WAARSCHOOT, BE — “As the buyer, if your only interest is in price, go to India and China because we are here to do the best products,” says Thierry Van Damme, fifth generation owner of B&T Textilia and 25 years with the company.
He’s living proof that five generations of Van Dammes have found a way to flourish in the textiles business by focusing on the high end of the business.
The history of B&T Textilia is interwoven with the history of 5 generations of artisans – dating back to 1854 when the company’s founder was a maker of woollen suits and apparel fabrics. Located between the historical towns of Ghent and Bruges, “our company expanded its operations by absorbing other weaving companies in the area,” Thierry says. B&T exhibits at Heimtextil, Proposte and MoOD.
Thierry says that B&T Textilia spends 10-15 percent of its annual sales on new equipment and puts another 16 percent into R&D. “Everyone wants exclusivity so we try to give that to all of our customers.” Minimums are 100 meters per and if you want to buy tapestry designs on standards warps, the minimum is just ten meters, he says.
If you stand at the doorway of B&T Textilia during MoOD, you will see the world’s editeurs come through that door; companies like Pierre Frey and Dedar to name two.
“Craftsmanship and quality combined with the European spirit and know how enable us to produce 12th century tapestry designs. B&T is famous for chunky fabrics with stonewashed finishes. We still weave the unicorn designs,” Thierry laughs.
When the family firm Textilia bought out Bruggeman in 1991 and all remaining shares were purchased by 2006, it was renamed B&T Textilia and started up in the home furnishings side of the business; upholstery and decorative fabrics which it sells to the world’s best editeurs and some furniture manufacturers like Minotti in Italy. It counts Ralph Lauren; Knoll, Holly Hunt among its customers with 40 percent of the production devoted to the USA, its largest market. B&T has 50 employees and 30 jacquard and dobby looms that can weave large motifs 320 cm wide. Thierry likes that he is a small supplier still producing very beautiful fabrics in the 15-25 Euro price range with some fabrics selling up to 70 Euros per meter with alpaca and silk yarns.
“We work with local design schools in Ghent and Kask in Sint Lucas,” Van Damme explains about his strategy to attract designers. “We have six designers on staff and lots of freelance designers.”
The strength of B&T is the unique fancy yarns it develops in linen and wool for its outdoor collection and traditional bedcoverings. “We still buy yarn from Italy and France even though there are not a lot of yarn suppliers left,” he says. “Savonnerie and Aubusson designs sell well in the USA,” he points out.
The next generation ownership may be secured with Thierry’s two sons, 16 and 18 years old but time will tell. Thierry himself remembers that he had a legal degree and was convinced he would never go into the textiles business. Of course, he ended up doing just that!