Polartec, best known for its performance fleece innovations in the active outdoor segment and its brand strength in the military and flame-resistant workwear sectors, will have a new owner by month’s end. Private equity firm Versa Capital is selling the business, once known as Malden Mills, to 154-year old Milliken & Co., a global diversified manufacturer based in Spartanburg, SC, for an undisclosed price. Versa acquired the assets of the former Malden Mills a dozen years ago through the then 101-year-old textile maker’s third re-organization. In Dec. 2015, Versa announced it would close Polartec’s 600,000-sq.-ft. factory in Lawrence, MA, putting the facility on the auction block six months later.
In a statement on the pending Polartec deal, Milliken CEO and president Halsey Cook said the strategic acquisition would broaden the company’s product offering into fleece and soft-shell outerwear. Over the years, besides its alliance as a manufacturer for the U.S. military, Polartec has supplied specialty fabrics to the likes of L.L. Bean, Patagonia and The North Face.
Under CEO Gary Smith, Polartec has worked aggressively to reshape its business into three core categories — military, workwear and commercial — that put the brand closer to the consumer and more immune to trade wars, he told Formula4 Media’s Textile Insight magazine earlier this year. Actions have included investing in a new U.S. production HQ in Cleveland, TN in 2016 and establishing an innovation hub in Hudson, NH. Additionally, Polartec has forged JV manufacturing partnerships in Italy, under contract with Pontertorto, and in Guatemala via a licensing pact with TexPasa. Polartec also has an established, large-scale plant in China to help brands producing garments there.
At this point, it is unclear if Milliken will absorb Polartec’s entire sourcing operation into its own, covering more than 25 manufacturing plants worldwide in the U.S., United Kingdom, Belgium, France, China, India and Australia, or rationalize the larger plant network. For sure, it’s a safe bet Milliken will look to retain Polartec’s relationship as a supplier to the U.S. military. But it remains unclear and uncertain whether the SC company will develop a strategy to re-enter the wholesale fleece business or look to forge stronger supplier ties to brands both in the U.S. and internationally. More should be known in the months ahead.