WASHINGTON — Jesse W. Curlee, president and chief executive officer of Supima, whose career at the organization has spanned more than three decades, will retire at the end of the year.
The Phoenix-based Supima said Curlee served more than 36 years with the group, which promotes the American Pima cotton industry. Founded in 1954, the Supima brand designates an elite variety of Pima cotton grown only in California and the Southwest. The cotton is known as a luxury cotton in the U.S. and is sought after for its softness, strength and lasting color.
Curlee will be succeeded by Supima’s current executive vice president, Marc A. Lewkowitz, effective January 1. Lewkowitz has been with Supima for more than 12 years and has worked closely with Curlee to develop the Supima brand and expand its licensing program.
Curlee was named general manager of Supima in 1979 and became president and ceo in 1981.
During his tenure, American Pima cotton production expanded nearly 1,000 percent to an average of 850,000 bales annually from an annual average of 75,000 bales when he joined the association.
Curlee also helped to significantly expand production in California, which today represents more than 90 percent of America Pima cotton production.
He was credited with introducing the Supima brand to the fashion industry and also launched the annual Supima Design Competition and fashion runway show during fashion week in New York.
Under his leadership, Supima also established a successful licensing program for customers seeking to use the Supima name, signing its first licensees in Japan in the Eighties. Supima now licenses the name and trademark to more than 370 licensees, including spinners, knitters, weavers, manufacturers, brands and retailers, in 39 countries.
“There is absolutely no doubt the American Pima cotton industry would not be what it is today without his valuable contributions and skillful leadership,” Supima said in a statement.
Keith B. Deputy, chairman of Supima, said Curlee made “valuable contributions to the industry” under “passionate leadership and dedication to the American Pima cotton industry.”
“Jesse has been a strong leader and advocate for Supima and has made a tremendous impact in the promotion and advancement of Supima cotton,” Deputy said. “There is no doubt that everyone who Jesse has worked with will join us in wishing him the very best in his future adventures.”