CULTURE CLASH SQUASHES DUPONT’S TRY AT APPAREL
Byline: Stuart Chirls
NEW YORK — Textile executives were not surprised by the recent news that DuPont had axed its short-lived venture in apparel design and manufacturing, Initiatives Inc., and last week DuPont’s new head acknowledged, as many suspected, that a clash of cultures helped end the business.
“That business is a different beast completely,” said John A. Krol, DuPont’s president and chief executive officer, here for a media briefing. Krol said that while the fiber giant formed Initiatives with the best of intentions, it went about it with eyes open.
“We hoped it would be a catalyst for bringing apparel manufacturing back to the region, but it didn’t work out that way,” he said.
Krol said DuPont had kept the program “on a short leash.”
“We didn’t want to keep pouring money down a rathole,” Krol said. “Maybe we didn’t have the right thrust, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it successfully some other way.”
As reported, Initiatives president Don Linsemann told employees in a Jan. 9 memo that DuPont would close Initiatives, which manufactured private label sportswear in Mexico, by April 30. The news came only 16 months after the operation was announced.
Industry observers said that DuPont’s decision to shut the operation pointed up the vast differences that have developed between the fiber and apparel industries and how difficult it can be to bridge the gulf between them.
One reason, they say, is that the falling price of polyester in prior years had forced fiber companies to cut back on the advertising and promotions they once used to woo apparel makers.
“Today, fiber producers have less contact with apparel manufacturers than they do with mills,” said one textile executive. “It’s much tougher for them to be knowledgeable about the apparel business.” The industry knew little about Initiatives. Although DuPont publicly said it would initially invest $10 million to launch the program, it kept a low profile throughout its existence.
The few people who did know said DuPont was not being realistic about the apparel business. “Sure, they had some nice people working there, but they didn’t understand the heart and guts of selling the industry,” said one executive who visited Initiative’s offices.
Others agreed. “The whole thing was not right to begin with,” said Arthur Wiener, chairman and ceo of Galey & Lord. “Apparel is a fast-moving business, and you need people who focus on, and understand, apparel. It didn’t work, and so what?”
Said David Caplan, ceo of Metro Textiles, “Then and now, DuPont never belonged in the apparel business. They never understood it. Fiber and apparel are so distant as far as selling, product development and merchandising are concerned. It never made sense. The only good thing about it was that DuPont had deep pockets, especially when you’re dealing with big retailers.”
One chain for whom Initiatives had produced and shipped merchandise was Indianapolis-based Paul Harris. “It was a good concept, but they had problems in the execution,” said John Boyers, senior vice president-finance and treasurer. “We were just trying them out because they were new. It was a small part of our program.”
Catalog specialist Spiegel had also been in talks with the new company and was ready to place an order when the shutdown occurred, a Spiegel spokeswoman said.