As he gets comfortable in his new role as president of Nilit America Fibers, Bob Ferree has a simple focus in a complex world: expanding the reach of the company’s nylon fiber.
“I don’t think it’s any mystery that the industry is in the midst of a transformation,” said Ferree, who in March succeeded Basil B. “Sonny” Walker in the post upon his retirement. “Some parts of our business are stronger than others, but we’re excited about recent trends we’re seeing that indicate that our marketing and R&D efforts are starting to have an impact.”
Among the fastest growing and strongest areas of the American unit of the world’s largest nylon 6.6 producer are in the athleisure, athletic and activewear segments, as well as performance legwear.
“But we also see a lot of interest in some of our premium specialty nylon 6.6 fibers and intimates and other traditional nylon categories,” he said. “We also really love what’s happening in athletic and fashion socks.”
Ferree said Nilit’s nylon expertise and focus leaves it well positioned.
“We believe that nylon has aesthetic and performance characteristics that differentiate from other fibers, natural and man-made, in the market today, and we continue to innovate within the space,” said Ferree, who had been vice president of sales and market development. “We have several specialty yarns that provide enhanced performance attributes, such as our Nilit Breeze cooling yarns, Heat warming yarns, and Innergy yarns that invigorate and tone.”
The privately held Nilit Ltd. has production facilities in the U.S., Israel, Brazil and China, and sales, marketing and technical teams in many other regions, including Europe, Latin America and other parts of Asia.
“We believe this gives us an excellent global footprint,” said Ferree, who is based in Nilit America Fiber’s Greensboro, North Carolina, headquarters. “We’re always assessing the market and our position, and the physical position of assets is always a part of the assessment.”
He said most of what Nilit America supplies in the U.S. is produced domestically at its facility in Ridgeway, Virginia. With 165 employees, the site produces multifilament and monofilament yarns. Ferree first joined Nilit America in 2011 as plant manager at the facility.
While the plant is integral to Nilit’s overall manufacturing plan, Ferree said U.S. manufacturing and overall sourcing has its challenges today.
“We have seen some onshoring trends that have helped some companies in the U.S.,” he said. “The most significant issue right now is the uncertainty around trade policy.”
But even more challenging, Ferree said, “is the upheaval in the retail market” that presents “a huge challenge for fiber producers and the entire supply chain.”
Coinciding with the rise of e-commerce suppliers and shrinking inventories, Ferree said, “One message that we hear every day is the priority of speed to market. We see tremendous opportunity working closely with our fabric producer and brand partners in anticipating and meeting the consumer need for better brand apparel with perceptible consumer benefits.”
The military procurement market is also important for Nilit America, but military spending has been reduced, “so we’ve had to find other outlets for our fibers,” Ferree said.
“My goal for Nilit America beyond the typical business performance metrics that we all have to deliver, is to raise the penetration, profile and awareness of Nilit nylon in the markets we serve,” Ferree added. “We absolutely believe that we have a differentiated, superior product, but we are also constantly raising the bar on the service and support we offer our customers and downstream partners. We’re getting ready to announce some really exciting new marketing developments that will enhance awareness of our nylon 6.6 and we think the changes currently under way in the industry set up perfectly for us.”