• U.S.

TEXTILES: Selling the Stretch

3 minute read

As the fall selling season opened this week, the biggest news among retailers is s-t-r-e-t-c-h yarn, a yarn about as elastic as rubber. Tried out for men’s socks with hardly a whisper of publicity three years ago, and even opposed by many retailers, the longwearing elastic-stretch socks developed their own customers. They captured nearly 70% of the market in New York City and 25% across the nation, sent textile men scrambling to turn out dozens of new stretch-yarn products.

In both Northern and Southern knitting mills, looms are now weaving stretch yarn into men’s briefs, women’s girdles, T shirts, gloves, bandages, figure-tight bathing suits, swing-free golf shirts, skintight dancer’s leotards, baby rompers that will grow with the infant, and long-wearing panties that will fit any girl between two and eight.

The discovery of the yarn was a fluke. During World War II Switzerland’s Heberlein and Co., and France’s Billion et Cie. were trying to find a way to make ersatz wool. They failed to do so, but in the process made a nylon yarn that would stretch. In the Heberlein method, fibers are twisted, and the twist is set by heat, a sort of permanent-wave process. Then the fibers are broken down into single filaments, and those with a right-hand twist are plaited with others with a left-hand twist. The result is a soft, curly yarn that will stretch and snap back.

Instead of fighting each other, Billion and Heberlein got together, agreed to sell their yarn (trade name: Helanca) together in other countries, put profits in a joint account. But Helanca was not alone in the U.S. for long. Soon U.S. companies developed their own stretch yarns —Agilon, Ban-Lon, Chadolon, Shape-2-U, Fluflon and Superloft—and the whole industry bogged down in patent suits and licensing disputes. Burlington Industries, biggest U.S. textile company, was itself attached for patent infringement by Heberlein, and many other textile men were reluctant to invest money in any process that might soon be the subject of a long and expensive court fight.

But last week Burlington and Heberlein settled their dispute out of court, established an industry pattern for peace. Burlington has also joined up with a domestic competitor, Chadbourn Hosiery Mills, Inc., and organized Patentex, Inc., to handle licensing. By last week, Patentex had taken over 51 domestic and 47 foreign licenses. The industry was ready to produce—and to promote. Led by Nylon Manufacturer du Pont, more than a million dollars worth of advertising has been scheduled for the fall to create a bigger demand for stretch yarn and its many new products.

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