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Casual industry names 2006 Lifetime Achievement honorees

Allen Swers and W.C. Vice to be honored at Casual Market in September

Allen Swers and William Carlton (W.C.) Vice will receive the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Casual Furniture Retailers and the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association.

CFR and SCFMA developed the Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the casual furniture industry and to their communities. Swers and Vice will be honored at the 47th annual Apollo Awards Banquet Sept. 15 during the International Casual Furniture and Accessories Market in Chicago.

W.C. Vice

W.C. Vice was born into a farming family in the small community of Carlisle, Ky., and began his career as an entrepreneur at age 21 with the purchase of a small grocery store. After operating the grocery for eight years, he joined Vogue Rattan Co. in Lexington, Ky., where he spent the next decade moving up the ranks to vice president and director of sales — and developing a passion for the casual furniture industry.

At age 37, Vice left Vogue Rattan and opened his own casual furniture store in Lexington with his wife Betty. Casual Living and Patio Center now operates two stores in Lexington and two in Louisville with a total of 35 employees.

Vice was a charter member of the National Association of Casual Furniture Retailers and served as its first treasurer. His store has been nominated for the industry's prestigious Apollo Award for retailing excellence more than a dozen times and has won the honor twice, in 1974 and 1995.

In his community, Vice is an active member of Trinity Baptist Church of Lexington, serving at various times as deacon chairman, finance chairman and treasurer. Until recently, he and his wife delivered weekly meals to local shut-ins as part of the church's "Meals on Wheels" ministry. He retired from the business in 2005 after sustaining injuries in a fall at his home. His son, Carl, now runs the four stores, which also employ his two daughters, Linda and Lydia, along with a son-in-law and a granddaughter.

Allen Swers

Swers helped found the outdoor furniture fabric industry in 1982 after coming across a Glen Raven awning and marine sample book. "I was amazed to learn that solution-dyed acrylic fabrics carried a five-year warranty against fading in the sun," he recalled. After 29 years in the upholstery and drapery fabric industry, Swers saw an opportunity for outdoor fabric manufacturing. "At that time, only vinyl straps and woven PVC were used on outdoor furniture. I believed that a fabric with a soft hand that did not fade in the sun and that was easily washed, with better designs, would be ideal for the casual industry."

Swers recalled the half-hour meeting he arranged with the general manager of Glen Raven's custom fabrics division turned into a three-day summit. At the end, Sunbrella Furniture Fabrics was born.

Swers and his wife Renee designed new striped fabrics to correlate with the solids in Glen Raven's existing inventory. "At the 1983 Casual Market, my son Arthur and I were dressed in suits made of the same Sunbrella fabric on the chairs in our booth," Swers said. "We would smear mustard, ketchup and butter to show the trade that the fabric could easily be cleaned. I stapled a multicolored piece of Sunbrella to a wood tongue depressor and put it in a jar of Clorox. The colors did not fade, and that convinced many attendees that, maybe, this product had some merit."

Acceptance was slow at first, but by the mid-1990s, the outdoor fabric business had exploded. Swers helped develop jacquards and dobbies, then prints, and, more recently, rib fabrics, linen weaves and dupionis.

Swers retired in May 2003 at age 82, ending more than two decades of innovation at Glen Raven.

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