Small Orders Keep Specialty Mill R&D Weavers Alive As Imports Continue to Erode American Market in Home and Contract Fabrics

May 18, 2015

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ELLENBORO, North Carolina — R&D Weaving, a small North Carolina mill, is launching its first jacquard design line “in exchange for replacing business that’s been lost to offshore,” according to Richard Dobbins, President.

He further explains that R&D is in the contract fabrics market and the imports have crept more into contract fabric from home furnishings. He says R&D is still feeling the effects of the imports, even though there has been an industry-wide decline in offshoring in the USA. In referring to the move to jacquards he says, “it’s not really growth. For example, R&D used to make 5,000 yards a week of cubicle fabric for Bush Industries. Now the entire cubicle product line including the fabric is produced in China. When you go into Staples and Home Depot and see those Bush Industries cubicle displays, those are now 100 percent Chinese.”  R&D jacquard designR&D jacquard design

“Back then, the regulations said you could bring in just the components, like the fiber to make your own yarn. Now the regulations say you can bring in complete furniture,” he says. At the end of the day, R&D remains focused on its small but highly specialized niche business.

“We have a niche: we offer the small customer a reasonable minimum. Most of the big companies have built in China. But we’re a small company with a specialty product or color in a smaller run of 500 yards,” says Dobbins.

For contract work, R&D Weaving does 100 percent polyester, polyester blend, and 100 percent olefin products. Their price point is about $5-7 per yard.

“We have customers wanting a small order without having to buy tonnage. For example, we have a coordinator of Civil War Reenactments. He buys less than 1,000 yards. We run the wool fabrics in a natural state of cream color. And he uses vegetable dyes to make the uniforms,” says Dobbins.

With about a dozen employees and $2-3 million in sales per year, they operate under the radar. But since 1988, their long-running success can be attributed to one mindset: “We are not big, but we are special,” says Richard Dobbins, principal.

R&D does contract fabrics, specialty weavings, gifts and promotions. In fact, its conrtact fabric work runs the gamut from church pews to casino gaming table tops––and any other conceivable industry in between.

For the military, R&D weaves fabric that is inherently fire retardant. “It is not a finish,” Dobbins stresses; self-extinguishing sulfur is actually woven into the molecular structure of the yarn. It’s for transportation planes for the Air Force,” Dobbins says.

R&D also creates the fabric used in stealth fighters, he says. A California seat company won the contract and R&D makes a 900-yard special order fabric in a special color/texture weave with a special weight, as the ounces were specified per square yard.

“For one of the naval submarines either the USS New Mexico or USS Arizona –– we wove a jacquard upholstery in a Southwestern theme because that’s the design they wanted,” Dobbins explains.

Ninety percent of R&D Weaving’s work is in the U.S. They do have one military contractor in London, as well as some manufacturers in Mexico and Colombia.

Robert Martin, who is still with the company and answers the phone himself, founded the company.

“Our owner started in a small building across the street. He kept the looms and got involved when Mastercraft, a former division of the now defunct Collins & Aikman, which had a 26-week backlog at the time. It wasn’t hard to get a loom running in the 1980s. We did commission weaving. As business went on, we started offering the finished product,” Dobbins says of the company’s history.

R&D has done fabric for Cineplex’s and auditorium-type seating. It has also done fabric for acoustical panels, sound booths, and sound dampening ceiling panels. In classrooms, chalkboards have evolved into fabric boards (with Velcro® and push pins), which R&D Weaving manufactures.

Most of the casino gaming table fabric is solid black, “but some orders are for earth tones, too,” says Dobbins.

For gifts and promotions, R&D weaves Afghans for schools, churches, town bicentennials, high school graduating classes, and school fundraisers. It also weaves nylon, rayon, chenille, and polyester yarn.



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