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At 125, textile mill a success

At 125, textile mill a success

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A company that survives 125 years must be doing something right. If it’s a textile company, then it must be doing lots of things right.

That’s the story of Glen Raven , an Alamance County company that has learned new ways to operate an old business. And it has the awards to prove it.

On Thursday, as it began the celebration of its 125th anniversary, the company received the 2005 Innovation Award given by Textile World magazine.

“Many talk about innovation, but few companies can respond to the changes innovation demands,” James M. Borneman, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, wrote in the June issue. “Glen Raven is one of those few.”

The magazine award is given annually to recognize outstanding accomplishments in the textile field.

It comes after Glen Raven has challenged employees to offer ideas for new products or company improvements.

“The primary reason we have been successful for 125 years is the fact that our company has been and continues to be highly innovative,” Allen E. Gant Jr., Glen Raven’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Innovation is our watch word today as the textile industry continues to go through fundamental changes.”

Glen Raven traces its roots to John Q. Gant, a Civil War veteran, and Allen Gant’s grandfather. After the war, John Gant began working for a cotton mill in Altamahaw, and throughout the 1870s, he purchased shares of the business. By 1880, he had acquired all the company’s stock.

The business later became J.Q. Gant Manufacturing Co. and eventually Glen Raven.

The company has had a long history of leading change.

During the 1880s, Glen Raven was one of the first mills in the South to dye fabrics.

In the 1930s, it was one of the first to adopt synthetic fibers and build knitting operations, which led to its growth in women’s hosiery.

In 1959, the company developed panty hose, a product line that continued into the 1990s.

During World War II, the company began to make parachute fabrics, a product line that continues today in the manufacture of chute material for heavy equipment.

In 1948, Glen Raven opened a weaving operation in Burnsville that focused on nylon and polyester used in a range of products, including luggage and sails.

In 1960, the company introduced its Sunbrella line used in awnings, casual furniture, market umbrellas, marine covers and convertible tops.

In 1969, the first flag planted on the moon was made of Glen Raven fabric. The company still makes flag material.

In 1998, the company expanded its global presence by acquiring Dickson SA, a French textile company and major competitor. And it is building a 150,000-square-foot plant in China to support its Sunbrella brand.

Glen Raven has plants in North America, Asia and Europe , and it sells products in 127 countries. It employs about 2,500 worldwide.

During the past five to seven years, Gant said, the company has moved away from making fabrics for traditional clothing, an area that continues to suffer from growing imports.

“We made some very tough decisions, and we changed the company,” Gant said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We changed the direction, and we changed the innovation.”

In addition to its Sunbrella fabrics, the company also operates a division that serves the protective apparel, automotive, marine, military and government markets.

“We think of ourselves as merchants,” Gant told Textile World. “We don’t have all the answers. We are neophytes. ... (But) there is a world of opportunity out there.”

Contact Donald W. Patterson at 373-7027 or donpatterson

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