By Taylor Boyd
After going through several owners since its creation in 1949, the United Elastic plant in Stuart was bought by Narroflex Inc., on April 29, 2002, to expand the company’s production in the United States.
Company president Ann Joseph-Jones said Narroflex started in 1987 in Ontario, Canada, when her father, who started working in textiles in the 1970s after his immigration to Canada, bought a facility. “He was like, ‘I think I can do this on my own.’ So, that’s what he did. It started off as just a knitting facility and he grew it to include weaving and everything,” she said.
Joseph-Jones said her father bought the plant in Stuart because of its customer base.
“They didn’t have the knitting machines, but they had the braid, and we didn’t have the braid in our Canadian plant, so there was more opportunity to open up for the business,” she said.
Five days after he bought the Stuart facility, Joseph-Jones started working at the location helping him manage the plant.
The company creates narrow fabric parts that are either knitted, woven, or braided by machines. Because it does not create the full product, the company is considered to be a ‘part’ shop.
“You name it, we do it, as long as it’s narrow fabric. So, it can have elastomer in it or no elastomer in it, or any kind of tape,” she said.
Joseph-Jones said the company can create products as small as three millimeters in width, or as wide as 410 millimeters.
While Narroflex used to primarily produce parts for intimate apparel like bras, underwear, and hosiery, it has since expanded to focus production more on parts for the medical and manufacturing industries.
Popular items include medical supplies, like mask straps, bandages, oxygen masks, medical gowns, and bungee cords, and manufactured parts such as laundry mats, furniture pieces, shoelaces, and uniform parts.
“Generally, we have a lot of designers who will come to us and say, ‘this is what I envision can you make it,’ and so we make it happen for them. Then sometimes people ask us to imitate, and some people don’t even know what they want. They’ll just say, ‘I want it to do this,’ and then we’ll try to produce something that will” match what they want, she said.
In addition to creating the narrow fabric parts, the company also dyes its products in the on-site dye station before shipping.
Narroflex has thousands of contracts and customers, with some being yearly while others are seasonal.
With the current problems of overseas production, Joseph-Jones said a lot of overseas materials are coming to the company for it to imitate, “which is nice,” she added.
Joseph-Jones said the company creates anywhere between 50 to 200 products per day.
“We have machines that are running different products and then it just continuously runs it until the order runs out,” she said.
Narroflex ships daily, with larger, bulk shipments going out at the end of the week. As many companies begin stocking in the wintertime, Joseph-Jones said Narroflex sees its heavy season during the summer months of June and July.
“We just do the parts for them to put it all together, and since they want to put it on the shelves in November, we get busier in the first half of the year,” she said.
The plant currently clocks in at around 500,000-square-feet. While the entire space was being used before Narroflex purchased it, Joseph-Jones said that is no longer the case due to the change in machine style.
“We use vertical machines, so production is run up and down. The horizontal machines the previous owners used ran side-to-side, which took up more room,” she said.
Narroflex currently employs just shy of 100, with some employees having been there for over 40 years. Joseph-Jones said that while it is a business, she also considers it to be a family.
“One thing that I pride ourselves in is that we take a lot of the people that have been here and try to help them and educate them to move them up” to higher, managerial positions, she said.
Another aspect of the company that Joseph-Jones is proud of is the small amount of waste it produces. “The industry standard for waste is three percent, and” some of our managers “keep it under one percent,” she said.
Narroflex is always accepting applications. Those interested in applying may visit the company for an application. For more information on the company, go to www.narroflex.com.
(Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series of stories about Patrick County’s manufacturing sector.)