American textile manufacturer
Founded: in Malden, Massachusetts, by Henry Feuerstein as Malden Knitting, 1906. Company History: Malden Knitting expanded to include Malden Spinning and Dyeing, 1923; provided U.S. Army uniforms during World War I and II; company moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1950s; developed synthetic fabric (later named Polarfleece), 1979; betted heavy on fake fur and lost, 1981; Polarfleece products selling under Polartec label flourish, 1980s; clothed the U.S. Winter Olympics team, 1992; fire wiped out major operations, 1995; opened rebuilt state-of-the-art mill facility, 1996; closed upholstery division and satellite mill, 1998; settled suit against company, 2000; forced to declare bankruptcy, 2001. Awards: citation from President Clinton, 1996; Workforce Magazine Optimas award for Managing Change, 1997. Company Address: 46 Stafford Street, Lawrence, MA 01841.
On MALDEN MILLS:
"Performance Fleece Fabrics Force New Insulating Frontiers," in Sporting Goods Business, September 1991.
Rotenier, Nancy, "The Golden Fleece," in Forbes, 24 May 1993.
Diesenhouse, Susan, "A Textile Maker Thrives by Breaking All the Rules," in the New York Times, 24 July 1994.
Lee, Melissa, "Malden Looks Spiffy in New England Textile Gloom," in the Wall Street Journal, 10 November 1995.
Herszenhorn, David M., "A Plume of Hope Rises from Factory Ashes…" in the New York Times, 16 December 1995.
Witkowski, Tim, "The Glow From a Fire," in Time, 8 January 1996.
Jerome, Richard, and Stephen Sawicki, "Holding the Line," in People, 5 February 1996.
Teal, Thomas, "Not a Fool; Not a Saint," in Fortune, 11 November 1996.
Owens, Mitchell, "A Mill Community Comes Back to Life," in the New York Times, 26 December 1996.
Goldberg, Carey, "A Promise is Kept," in the New York Times, 16September 1997.
Luscombe, Belinda, "Good Old Factory Values," in Time, 29 September 1997.
"Malden Mills Workers Sue Employer," in Claims, February 2000.
Henry Feuerstein, a Hungarian immigrant, bought a small mill in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1906. At Malden Knitting, Feuerstein set about making wool "workmen's" sweaters and bathing suits. His enterprise flourished and expanded, adding Malden Spinning and Dyeing in 1923 to produce uniforms for the U.S. Army throughout World Wars I and II. By the end of the World War II, Feuerstein's son Samuel had taken the reins of the company, and Malden Knitting had begun exploring new kinds of textiles to increase production.
In the mid-1950s the company moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, and within a decade had opened several branch mills. Samuel was succeeded by his son, Aaron, who took Malden Mills into the future with automation and increased research into synthetic fabrics. Though going into fake fur proved a near-fatal blunder and the company was forced into Chapter 11 in 1981, Aaron Feuerstein and Malden Mills soon revolutionized the textile industry with a new product called Polarfleece. Originally created in 1979, Polarfleece was 100-percent polyester, capable of drawing moisture away from the body while providing warmth, and became the fabric of choice for high-performance athletic and aerobic apparel. Among Malden's first major customers was outerwear producer Patagonia, which ordered a myriad of garments made from the unusual shearling knit. Soon outfitters from across the country were bombarding Malden with orders.
With its Chapter 11 woes behind it and an incredible surge of business due to Polarfleece, Malden created several new lines of high-performance, technically advanced fabrics to service the outdoor crowd. Customized colors, thicknesses, and textures were made for clients, though imitators were many. By the end of the 1980s Malden Mills had expanded into Europe; by the end of the following decade Polarfleece, marketed and trademarked Polartec, was available in over 1,000 patterns, 5,000 colors, and 100 products—from underwear, bike shorts, and sweatshirts to jackets, wet suits, and gloves. Polartec was the industry leader; its Polarfleece was fast wicking, easily dyed, durable, partially made from recycled materials, and had one of the only nonpilling finishes. Clients like Eddie Bauer, Land's End, L.L. Bean, Ralph Lauren, and many others often based their entire outdoor or athletic collections on Polartec fabrics.
Malden began producing natural jacquard velvets in 1992, which were used in clothing as well as a number of upholstery applications, including furniture and car and infant seats. Sold the world over, the upholstery business rivaled the Polarfleece operations, but the latter initiated the Polartec Performance Challenge, sponsoring outdoor adventures like the Trango Towers Expedition in Southern Pakistan and a 4,000-mile trek in China. Malden also supported the 1992 Winter Olympics by providing Polartec fabric for the official garments worn by U.S. athletes.
Everything changed in 1995; the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission televised reports of fleece fabrics catching fire in March, and though the products were not Polartec, consumers across the nation began returning Polartec products. Malden fired a salvo of its own, launching a massive ($8.5 million) advertising campaign outlining the company's standards and its government inflammability tests (passed with flying colors). Not long after the company solidified plans for the textile manufacturing plant in Germany (as a companion to an existing Rotterdam facility), tragedy struck in December 1995. Aaron Feuerstein was celebrating his 70th birthday in a Boston restaurant when there was a tremendous explosion at Malden Mills. Fire swept through three of the company's nine buildings, injuring 33 employees and causing some $500 million in damage. Feuerstein had rushed to the scene and immediately vowed to rebuild; within a few days he had set 2 January 1996 as the company's reopening date. Feuerstein stated he not only would pay all employees their regular salaries for the next month or more, while continuing health benefits for the next three months during rebuilding, but would give all employees a small Christmas bonus.
Some called Feuerstein a saint; others a fool for not taking the insurance money and running. But most were so impressed, including Malden clients and neighboring businesses, that they too chipped in to rebuild and support the community's workers. All in all, it was a risky endeavor, but within three weeks the factory was reopened and half of Malden's workforce was in place. The new Malden Mills complex reopened in September 1996 and all was well for about a year. Then came the closure of its upholstery division in 1998, which had lost its footing after being completely destroyed. With a mild winter and an overseas recession that rocked the usually stalwart Polartec sales, Feuerstein was forced to close a satellite mill in Bridgeton and lay off hundreds of workers (who were, true to the Malden spirit, given generous severance packages).
The story of Malden Mills continued to be an eventful one; in January 2000, employees who had been injured in the 1995 fire bit the hand that had fed and clothed them—suing Feuerstein and the company for negligence. The employees had just days earlier settled an $18 million lawsuit against several Malden suppliers who they blamed for the fire. Malden itself had been cleared in a 22-month investigation by the Massachusetts Fire Marshal and in a similar investigation by the Industrial Accidents Board. Feuerstein and the disgruntled employees settled the lawsuit in December 2000; terms were not disclosed. Though Feuerstein valiantly tried to prevent it, Malden Mills was forced to declare bankruptcy in late 2001. Given the firm's history of rising from its ashes, hopefully this is another temporary lull from which Feuerstein and his employees would emerge anew.
Malden Mills will forever be remembered for two things: the generosity of Aaron Feuerstein and his unswerving belief in his company and its products. Polartec fleece products, which are now made from 100-percent recycled materials, revolutionized the textile industry and remain the fabric of choice among discriminating clothiers.