SIC 2231

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the production of woven fabrics more than 12 inches (30.48 centimeters) in width, wholly or chiefly by weight of wool, mohair, or similar animal fibers; dyeing and finishing of woven wool fabrics; and those shrinking and sponging wool goods for the trade. These fabrics are used primarily for production of apparel (especially outerwear), home furnishings (especially blankets), and specialty items, such as billiard-tablecloth.

Establishments primarily engaged in weaving or tufting wool carpets and rugs are classified in SIC 2273: Carpets and Rugs. Production of broadwoven fabrics with content wholly or primarily by weight of cotton is included in SIC 2211: Broadwoven Fabric Mills, Cotton. Production of broadwoven fabrics with content wholly or chiefly by weight of manmade fiber and silk is included in SIC 2221: Broadwoven Fabric Mills, Manmade Fiber and Silk. Production of narrow fabric, generally 12 inches or less in width, of cotton, wool, silk, and manmade fiber is included in SIC 2241: Narrow Fabric and Other Smallwares Mills: Cotton, Wool, Silk, and Manmade Fiber.

NAICS Code(s)

313210 (Broadwoven Fabric Mills)

313311 (Broadwoven Fabric Finishing Mills)

313312 (Textile and Fabric Finishing (except Broadwoven Fabric) Mills)

Industry Snapshot

There were 78 establishments producing broadwoven fabrics of wool, mohair, or similar animal fiber in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Of all fibers in this classification, the greatest production is in wool fiber. According to the Department of Commerce, the value of production shipments in 2000 for these fabrics exceeded $1.17 billion. The vast majority of fabrics was produced for the apparel industry.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported total industry employment at approximately 8,500 in 2000. Of this, approximately 7,350 workers were directly involved with production. Total payroll was $226.8 million. Employment numbers reflect a steady decline, with 1997 totals (10,500 jobs) down nearly 4,000 from 1992 totals (14,500 jobs). Strides in technology, along with international competition, consolidations, and increasing productivity, contributed to the downward trend. However, the technology also increased the need for higher-skilled workers, resulting in higher payroll costs.

Organization and Structure

Producing woolen broadwoven fabrics is similar in principle to making broadwoven fabrics in the cotton and manmade sectors. However, wool and other animal fibers must be scoured before being processed into yarn to remove animal greases and other debris that become entangled in the wool before shearing.

The processes required to make yarns—opening, carding, drafting, roving, and spinning—use machines that are larger and designed to process long-staple fibers. These fibers are four to eight inches long, compared to seven-eighths to one-and-three-eighths inches for cotton. Most manmade fiber is cut to process on the cotton system of yarn manufacturing and is thus approximately the same length as the cotton fibers. Some manmade fibers are designed to go into products that replace woolen fabrics—suitings and blankets—that will be blended with wool fibers (polyester-wool blends, which are cut to process on woolen machinery).

Like makers of broadwoven cotton and manmade fabrics, producers of woolen fabrics are generally fully integrated; they produce, weave, then dye the yarn, and finish the woven fabric. Some companies maintain yarn manufacturing and weaving operations in one manufacturing plant and dyeing and finishing in another. Frequently, however, producers of woolen yarn and fabrics buy wool that has already been scoured. The scoured wool purchased by producers of woolen fabrics is generally known as "woolen tops."

There are three categories of manufacturing machinery for production of wool yarns: woolen, worsted, and semiworsted. The category used is determined by the fabric's intended end use. Mohair and other animal fibers were processed on standard woolen, worsted, and semiworsted yarn manufacturing machines with occasional modifications to adjust for variations in fiber length.

Most woolen and other animal fiber broadwoven fabrics were produced on projectile, rigid, and flexible rapier weaving machines. Air-jet weaving machines were not suitable for production of heavyweight woolen fabrics but are used occasionally if the woolen fabric is a very lightweight worsted product. Water-jet weaving machines cannot be used to produce broadwoven fabrics of wool and similar animal fibers.

In the early 1990s, only Japan's Tsudakoma Corp. and Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd. manufactured air-jet weaving machines for making worsted fabrics. Sulzer Ruti of Switzerland manufactured projectile machines that were widely used to produce broadwoven fabrics of wool and similar animal fibers. A number of weaving machine manufacturers produced flexible and rigid rapier looms that were used for weaving broadwoven fabrics from woolen and other animal fiber yarns. Flexible rapier weaving machines were available from a small number of Italian and Belgian companies. Rigid rapier weaving machines were available through several European woolen broadwoven fabric makers.

Dyeing and finishing of woolen fabrics was performed on machinery similar to that found in the processing of cotton and manmade fibers. However, chemicals designed specifically for woolen and other animal fibers were used. Frequently, and more often in woolen fabrics than in other types, dyeing was done prior to the manufacture of the fabric. The raw wool was dyed after scouring or after being made into wool yarn. Dyeing the wool before it was made into fabric was absolutely necessary if the finished product was going to contain a plaid, stripe, or any multicolored pattern (unless the fabric was going to be printed with the design). Since many of the wool fabrics that were woven would be printed with multicolored patterns, stripes, or plaids, predyeing of the raw material or yarn was more common in woolen operations than in those processing cotton and/or manmade fiber.

Most wool is produced in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, increasing its cost to textile plants in the United States (where wool production is insignificant). The added cost of scouring plus the increased cost of wool processing machinery further increase the price of woolen products. Mohair is even more expensive than wool. Subsequently, wool, mohair, and similar animal fibers used to produce broadwoven fabrics have been more expensive (as raw materials) than cotton and most manmade fibers. For this reason, apparel, blankets, and other common applications for wool and animal fibers are often considered luxury items. The most expensive fibers used in textile applications include certain manmade fibers and those with special applications for high strength or resistance to heat.

Background and Development

Wool consumption continued to decrease, as retail sales of wool apparel declined in the late 1990s. Weaker mill demand was a direct result of the drop in wool consumption in 1997 and 1998. U.S. mill use in 1996 was 164.4 million pounds, an increase from 1995 of 2.6 million pounds. The 1997 levels stayed steady at 164.3 million pounds before dropping substantially in 1998 to 123.6 million pounds. This drop represented a 0.7 percent of total fibers consumed, a drop of 0.3 percent from 1995 through 1997. With U.S. mills producing some 132.2 million square yards of broadwoven gray, chiefly wool fabric in 1998, the wool segment of this industry continued to produce just a fraction of the quantities produced of cotton and manmade/silk broadwoven fabrics.

In 1999 mill consumption of raw wool was nearly 30 million pounds less than in 1998. During the first nine months of 1999, apparel wool consumption was 36 percent less than the previous year. In the same period, nearly 25 million pounds were used in the woolen system and 27 million in the worsted system. Top production of wool was 25 million pounds, compared with 39 million in 1998.

At the end of the century, slower economic activity abroad, importation of low-priced wool coats, and weak retail sales of wool apparel contributed to reduced mill use, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Reductions also were attributed to the weather, as milder winter conditions prevailed, and casual attire became more acceptable in the workplace.

Manufacturers began to address the problems of consumer perception of wool as old-fashioned and problematic. Creating comfortable, easy-care fabrics to gain consumers' attention became a priority. Manufacturers hoped that investment in new technology, innovation, research, and advertising would increase output.

Current Conditions

From 1996 to 2000, U.S. consumption of worsted wool fabrics declined by 42 percent. U.S. producers of wool fabrics decreased output by 51 percent, and during the same time period imports rose by 24 percent, resulting in the import share of U.S. consumption rising from 19 to 40 percent. Although much wool production takes place in Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain, Italy is the major foreign supplier of worsted wool fabrics by value. Because U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico both have lower import tariffs on Italy's wool fabric, U.S. textile manufacturers are at a price disadvantage. Because U.S. wool producers lag well behind world leaders in wool quality as well as quantity, U.S. mills must purchase wool from Australia and New Zealand to meet their needs. China buys the most wool worldwide, and Italy is the second largest global buyer.

Further Reading

Meyer, Leslie, Steven McDonald, and Robert Skinner. "Cotton and Wool Outlook." Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13 February 2003. Available from .

Meyer, Leslie, Steven McDonald, Robert Skinner, and Wilma Davis. Cotton and Wool Situation Outlook Yearbook. Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. November 2002. Available from .

Muir, Lucie. "Rejuvenated Image for Wool Focus to Meet." Women's Wear Daily, 15 June 1999.

Standard & Poor's Industry Surveys. New York: Standard & Poor's Corp., 1999.

University of Texas. "U.S. Fibers End Use Summary, Excluding Glass Fiber, 1989-1998," 15 January 2000. Available from .

——. "U.S. (1982-1998) and other North American (1992-1998) Mill Fiber Consumption," 15 January 2000. Available from .

U.S. Census Bureau. Current Industrial Reports. Washington, DC: GPO, 1998. Available from .

——. Statistics for Industry Groups and Industries, 2000, February 2002. Available from .

U.S. Department of Agriculture. "U.S. Wool Production and Mill Use Continue Decline," 17 January 2000. Available from .

U.S. Industry and Trade Summary. "World Wool Production Declined Steadily During 1993-97," 11 January 1999. Available from .

U.S. International Trade Commission. "ITC Issues Interim Report on U.S. Market Conditions for Certain Wool Articles," 18 May 2001. Available from .

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