TIELT, BE — Van Maele Weavers, a linen weaver since 1906 has recovered from tough times thanks to the sale of 60 per cent of the company to Garnell-Lake LLC, a group which also operates three company owned showrooms in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York known as Dessin Fournir based in Plainville, Kansas and another 13 agency showrooms.
The last thing to come out of Kansas was Dorothy and her dog Toto in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ but Chuck Comeau, Chairman of Garnell Lake and co-founder of Dessin Fournir specializes in luxury furniture, lighting and textiles. Comeau is something of a wizard in the way Van Maele has turned itself around according to Carl Holcomb, CEO of 111-year-old linen mill that was previously called O.J. Van Maele. Dessin Fournir has been a customer of Van Maele all along.
From the start of the acquisition process in the fall of 2015, it was understood that O.J. Van Maele would be allowed to continue to build on its legacy under the new name of Van Maele Weavers and would run the business as a separate entity, reporting directly to the investor group.
Comeau talks for the group of partners who bought the majority interest and they have given Van Maele “the financial clout needed to survive,” Holcomb says. With the support of Comeau and his group, Van Maele was able to restructure the business and rehire its old staff which was let go when times turned tough in July, 2015.
“Today, we’re moving again,” Holcomb told F&FI during the last Proposte Fair in Como. “We started with a whole new look last year based on Japan. This year, we based our new collection on Africa.” Holcomb indicates that this thematic effort will continue with a new collection every year. Felicia Anne French, President of Opuzen and a Van Maele customer gave the Africa collection high marks during Proposte.
Holcomb says Van Maele owns 32 up-to-date Dornier looms with finishing capabilities. The company is a producer of high-end textiles and wallcoverings, while linen still makes up most of its production.
Holcomb points out that his firm is producing more and more linen blends with cotton, silk, alpaca mohair, raffia, abaca and horsehair as opposed to 100 percent linen.
“We’re using these mixes of natural fibers because it is then more difficult to copy our fabrics. It is easier to copy 100 percent linen fabrics,” Holcomb explains. (Editor’s note: Everyone knows what the Chinese are doing to the linen industry with 100 percent linen fabrics at very low prices.)
Prices on the new Van Maele Africa collection are as follows: sheers sell for 16-18 Euros per meter; upholstery is 18-20 Euros; colored linen blends are 20-28 Euros; linen wallcoverings are priced at 28 Euros in narrow widths while as much as 60 percent of the other fabrics are sold in wide widths.