Industry Inside: From trash to fashion

By Kitsey Burns Harrison - kburns@yadkinripple.com
Unifi is recognized with an Economic Development Award at the annual Chamber banquet with Smitty Williams accepting that award. - File photos
Unifi CEO Kevin Hall, right, shakes hands with Governor Roy Cooper. - File photos
Governor Roy Cooper tours the Unifi REPREVE manufacturing plant in Yadkinville with Operations Manager Barry Shore. - File photos
Cone Denim and Unifi, Inc. introduce the latest in advanced stretch technology — S GENE with REPREVE. - - File photos
Colorful yarns produced by local company Unifi. - - File photos
Barry Shore, operations manager at Unifi, shows a sample of the REPREVE chip made from recycled bottles, which eventually becomes yarn for apparel and upholstery. - - File photos
The JCPenney product development and design team accepts the REPREVE Champions of Sustainability award in early February. At the presentations are, from left, Dwayne Ayers, brand sales manager for UNIFI; Pamela Velez, senior designer for JCPenney; Kenny Stewart, product innovation senior manager for JCPenney; Jay Hertwig, vice president of Global Brand Sales for UNIFI; Ashia Elliott, designer for JCPenney; Navendu Sharma, fabric research and development senior manager for JCPenney; Donnie Harrison, product innovation senior manager for JCPenney. - - Photos courtesy of Unifi
- - Photos courtesy of Unifi

It’s a simple task, tossing that plastic water bottle into a recycle bin. The number of bottles quickly grows though and not only results in a cleaner environment, but those bottles can become something beautiful to wear as well.

Unifi recently announced that its REPREVE division, which makes a textile yarn product from recycled plastic bottles, had hit the 10 billion bottle mark, with a goal of recycling 20 billion bottles by 2020.

Kaye Flippin, spinning plant manager at Unifi, said that there are plastic pellets the equivalent of 56 million plastic bottles at any given time in the two large silos outside the Yadkinville facility.

“It’s amazing,” she said. Flippin has worked at Unifi for many years, but she still gets a thrill out of the fact that the yarn she helps to produce is now made from recycled plastic bottles.

Spinning Site Manager Dennis Joyner is another employee who is amazed daily at the new products made using REPREVE . He recalled shopping at Belk and another shopper commented on his love for a certain brand of men’s slacks. Little did he know that he was talking to one of the people responsible for making the yarn that was used to produce the pants.

“There’s a lot of pride in that,” Joyner said. “I played a role in that guy’s enjoyment and sense of pride that he has when he puts that garment on.”

Barry Shore, operations manager, shared a similar story. He said he enjoys watching other customers take notice of labels that indicate the recycled material REPREVE was used in producing a garment.

Joyner said recycling wasn’t an everyday topic of conversation when he was growing up, but it is for his children. He said he now takes great pride in seeing them learn about sustainable environmental practices and making the choice to toss those plastic bottles into the recycling bin, rather than the trash.

In 2012, Unifi took a big step towards sustainability by moving to recycling nearly every bit of waste at the plant and becoming landfill free. Shore said that 98 percent of the waste at the Yadkinville plant is recyclable in some way. The two percent that cannot be recycled is eliminated by way of an incinerator.

In addition to making the world a better place through sustainable environmental practices, recycling bottles also results in jobs. According to the Carolina Plastics Recycling Association, 3,500 people are directly employed in the Carolinas as a result of recycled bottles. Unifi’s REPREVE plant in Yadkinville alone employs 1,100 people.

Unifi also is making an impression with young people by offering educational tours to area schools where students can learn more about how the REPREVE product is made.

Brian Borger, recycling center plant manager, said the students are impressed when it’s put into terms of brand names. Students are able to see the process at the plant that went into making the yarn used to create the North Face jacket they are wearing.

“You see it really click for them,” Borger said.

The brands using REPREVE yarn represent a wide range and is continually growing. North Face was one of the first to begin using REPREVE. Target’s Cat and Jack kids clothing line, Patagonia, Under Armour, Gildan, New Balance, and Nike are just a few of the others that use REPREVE.

This year Unifi began honoring the brands using REPREVE by presenting companies with its Champions of Sustainability awards. J.C. Penney is just one of the companies recently honored as a Champion of Sustainability.

The company is making great strides in so many areas and most of all bringing a sense of pride for a product that begins right here in Yadkin County.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.

Unifi is recognized with an Economic Development Award at the annual Chamber banquet with Smitty Williams accepting that award.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_annMeet18-formatted-1.jpgUnifi is recognized with an Economic Development Award at the annual Chamber banquet with Smitty Williams accepting that award. File photos

Unifi CEO Kevin Hall, right, shakes hands with Governor Roy Cooper.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_cooper_6-1.jpgUnifi CEO Kevin Hall, right, shakes hands with Governor Roy Cooper. File photos

Governor Roy Cooper tours the Unifi REPREVE manufacturing plant in Yadkinville with Operations Manager Barry Shore.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_cooper_1-1.jpgGovernor Roy Cooper tours the Unifi REPREVE manufacturing plant in Yadkinville with Operations Manager Barry Shore. File photos

Cone Denim and Unifi, Inc. introduce the latest in advanced stretch technology — S GENE with REPREVE.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_Sgene_2_formatted-1.jpgCone Denim and Unifi, Inc. introduce the latest in advanced stretch technology — S GENE with REPREVE. File photos

Colorful yarns produced by local company Unifi.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_IMG_4972-1.jpgColorful yarns produced by local company Unifi. File photos

Barry Shore, operations manager at Unifi, shows a sample of the REPREVE chip made from recycled bottles, which eventually becomes yarn for apparel and upholstery.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_IMG_4945-1.jpgBarry Shore, operations manager at Unifi, shows a sample of the REPREVE chip made from recycled bottles, which eventually becomes yarn for apparel and upholstery. File photos

The JCPenney product development and design team accepts the REPREVE Champions of Sustainability award in early February. At the presentations are, from left, Dwayne Ayers, brand sales manager for UNIFI; Pamela Velez, senior designer for JCPenney; Kenny Stewart, product innovation senior manager for JCPenney; Jay Hertwig, vice president of Global Brand Sales for UNIFI; Ashia Elliott, designer for JCPenney; Navendu Sharma, fabric research and development senior manager for JCPenney; Donnie Harrison, product innovation senior manager for JCPenney.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_Unifi-COS-awards-JC-Penney-formatted-1.jpgThe JCPenney product development and design team accepts the REPREVE Champions of Sustainability award in early February. At the presentations are, from left, Dwayne Ayers, brand sales manager for UNIFI; Pamela Velez, senior designer for JCPenney; Kenny Stewart, product innovation senior manager for JCPenney; Jay Hertwig, vice president of Global Brand Sales for UNIFI; Ashia Elliott, designer for JCPenney; Navendu Sharma, fabric research and development senior manager for JCPenney; Donnie Harrison, product innovation senior manager for JCPenney. Photos courtesy of Unifi

https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/industry-inside-logo-2.pdfPhotos courtesy of Unifi
Unifi uses recycled bottles to create yarn for apparel

By Kitsey Burns Harrison

kburns@yadkinripple.com

The Unifi Story

The roots of the Unifi story actually began before the birth of the company’s founder, George Allen Mebane IV, who was born in 1929 in Greensboro. Mebane’s great-great-grandfather owned a cotton mill, the workings of which intrigued young Allen. After attending the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now known as Philadelphia University), Mebane spent the next 21 years working various textile jobs until investing in and opening Unifi in 1971. The corporate headquarters were established in Greensboro, and a polyester texturing plant was started in Yadkinville, which still remains in operation today.

Unifi prospered during the early and mid-1970s, but the popularity of polyester started to plunge by the late ’70s. Dismissed by retailers and consumers as a fad, polyester’s appeal faded as markets looked to natural fibers such as cotton, silk and wool.

During the downturn of the market, Unifi benefited from the initial strategy employed by Mebane and his management team of investing in cutting-edge manufacturing equipment. Today this strategy continues to provide the company with long-term cost and quality advantages over competitors in a price-sensitive market flooded with overcapacity.

Unifi began its international focus in the ’80s. Pursuing new international customers in Latin America, South America, Australia, Israel, Africa, and the Far East, Unifi was among the first U.S. companies to begin selling to China when opening its doors to exports in 1980. Also vital was the company’s entrance into Europe, acquiring plants in Ireland and England. In addition, the company diversified into nylon, developing a niche in the hosiery business. By 1991, Unifi was one of the largest manufacturers of polyester and nylon in the world.

With continuing success throughout the 1980s, the company experienced even greater expansion and profitability during the early 1990s. Even while the markets were down, Unifi’s leadership emphasized long-term growth, exploring new markets for its polyester and nylon to increase the company’s share of the market. During this time, many of its less efficient competitors were forced out of the industry. The collapsing market led to many acquisitions in the ’90s and as a result, Unifi was better positioned to take advantage of recovering markets.

In the early 2000s, Unifi employed a new strategy to competitively position the company for the growing global competition. Unifi began investing in product innovation and marketing to provide its global customer base with differentiated products. Some of the new yarn developments included permanent properties such as odor control, UV protection and moisture management. As a part of the new marketing strategy, Unifi began branding its products with names like A.M.Y., MYNX UV, SATURA, SORBTEK and the latest introduction, REPREVE.