FALL RIVER, Massachusetts - With five new collections launching, Bea Spires and her design team are building Canada-based Victor into an industry leader whose success they plan will rival that of Quaker's in its heyday. That time of success for Quaker helped influence Victor's president, Alain Duval, to purchase the bankrupt company's assets and intellectual property in 2007 during auction. Since then, Spires, Director of Design for Residential Fabrics, has brought renewed energy to Victor and along with some of her former Quaker colleagues, has helped Victor become the name to know in the industry. Coming to Victor from Quaker, Spires said she has gained a new perspective because, as she said, ''it has to be a new perspective.''
''We can't do things the way we used to do them,'' Spires continued. ''We have to keep our minds open and that's what makes my job so exciting is that everything is always changing - the system, the way we work, the way we get information. It's made me more responsive and more adaptive to change - being prepared for anything that can happen.''
As part of the innovation that Spires and her design team at Victor are pushing, the company is launching a new Terrazzo collection of indoor/outdoor fabrics as well as a new World at Home collection, which started at Quaker and encompasses products designed here and sourced in China, though the newly-branded name suggests that future sourcing will be worldwide. ''Right now we're designing a collection in Fall River utilizing all developed yarns by Victor but manufactured in China,'' said Spires of the line. ''Our plans are to also source from other parts of the world, we don't want to close the door.''
Another collection is part of the Atelier line, which focuses on the mid to upper end, and a fourth is from eHome, which is a line reflective of Victor's environmental efforts.
''Our plans are to offer a variety of possibilities for the customer such as using post-consumer and organic yarns like hemp, bamboo,'' said Spires. ''We have the recycled, post consumer now and we're in the process of developing the natural yarns. We have the organic cotton now and will be producing a collection. We'll be releasing that in the next two seasons.''
In addition to heading up the design for the collections in these various lines, Spires is also in charge of overseeing the design team of the newly-acquired Craftex line.
''Craftex will bring a tradition, a name,'' said Spires. ''It's a certain look, it provides a quality product. It's for the upper-end focused for the jobber, the high-end furniture manufacturers will fall into this category too. The beautiful, more bohemian look that Craftex has will continue, but with a more traditional, uptown look. It provides a more upper-crest collection that Victor is not doing now.''
''I think the important thing is that when Craftex was purchased, we purchased the rights to the intellectual property, the beautiful artwork, constructions, etc., so there will be no hiccups. Ninety-five percent of what was with Craftex will stay, and the added value will be with the possibilities of Craftex now with the new tools and finishings we have available with our vertical mill. It's only going to get better.''
Terri Blum, who was the design director at Craftex, was hired by Victor to continue her work and work with the designers and Spires. Victor also hired Denise Gutierrez, Merchandising Manager for Craftex, and within the team there is also Dawn Stopka, a master-level designer with many years of experience in who will also be working on Craftex. ''She and Terri are the key people but as you can see, all efforts have been made to make sure the Craftex look stays,''said Spires. The Craftex design team reports to Spires. It's just about juggling all the different varieties and making sure all the design trends are focused and that we're all traveling to stay on top of trends and keeping everyone happy.''
As for travel, Spires says some shows are not to be missed as far as trend-setting goes. Maison et Objet is one, and another is MoOD (formerly known as Decosit). ''Obviously research is extremely important, as designers, everything we see influences us,'' said Spires. There's no better place than New York to really get a feel of trends, be able to walk retail and see what's going on.''
After years of leading the design efforts at Quaker, spending years at Milliken, and growing up with a mother who owned a small fabric shop, Bea Spires not only knows where to look for trends, she knows how to set them. Transitioning from Quaker, once the largest American mill, to Victor was ''fabulous,''she said, and refers to Victor as the ''white horse'' that came to her rescue back in '07.
''Victor came in and they kept our products alive,'' said Spires. ''They came in and helped save all this wonderful work that had been created and gave it a future.''
But because of the nature of Quaker's demise, of course the process was not completely effortless. "Unfortunately a lot had been lost because of the time span," said Spires. "We weren't able to take care of our wonderful customers. There was close to a billion products around the world – our competitors tried to help our customers in many ways which was wonderful, but we had so many unique yarns and kinds of products, so that was difficult. How do you recover from that? You don't. You start over. That's been the wonderful challenge. We continued offering the products, but so many had been replaced, Victor had to start over. It was a new upholstery company, a new business for Victor."
Spires also said it has been a challenge to spread the word about the company and get the industry to understand that Victor was an important player in the industry. Customers were asking "Who is Victor?" not knowing that it was the name of the company and not an individual. According to Spires, her contacts would say, "We know Bea, we know some of the designers, but who is Victor?" "It was about building that relationship and confidence," she said.
At June's Showtime fabric fair in High Point, North Carolina, Victor introduced the new collections and had the Craftex team with them and Spires said that's when it felt that customers gave them a "seal of approval as a big player."
"At the time [of the Quaker acquisition] I knew of Victor, but I didn't know the people," said Spires. "It's a young company, very focused and creative. I would say with the team that Mr. Duval has put together, all doors are open. I think Victor is definitely the new player on the team. We are a textile company; whatever we can manufacture and make for a variety of consumers is our plan. We aren't going to limit Victor – we are focusing on residential now – we really feel we can conquer it. We're well known in our contract sector, but the door is wide open for future innovative products. It's been a hope for our industry. When everything seems to be closing, we have a company that is preparing for the future."