourth, building an $80 million European textile manufacturing plant in Gorlitz, Germany, as a companion to the company’s distribution plant in Rotterdam by the end of the year.
The Gorlitz factory was expected to employ 150 and support extensive international sales to such companies as Berghaus, Jack Wolfskin, Lower Alpine, Schoffel, Silvy, and Japan’s Asics, Goldwin, and mont-bell, while cutting down on slow turnaround and the expensive tariffs placed on goods imported from the United States. The implemented changes were designed to make Malden Mills, with total sales exceeding $400 million in 1995, a billion-dollar company within five years. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t hit $1 billion by the end of the century,” Ackerman told the Wall Street Journal in November 1995. Unfortunately, something could keep Malden Mills from reaching its goals—a catastrophe that rocked the company a few months later.
On the evening of December 11, 1995, while Aaron Feuerstein was celebrating his 70th birthday among family and friends at a Boston restaurant, there was an explosion at Malden Mills. The explosion sparked a fire that swept through three of the company’s nine buildings, injuring 33 night shift employees and causing an estimated $500 million in damages. Feuerstein rushed to the scene, refused to lose his composure, and vowed to rebuild. Three nights later, Feuerstein announced that Malden Mills would reopen on January 2, that he would pay all employees their regular salaries (at a cost of $1.5 million per week) for the next 30 days, possibly more, and that he would continue health benefits for 90 days. Several companies and local organizations,’ hearing of Malden Mills’s plight, immediately sent contributions to help rebuild and to support employees. Other responses ranged from U.S. President Clinton’s invitation to attend the State of the Union Address, to comparisons with George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the repeated use of words such as “hero” and “mensch” (a Yiddish term for a person of unquestionable honor and integrity).
Feuerstein hoped to have Malden Mills fully operational within 90 days and to have his diverse workforce (of British, Canadian, French, German, Irish, Israeli, Italian, and Portuguese men and women) back to their posts as soon as possible. Within days of his ’ ’full-pay’’ announcement, 80 percent of the Polartec division was on-line. By February, Feuerstein was still paying all employees and vowed to continue until at least the end of the month. With more than 70 percent of the workforce back on the premises, Feuerstein also announced that the construction outfit building the new Polartec facility was giving “first preference” to Malden’s idle employees.
As the 1990s progressed, Malden Mills’s comeback was assured and many wondered if there would be a changing of the guard. Although Aaron Feuerstein said he planned “to guide the company into the 21st century with success” and “work until the last minute of the last day,” he had, characteristically, laid the groundwork for his two sons, Daniel and Raphael, to succeed him.
Curley, Tom, “Mill Owner’s Heart Is Fabric of Mass. Town,” USA Today, January 29, 1996, n.p.
Diesenhouse, Susan, “A Textile Maker Thrives by Breaking All the Rules,” New York Times, July 24, 1994, p. F5.
Jerome, Richard, and Sawicki, Stephen, “Holding the Line,” PEOPLE Weekly, February 5, 1996, pp. 122, 123-125.
“Malden Unveils New Fleece Categories,” Sporting Goods Business, March 1992, p. 11.
“Performance Fleece Fabrics Force New Insulating Frontiers,” Sporting Goods Business, September 1991, pp. 46-47.
“P.R. for Polartec,” Wall Street Journal, March 7, 1995, p. B9.
Rotenier, Nancy, “The Golden Fleece,” Forbes, May 24, 1993, p. 220.
Witkowski, Tim, “The Glow from a Fire,” TIME, January 8,1996, n.p.
"Malden Mills Industries, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/malden-mills-industries-inc
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Malden Mills Industries, Inc.
MALDEN MILLS INDUSTRIES, INC.
American textile manufacturer
Founded: in Malden, Massachusetts, by Henry Feuerstein as Malden Knitting, 1906. Company History: Malden Knitting expanded to include Malden Spinning and Dyeing, 1923; provided U.S. Army uniforms during World War I and II; company moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1950s; developed synthetic fabric (later named Polarfleece), 1979; betted heavy on fake fur and lost, 1981; Polarfleece products selling under Polartec label flourish, 1980s; clothed the U.S. Winter Olympics team, 1992; fire wiped out major operations, 1995; opened rebuilt state-of-the-art mill facility, 1996; closed upholstery division and satellite mill, 1998; settled suit against company, 2000; forced to declare bankruptcy, 2001. Awards: citation from President Clinton, 1996; Workforce Magazine Optimas award for Managing Change, 1997. Company Address: 46 Stafford Street, Lawrence, MA 01841.
On MALDEN MILLS:
"Performance Fleece Fabrics Force New Insulating Frontiers," inSporting Goods Business, September 1991.
Rotenier, Nancy, "The Golden Fleece," in Forbes, 24 May 1993.
Diesenhouse, Susan, "A Textile Maker Thrives by Breaking All the Rules," in the New York Times, 24 July 1994.
Herszenhorn, David M., "A Plume of Hope Rises from Factory Ashes…" in the New York Times, 16 December 1995.
Witkowski, Tim, "The Glow From a Fire," in Time, 8 January 1996.
Jerome, Richard, and Stephen Sawicki, "Holding the Line," inPeople, 5 February 1996.
Teal, Thomas, "Not a Fool; Not a Saint," in Fortune, 11 November 1996.
Owens, Mitchell, "A Mill Community Comes Back to Life," in theNew York Times, 26 December 1996.
Goldberg, Carey, "A Promise is Kept," in the New York Times, 16September 1997.
Luscombe, Belinda, "Good Old Factory Values," in Time, 29 September 1997.
"Malden Mills Workers Sue Employer," in Claims, February 2000.***
Henry Feuerstein, a Hungarian immigrant, bought a small mill in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1906. At Malden Knitting, Feuerstein set about making wool "workmen's" sweaters and bathing suits. His enterprise flourished and expanded, adding Malden Spinning and Dyeing in 1923 to produce uniforms for the U.S. Army throughout World Wars I and II. By the end of the World War II, Feuerstein's son Samuel had taken the reins of the company, and Malden Knitting had begun exploring new kinds of textiles to increase production.
In the mid-1950s the company moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, and within a decade had opened several branch mills. Samuel was succeeded by his son, Aaron, who took Malden Mills into the future with automation and increased research into synthetic fabrics. Though going into fake fur proved a near-fatal blunder and the company was forced into Chapter 11 in 1981, Aaron Feuerstein and Malden Mills soon revolutionized the textile industry with a new product called Polarfleece. Originally created in 1979, Polarfleece was 100-percent polyester, capable of drawing moisture away from the body while providing warmth, and became the fabric of choice for high-performance athletic and aerobic apparel. Among Malden's first major customers was outerwear producer Patagonia, which ordered a myriad of garments made from the unusual shearling knit. Soon outfitters from across the country were bombarding Malden with orders.
With its Chapter 11 woes behind it and an incredible surge of business due to Polarfleece, Malden created several new lines of high-performance, technically advanced fabrics to service the outdoor crowd. Customized colors, thicknesses, and textures were made for clients, though imitators were many. By the end of the 1980s Malden Mills had expanded into Europe; by the end of the following decade Polarfleece, marketed and trademarked Polartec, was available in over 1,000 patterns, 5,000 colors, and 100 products—from underwear, bike shorts, and sweatshirts to jackets, wet suits, and gloves. Polartec was the industry leader; its Polarfleece was fast wicking, easily dyed, durable, partially made from recycled materials, and had one of the only nonpilling finishes. Clients like Eddie Bauer, Land's End, L.L. Bean, Ralph Lauren, and many others often based their entire outdoor or athletic collections on Polartec fabrics.
Malden began producing natural jacquard velvets in 1992, which were used in clothing as well as a number of upholstery applications, including furniture and car and infant seats. Sold the world over, the upholstery business rivaled the Polarfleece operations, but the latter initiated the Polartec Performance Challenge, sponsoring outdoor adventures like the Trango Towers Expedition in Southern Pakistan and a 4,000-mile trek in China. Malden also supported the 1992 Winter Olympics by providing Polartec fabric for the official garments worn by U.S. athletes.
Everything changed in 1995; the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission televised reports of fleece fabrics catching fire in March, and though the products were not Polartec, consumers across the nation began returning Polartec products. Malden fired a salvo of its own, launching a massive ($8.5 million) advertising campaign outlining the company's standards and its government inflammability tests (passed with flying colors). Not long after the company solidified plans for the textile manufacturing plant in Germany (as a companion to an existing Rotterdam facility), tragedy struck in December 1995. Aaron Feuerstein was celebrating his 70th birthday in a Boston restaurant when there was a tremendous explosion at Malden Mills. Fire swept through three of the company's nine buildings, injuring 33 employees and causing some $500 million in damage. Feuerstein had rushed to the scene and immediately vowed to rebuild; within a few days he had set 2 January 1996 as the company's reopening date. Feuerstein stated he not only would pay all employees their regular salaries for the next month or more, while continuing health benefits for the next three months during rebuilding, but would give all employees a small Christmas bonus.
Some called Feuerstein a saint; others a fool for not taking the insurance money and running. But most were so impressed, including Malden clients and neighboring businesses, that they too chipped in to rebuild and support the community's workers. All in all, it was a risky endeavor, but within three weeks the factory was reopened and half of Malden's workforce was in place. The new Malden Mills complex reopened in September 1996 and all was well for about a year. Then came the closure of its upholstery division in 1998, which had lost its footing after being completely destroyed. With a mild winter and an overseas recession that rocked the usually stalwart Polartec sales, Feuerstein was forced to close a satellite mill in Bridgeton and lay off hundreds of workers (who were, true to the Malden spirit, given generous severance packages).
The story of Malden Mills continued to be an eventful one; in January 2000, employees who had been injured in the 1995 fire bit the hand that had fed and clothed them—suing Feuerstein and the company for negligence. The employees had just days earlier settled an $18 million lawsuit against several Malden suppliers who they blamed for the fire. Malden itself had been cleared in a 22-month investigation by the Massachusetts Fire Marshal and in a similar investigation by the Industrial Accidents Board. Feuerstein and the disgruntled employees settled the lawsuit in December 2000; terms were not disclosed. Though Feuerstein valiantly tried to prevent it, Malden Mills was forced to declare bankruptcy in late 2001. Given the firm's history of rising from its ashes, hopefully this is another temporary lull from which Feuerstein and his employees would emerge anew.
Malden Mills will forever be remembered for two things: the generosity of Aaron Feuerstein and his unswerving belief in his company and its products. Polartec fleece products, which are now made from 100-percent recycled materials, revolutionized the textile industry and remain the fabric of choice among discriminating clothiers.
"Malden Mills Industries, Inc.." Contemporary Fashion. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/malden-mills-industries-inc
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Malden Mills Industries, Inc.
Malden Mills Industries, Inc.
46 Stafford Street
Lawrence, Massachusetts 01841
Telephone: (978) 685-6341
Fax: (978) 975-2595
Web site: www.polartec.com
FORWARD FABRIC CAMPAIGN
From its inception in 1906, Malden Mills Industries, Inc., was a leading American textile company. The firm's Polartec brand all-season synthetic fabrics, which helped pave the way for high-tech textiles, found their way into clothing made by companies like Patagonia, Columbia, and North Face. Although a fire in late 1995 destroyed the company's headquarters and all of its machinery and corporate records, a rebuilding effort had the firm back on its feet by 1997. Company reports indicated that sales reached nearly $370 million in 1997, just slightly less than the $400 million in sales prior to the fire. But a $150 million debt, caused in part by the rebuilding effort, forced Malden Mills into bankruptcy in 2001. Two years later the company emerged from bankruptcy.
With the bankruptcy in its past, Malden Mills took a new approach to promoting its flagship product, Polartec fabrics. In 2005 the company's advertising agency, Nail Communications, based in Providence, Rhode Island, replaced a previous campaign that had no tagline but that focused on outdoor sports. The new international marketing campaign focused on the Polartec brand. The campaign, estimated to cost more than $10 million, included print and outdoor advertising, television spots, and campaign-specific websites. Its theme, "Forward Fabric," was the first new tagline for the brand in more than five years.
The campaign was well received by the industry. Within weeks of the campaign's launch, Adweek published several articles praising the effort for its effectiveness and for being different from traditional advertising used by brands trying to connect with outdoor sports enthusiasts. In addition, the campaign reportedly received positive feedback from customers, such as Patagonia, that used Polartec fabrics in their garments.
Malden Mills, the textile company that became known for its Polartec all-season synthetic fabrics, had been founded in 1906 by Henry Feuerstein. In December 1995 a fire devastated the company. In addition to the 90-year-old building that housed the firm, all of the machinery used in its operations, along with the computer disks storing every textile design that had been created since the company's inception, also were lost. By June 1997, however, the company had rebuilt its facilities, and most of its 3,000 employees were back at work. But rebuilding the business was a greater challenge. Prior to the fire, the company had reported sales of about $400 million; in 1997 sales dropped to between $365 million and $370 million, according to a report in the Daily News Record. To establish an updated and a more fashionable image among consumers, Malden Mills shifted its advertising in 1997 away from special-interest publications to more mainstream and lifestyle magazines, such as Men's Health and Sports Illustrated. In addition, companies like Liz Claiborne and Polo agreed to include Polarfleece, an offshoot of Malden Mills' Polartec fabric, in their fall garment offerings.
Despite its efforts Malden Mills remained mired in a debt of more than $150 million, and in November 2001 the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Aaron Feuerstein, the company's chief operating officer and grandson of its founder, had spearheaded Malden Mills through the rebuilding following the fire, but he lost control of the firm after filing for bankruptcy. In 2004 Feuerstein resigned and was replaced by Michael Spillane. Despite fears that he was planning to close the business or move the operations offshore, the new chief operating officer forged ahead with the business. To make sure that the company's focus on high-tech fabrics was in the forefront of customers' minds, Spillane allocated more than $10 million in 2005 for a new advertising campaign to promote the Polartec brand. The campaign, which used the tagline "Forward Fabric," was the first major advertising effort for the brand since 2000.
Alec Beckett, creative partner with Nail Communications, which handled the advertising for Polartec, said during an interview that marketing textiles to consumers was like marketing the chips used in a computer or the muffler on a new car. A connection must be made in the consumer's mind between the garment being bought and the fabric it was made with, just as, for example, a connection must be made between a computer and the chips inside. He compared Polartec to the Intel chips used in Dell computers. "The idea of this campaign is to have consumers know Polartec is in it [the garment] so they want it, like when they buy a Dell computer because it has Intel inside," he explained. Customers might not fully understand the technology behind the fabric or the computer chip, but they understood that it was of good quality, which made them want to buy products that contained it.
Nate Simmons of Backbone Media, Malden Mills' public relations and marketing firm based in Carbondale, Colorado, further noted that the "Forward Fabric" campaign targeted active, outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. The advertising was designed to make athletes of any age and at any skill level aware of the ways in which the Polartec fabric in their garments could help make their activities more comfortable or could enhance their performance. He said that because of the campaign's launch in late fall, it particularly targeted skiers getting ready for the ski season.
Besides educating consumers about Polartec fabrics, the campaign also targeted clothing manufacturers by highlighting the brand's technological innovations. Beckett said, "Polartec just makes the fabric, this advertising is aimed at the people who make the garments."
U.S. MILITARY PROTECTED WITH POLARTEC PRODUCTS
In 2000 Malden Mills entered into a $17 million, three-year contract with the U.S. military to provide Polartec fabrics for clothing made for members of the U.S. Marines. In the 2005 defense spending bill, the U.S. Congress approved $21 million to fund additional Polartec garments for American troops. The 2005 program was to include providing Polartec textiles for the Army Extended Cold Weather Clothing System, the Marine Corps Mountain Cold Weather Clothing and Equipment Program, and the Navy Air Warfare Center's Multi-Climate Protection System. Polartec textiles are also used to make garments for the U.S. Air Force and for Special Operations Forces.
W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., best known for Gore-Tex, a waterproof and windproof fabric used in garments preferred by white-water rafters and snow skiers, began to market its textiles directly to consumers as well as to manufactures in 1976. In 1989 Gore enhanced its marketing program when it gave financial backing to the participation of the American explorer Will Steger in the International Trans-Antarctica Expedition. This eight-month, 4,000-mile ski and dogsled journey across Antarctica served as the heart of the company's new promotional strategy. When the company signed a marketing deal with the Weather Channel in 2000, it shifted the promotion of Gore-Tex and of products made from the fabric back to average consumers. The agreement included having meteorologists and other members of the Weather Channel crew wear Gore-Tex shoes and outerwear during on-air broadcasts. Then, in 2002 the company launched a print and television campaign under the theme "Comfort Is Where You Find It." This new advertising campaign featured people participating in a variety of activities while wearing garments made from Gore-Tex fabrics. Garments made of Gore-Tex, long a wardrobe staple of outdoorsy types, underwent a fashion makeover in 2004 when brands such as Polo RLX and London Fog began using the fabric in some of their outerwear and casual clothing.
Burlington Industries, Inc., another company known for its waterproof and oil-repellant fabrics, was on the lookout for new technologies to improve its textiles when, in 1998, it invested in a startup specialty chemical firm, NanoTex LLC. This company's scientists had developed several fabric treatments, including Nano-Care, which made fabric stain repellant, and Nano-Dry, which helped fabric wick moisture away from the skin. Burlington then licensed the NanoTex products for use by other textile mills and marketed what it called its "nanotechnology" directly to apparel brands and retailers. The company also undertook a consumer campaign, with ads in such magazines as Good Housekeeping. Despite efforts to expand its business, Burlington struggled financially, however. Burlington Worldwide was formed in 2001, but in December of that year the company, once the world's largest manufacturer of textiles, filed for bankruptcy protection. In 2003 WL Ross & Company acquired Burlington and Cone Mills, another bankrupt textile manufacturer. Ross then combined the two companies in 2004 to create the International Textile Group, with Burlington operating as a subsidiary.
Nail Communications, which served as the advertising agency for Polartec beginning in 2001, created the "Forward Fabric" campaign to increase consumer awareness of high-tech fabrics and to end confusion about what they were. The campaign also shifted the brand's traditional marketing strategy to clothing retailers like North Face and Columbia and away from promoting itself as a product element. The new global campaign included print ads, television spots, and an Internet component. Ads appeared on billboards and in airports in selected markets as well, and the advertising was translated into four languages for use in European markets.
Print ads appeared in such U.S. magazines as Outside, Shape, Freeskier, and Men's Journal and in numerous European publications, including Panorama and Terra. The ads used humor as they combined images of Polartec scientists working in their labs with images of people participating in a variety of activities while dressed in apparel made from Polartec. One ad, for example, showed a scientist on the right side of the page reaching up to write an equation on a dry-ink board with a marker, while on the left side a young man wearing Polartec athletic pants and shirt was rock climbing. The text read, "We're not all that different. You live for adrenaline. We live for moisture vapor transmission rates. Okay, we're pretty different. But we share a common goal, namely, to make your dreams possible. And while ours aren't as dramatic, we get to use big words. So there." Another ad portrayed a scientist on one side of the page writing in a notebook while on the other side a ski jumper was airborne. The text read, "You dream of fresh tracks, blue sky, and big air. Us? We get pumped about dimensional stability. Thermal transmittance. Hydrostatic resistance. Before you mention how dorky that sounds, remember—your dreams would be pretty cold and damp without ours."
Television spots used a similar format, with a split screen portraying the research and development and the production processes of Polartec on one side of the screen and athletes in a variety of outdoor pursuits wearing garments made of Polartec fabric on the other. The TV spots aired on the Resort Sports Network in ski resort towns such as Vail, Colorado, and Sun Valley, Idaho. Billboard ads were placed in Times Square in New York City, in areas that attracted heavy skier traffic, such as Salt Lake City, Denver, and Boston, and in European cities, including Grenoble, France, and Innsbruck, Austria. Other ads were located in selected airports, including Denver International and Reno/Tahoe International in Nevada.
The Internet component of the "Forward Fabric" campaign was designed to appeal to a younger audience of consumers. Nail Communications created two unconventional websites for the campaign. ShaveMyYeti.com was a game in which users used a virtual razor to shave a hairy, scowling yeti. When the creature was completely shaved and left standing hairless in his boxer shorts, the user could dress it in warm, comfy Polartec garments. The smiling yeti then happily set off on a series of adventures, from kite flying by San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge to ice skating in Manhattan's Central Park. The second website, SheepAreEvil.com, showed a sheep's head skull and crossbones against a black background. The text read as if it had been written by a bizarre conspiracy theorist who believed that sheep were plotting to take over the world. The introduction included the warning "We are the marionettes and they [the sheep] are the ones holding the strings." The site also included links such as "Nostradamus Prediction," "Crop Circles," and "Sheep and the Hindenburg."
Although the biggest buying seasons for products made of Polartec were the fall and winter, shortly after the launch of the "Forward Fabric" campaign in September 2005 industry watchdogs were already praising the effort. An article in Adweek noted that the portrayal of outdoor enthusiasts participating in their favorite activities placed side by side with the Malden Mills scientists in their offices designing the Polartec fabric used in the clothing worn by the athletes was a particularly successful strategy. Another Adweek article stated that the campaign took a "radically different approach—and to good effect." Simmons, of Backbone Media, noted that early in the campaign's run it also received positive feedback from manufacturers and retailers, such as Patagonia and REI, who used Polartec fabrics in their garments.
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