THE LORBER GOAL: EXPANSION, $125M
Byline: Kim-Van Dang
GARDENA, Calif. — With some 3,500 high-speed knitting machines, the Los Angeles area is one of the top knitting centers in the world, and Lorber Industries of California — celebrating its 25th anniversary — is the pacesetter.
Moreover, Arnold Lorber, founder, owner and chief executive officer, said plans are in the works to expand the plant by five acres, which he already owns, and add 200 people to his approximate 500-member work force within the next two years. Annual volume, which stands at $100 million, should increase between 20 to 25 percent as a result of the expansion, he said.
While it would be a tall order for most, Lorber said his goals are achievable. After all, he pioneered the local textile industry here, setting up the first Los Angeles-area shop in 1969, which knit polyester fabrics.
Now, it is the largest knitter west of the Mississippi.
“Lorber is a symbol of the ‘California Comeback’ and has continued to develop new technologies for the industry and new products for the marketplace,” wrote California Governor Pete Wilson in a congratulatory letter to the company, which Lorber read at the company’s silver anniversary party last month.
Over the years, Lorber Industries has served as a spawning ground for many apparel companies. Designers and manufacturers today, including Guess, Esprit and Chorus Line, rely on its often-same-week turnaround time for custom orders and reorders, and its services such as trend forecasting.
“In the beginning, we had three knitting machines producing 3,000 yards a week,” Lorber said. “Now, we knit 100,000 yards a day. Our bleaching machine and our dyeing machine are the largest in the world. We can dye 10,000 yards in one shot. Our state-of-the-art equipment enables us to do what used to take six weeks in one day.”
Everything in the 24-hour plant is computer-controlled. And because his employees are multinational, computers are programmed in five languages: Spanish, German, French, Italian and English.
“Yes,” Lorber quipped. “Some of my employees even speak English.”
The ceo — a native of the former Czechoslovakia, a Holocaust survivor and for 16 years a major textile manufacturer in Venezuela — speaks nine languages.
Working alongside him is his wife Anita, who heads the design department; son Tom, who serves as vice president of sales, and daughter Andrea, who oversees the company’s human resources department.
At 300,000-square-feet and growing, the Lorber plant is a technological model for the industry with its modern machines: a computer-aided design system that enables textile artists to change color stories with the touch of a button; a robot-operated dye mixing machine; a laser engraver that etches patterns onto nickel mesh screens, and precision printers.
Still, Lorber does a few things the old-fashioned way. One of them is test-washing everything he produces for crocking and shrinkage three times each in regular washing machines.
“Many East Coast mills have these $50,000 machines that stretch fabrics to the limit,” he said. “But who cares? Our products are tested thoroughly the way consumers would test them at home.”
These days, the company is best known for its novelty knits, which include jacquards, pointilles and thermals. Although he said the company’s print business is strong, about half of the products are solid goods.
Eyeing the future, the entrepreneur predicted that California will become a major textile center within the next 10 years.
“There will be some consolidations but textile manufacturers here will remain very hands-on, in contrast to New York textile companies that run mills in the Carolinas,” Lorber said. “Those that are here will have the advantage because they will have faster turns.
“Because the defense industry here is in trouble, we will be able to attract higher-caliber people to our industry,” Lorber said. “The state’s real estate collapse will continue to make real estate prices here more in line with the rest of the country. Therefore, it will be more affordable to do business here.
“In addition, consumer attitudes about products made in the U.S. have improved,” he said. “That pride factor will help our economy grow.”