Bella-Dura endures outdoor elements in style
Family owned company weaves pride into American-made fabrics
Julie Gillespie -- Casual Living, 1/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
In 1985, 32-Year-old Irwin Gasner had only recently taken over operations at the textile mill that his father and grandfather had dedicated their lives to building. On Labor Day of that same year, it burned to the ground. So Gasner did what his father and grandfather had done countless times before him: He made something out of nothing. Today, his business weaves one of the best performance textiles available.
But, let's go back to the beginning. In the 1940s, Philip Gasner and his son, Meyer, founded Wearbest, crafting silk linings for men's suits. When World War II broke out, the United States government took control of all silk production to manufacture parachute cloth, and Wearbest changed its focus to women's wear fabrics. The company boomed, adding upholstery to its specialties before it became its primary product in the 1960s.
By 1980, when Irwin Gasner began to oversee operations at the ripe age of 26, the company's upholstery business had blossomed into residential indoor fabrics, woven on Dobby looms. Just five years after he started running the mill, the fateful day arrived - two young boys playing with matches in an alley burned down the 40-acre Passaic, N.J., industrial complex that housed the Wearbest mill, along with 17 other factories and 23 nearby homes. Irwin lost the mill, along with all of its records. "This company had been in our family for generations - textiles are in our blood, it is what we do," he said. "So I started from scratch."
Irwin began rebuilding the mill in Garfield, N.J., just 30 minutes outside of Manhattan. He replaced the Dobby looms with Jacquard looms, which offered infinitely more styling flexibility - an opportunity that Wearbest takes full advantage of in its award-winning designs. In 1990, Wearbest introduced contract fabrics and sealed its reputation for design and trend leadership, winning more prestigious Decosit trend awards than any other American mill.
The idea for Bella-Dura fabrics was germinated in 2002, and after a full three years of working with a team of technical and design experts, it was finally introduced to the outdoor furniture industry. "We wanted to create a new technical fabric that was so revolutionary, it was worthy of being branded," Irwin said.
It is everything that a consumer could ask for in a textile, Irwin said, plus it provides behind-the-scenes benefits they wouldn't even know to ask for. Bella-Dura incorporates more technical attributes than any one textile fabric had previously accomplished, Irwin said. His company's efforts have been acknowledged with a collection of industry awards and certifications, among them the 2008 American Society of Interior Designers' Earth Minded Award, and a MBDC certification in the Silver category. In both cases, Bella-Dura was the first and only truly environmentally friendly indoor-outdoor performance fabric to earn these honors.
Throughout Bella -Dura's journey, two of its proudest achievements have remained its backbone. It is a family business, a point of pride further perpetuated when Irwin's son, Ari, the fourth generation, joined the team in 2009.
"While it was always my plan to join the family business, I was taught that learning came from real-world experience," Ari said. "Before joining Bella-Dura in 2009, I was selling commercial real estate in Manhattan. This gave me the foundation, maturity and perspective I needed to really understand commercial markets."
Ari now brings that perspective from his previous experience to Bella-Dura to help lead its growth. "Since joining the company, we have been fortunate enough to capture greater market share for the brand," he said. "We aspire to provide our customers with hands-on service as well as the opportunity to specify a very unique specialty fabric - not an off -the-shelf commodity. Our award-winning design studio gives Bella-Dura fabrics a real competitive edge - and a sophisticated sense of style that has been appealing to project designers for over five decades now. The scale of the business operation and proximity to the epicenter of the design community at large allow us to be incredibly agile with our ‘process to production' methodology.
"As such, we are now able to deliver the color, style and inherent performance attributes that the design community has come to expect and demand from Bella-Dura fabrics. We continue to cultivate new markets bringing that very same sense of unmatched style to the outdoor markets."
When asked what motivates him in his work with the family business, Ari cuts straight to the point. "What truly inspires me about Bella-Dura is that our unique proprietary fibers have reshaped attitudes about performance textiles, green fibers and even manufacturing processes and production efficiencies," he said. "With Bella-Dura, you literally don't have to choose between performance and style. Our high-performance fabric is created in our NYC design studio and then produced right here in New Jersey from postindustrial waste.
"Our streamlined processes and improvements are helping to keep excess materials out of landfills and, at the end of a long and useful life, Bella-Dura fibers are all 100% recyclable. Our facilities use less energy and water during production, and our minimal waste is all recycled itself. I am thrilled to tell customers that we meet and most oft en exceed the rigorous standards for both the outdoor and hospitality markets with the very same fiber construction. It raises eyebrows every time."
Ari added, "This is the part of the job that gets me out of bed in the morning: I love the fact that I am privileged to be part of an American mill located 20 minutes from Manhattan that creates jobs right here in our own communities. It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘family business.' The world is indeed changing and we are glad to be part of that change.
"As the next generation in this special family business, I have a responsibility to the organization as well as to our greater family. We pride ourselves on the strength of our customer relationships and service, the breadth of our unique products, and we will continue to challenge our designers, engineers and production experts to continue producing an unsurpassed, affordable performance textile that exceeds the world's expectations."
Since its inception, Bella- Dura has been made with pride in the USA. That's part of the commitment shared by the father and son who now oversee the brand and are working to meet the market needs for this season and for the years ahead.
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