NEW YORK — Extending its operations beyond the U.S., acrylic yarn maker National Spinning Co. has opened a sweater-manufacturing venture in La Paz, El Salvador.

The sweater unit, known as Fuente de Ropa de las Americas or FRASA, plans to hold an official inauguration today for its first company-owned factory in El Salvador.

Jim Chesnutt, president and chief executive officer of the Washington, N.C.-based firm, said the move was an acknowledgement of global realities.

“What we saw happening is the jobber trade that we did business with in the New York area, and the sweater trade that was knitting and finishing in Brooklyn, were looking to import yarn from the Far East,” he said in a phone interview. “As we began to talk with our customers, we found they were not always very happy with the outcomes…but there was a great deal of interest on the part of our jobber customers for the opportunity to buy packages from someone who might get them made in this hemisphere.”

This prompted the company to start looking for sweater manufacturers in Latin America. However, executives found many makers of pants, tight knits like T-shirts and innerwear, but few skilled sweater manufacturers.

So, according to Chesnutt, and Bill Wilson, vice president of apparel marketing and sales for Frasa, the company joined forces with the Salvadoran government to set up a school to teach sweater making.

“You can’t just take the yarn and say, ‘Here, make a sweater,’” said Wilson.

National invested about $50,000 in equipment to set up a training center, Chesnutt said.

Today, the venture is producing sweaters of National’s U.S.-spun yarn under contract through another Salvadoran factory and in its own factory, which together employ about 300 people and have the capacity to produce some 15,000 dozen sweaters a month. Dyeing and finishing is done at a Guatemalan facility.

“It’s really a regional venture,” said Wilson.

He added that he hoped speed to market would give the venture a competitive advantage, saying, “We hope to be able to give a six-week turn from order to floor.”Chesnutt said while the venture is in its early stages, it has clear potential.

“We’re not setting the world on fire yet, we just started shipping the first product in January,” he said. “We’re gearing up. We’re not full yet, but we’ll see what it can be.”

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