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Textile News

Burlington Turns 90

Greensboro, N.C.-based Burlington, a division of International Textile Group Inc. (ITG), is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

The company was established in 1923 in Burlington, N.C., by J. Spencer Love, who had purchased his uncle's textile mill in Gastonia and moved the machinery and equipment to Burlington. The new company produced cotton fabrics, but as cotton became less popular, it began to produce rayon fabrics and soon became the leading rayon fabrics producer in the United States.

Burlington expanded quickly by acquiring and reopening shuttered textile mills, even during the Great Depression. It moved its headquarters to Greensboro in 1935, and by 1936, it operated 22 plants and reported revenues totaling $25 million. It was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1937. During World War II, it turned its attention to military textiles and developed parachute cloth made with nylon, which was invented in the 1930s by DuPont scientist Wallace Carothers and was used as a replacement for silk and rayon.

After the war ended, Burlington continued to grow and also to develop nylon fabrics for a range of applications including apparel, furniture, home furnishings, hosiery, industrial and specialty applications. By 1973, the company operated 169 plants around the world and employed 88,000 workers. However, its growth became stymied by an influx of imports, and it turned its attention to product specialization and plant modernization, with the implementation of more efficient processes to enable it to compete in a global market.

In 1987, Burlington was the subject of a hostile takeover attempt, which it defeated, and it subsequently downsized and became a private company. By 1992, it re-emerged as a public company, but it continued to face challenges from imports and incurred debts that forced it to restructure in 2003. At that time, it was acquired by WL Ross & Company and made a part of ITG.

Today, Burlington — with eight manufacturing sites in the United States, Mexico and China — specializes in technology-driven fabrics for outdoor active, casual, military and uniform apparel; as well as for automotive, barrier, fire protection and contract hospitality applications. The Burlington Labs division was established in 2006 to further research applicable textile technologies and serve as a knowledge bank.

"Burlington's successes came from its innovations with new products, new machinery, and new branding strategies, and we congratulate the men and women of Burlington, both today and generations before us, for their contributions to this great brand," said Joseph L. Gorga, CEO, ITG.

Burlington employees pose in front of Pioneer Plant, Burlington's first plant, in the 1920s. To the far right is company founder J. Spencer Love.

December 17, 2013