A partnership with Creative is growing sales of its Belgian damasks, part of a complete line of fashion-forward wovens and knits the company offers.
After one year of working together, Belgian fabric source Maes Mattress Ticking says its new business partnership with Gastonia, North Carolina-based Creative is off to a strong start and prospects for further growth in 2023 and beyond are bright.
Recognizing increasing demand in the U.S. market for quality Belgian damasks, Maes Mattress Ticking announced it was teaming up with Creative in March 2022. Under the terms of the partnership, Maes provides Creative with an exclusive range of luxurious Belgian damasks for sale to bedding producers in the U.S. market, while Creative provides Maes with marketing, warehousing and field support in the country.
“With Creative, we have an energized and respected partner with strong team experience in the marketing and sale of mattress fabrics,” says Bart Desmet, director of business development for Maes. “Now, with a year of experience behind us, we are more convinced than ever that Creative was the perfect fit for bringing our Belgian damasks to the U.S. market.”
Maes weaves and knits fabrics in an ultra-modern facility at its headquarters in Zwevegem, Belgium. Creative is part of the Beverly group of companies based in Gastonia, where it operates five knitting, finishing and cut-and-sew facilities.
“Maes and Creative are both family-owned companies that take a personal, yet professional approach to customers, who are always our top priority,” says Aurélie Maes, great-granddaughter of founder Adolphe Maes and vice president of sales and marketing for the company. “Our innovative partnership aims to deliver the best, tailor-made solutions for all our customers’ needs.”
Service plus support
Maes say her company has sold luxury damasks to customers in the U.S. market before but only on a limited basis. “We needed the right partner, who could help us tap the growing demand we saw for high-quality damasks,” she says. “To be a serious player in the U.S., you must be able to provide the service and support that manufacturers require to keep up with the daily demands of their business. Our partnership with Creative enables us to do that.”
The fact that Creative specializes in knits makes Maes’ damask line an especially good fit for both companies. “Creative can now offer their knit customers a wide assortment of quality wovens with the same level of service they offer for their own line,” Desmet says. “It increases their portfolio of products, which, in turn, increases their ability to satisfy their customers’ needs.”
Based on the past year’s activity, Aurélie Maes is pleased by the sales through the partnership. “We thought we would need more time to get on solid ground in the U.S., but business is growing faster than anticipated. These results show that we’re headed in the right direction with this new program, and that U.S. mattress producers see a market with their customers for the types of ticking fabrics we offer.”
Maes’ long-term goal for the United States is for its sales to reach a level like that of its key European markets. “Belgium is a small country, so we’ve long depended on exports for growth,” Maes says. She adds that the company sees Europe as its home market, with France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia being its most active sales territories.
A rich history
Maes Mattress Ticking has been producing bedding fabrics since 1926, when Adolphe Maes established Werkhuizen Adolphe Maes in Zwevegem, making textiles for various industries, including furniture, mattresses and work apparel. In 1960, the company narrowed its focus solely to the mattress industry. By specializing in one industry, the company’s export market grew substantially and, in 1982, it changed its name to Maes Mattress Ticking.
In 1983, Maes moved to the Breemers industrial area in Zwevegem. The canal-side location made it ideal for the company to install its own water purification plant, the first of many sustainability measures Maes has adopted over time.
In 1996, Jef Maes, grandson of the founder and son of longtime CEO Sylveer Maes, took over the company. One year later, in response to the increased use of knitted fabrics on mattresses, he expanded the company’s line to include knits. In 2000, the company added finishing to the knitting production process, building on the finishing capabilities it has integrated into its production of wovens since 1987.
Throughout its history, Maes has been an early adopter of technologies that improve the productivity of its operations. In 1978, it was one of the first textile producers to integrate CAD/CAM software into its design department and, in 1986, it was one of the first to install electronic air-jet looms. In 1999, Maes invested in full warehouse automation, enhancing both performance and service. In 2002, that investment was followed by the integration of an enterprise resource planning system that connected all the company’s operational processes. More recently, in 2020, Maes adopted Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 program for finance and operations.
“Extensive digitization and the use of new technology ensure continuous progress in the optimization of production processes,” Desmet says. “To be a market leader, Jef Maes has always believed it is essential to innovate and invest in the latest technology.”
As part of that mindset, the company continues to invest in machinery, too. Overseeing the production side of the business is Aurélie Maes’ brother, Thibaut.
“We are currently installing several new looms that will increase our capacity and productivity,” Desmet says. “We work hard to keep our technology current, and it pays off.”
The company employs nearly 140 people at its headquarters. Many workers have been with the company for decades, accumulating a deep bank of experience and knowledge that Maes draws on every day. Retirements can create challenges, but the company works hard on recruiting and training to make sure it keeps the staff’s skills sharp.
“There aren’t a lot of textile schools anymore, so we rely heavily on our more experienced associates to help pass along the know-how that new hires need to succeed,” Desmet says. The company supports those efforts with ongoing training.
“Young people often bring a different vision to the company but, when supported properly, that can be a good thing,” Aurélie Maes adds. “It keeps us fresh and encourages us to think in new ways.”
The company has an in-house design team, which it plans to expand. Maes typically introduces hundreds of new fabrics each year, and the number only grows as more mattress producers seek custom designs to help them stand apart from the competition.
To stay on top of color and design trends, Maes’ design team and sales executives attend furniture markets and fabric fairs around the globe. Based on the information gathered at those shows, as well as input and requests from customers, the team creates mood boards so they can further review and refine ideas. Over time, the best ideas rise to the top and staff develop those into packages of panel, border and foundation fabrics that are then shared with key customers.
In addition to developing its own open-stock designs, Maes creates a large volume of custom designs for mattress manufacturers.
The United States is a very customer-driven market, especially when it comes to damasks, Desmet says, adding that most of the fabrics Maes sells in the U.S. market are exclusive designs developed for and sold to specific customers. “We work closely with each of our partners to create unique looks that work well for their lines, in many cases incorporating logos or specific colors that communicate the individual brand story.”
When it comes to its own designs, Aurélie Maes says, the company is known for making quality damasks the old-fashioned way, but with fresh design twists and colors that convey a modern feeling.
“We always try to stay on top of the latest trends,” Maes says. “Right now, that might be a beautiful, subdued floral or an accent treatment in a bold, fashionable tone like purple, or a very contemporary black-and-white
As part of its partnership with Creative, Maes stocks a large selection of bestselling fabrics at Creative’s North Carolina distribution center. Having stock readily available enables Maes to satisfy orders quickly, providing a level of service that many offshore producers, particularly higher-end damask lines, can’t match, the company says. The warehouse is set up to give Maes complete visibility from its headquarters in Belgium so it can stay ahead and replenish the stock of strong sellers before it runs low.
“We can check online and immediately see what’s selling well and what’s running low,” Desmet says. “That enables us to keep the right goods flowing to our customers without delay, so they don’t have to wait for something to come from overseas.”
Maes takes seriously its mission to deliver quality products and service to customers. This mindset led the company to evolve to the point where nearly its entire production process (except for yarns) is vertically integrated. All its manufacturing — from preparing yarn for production to packing finished fabrics — takes place at its Zwevegem site. This coordinated approach translates into superior quality and fast, reliable service, according to the company.
“Everything starts with the quality of the raw materials,” Aurélie Maes says. “We carefully select everything, with a preference for natural, biodegradable yarns, such as cotton, viscose, wool and flax.”
For the weaving process, the company produces its own warps. “In this way, we always know that we have a sound basis for high-quality weaving,” she says. The company says it also has one of the largest dyeing operations in Europe, an asset that enables it to develop a unique range of colors for customers based on the latest trends. And it has its own testing lab for assessing the quality of raw materials and finished products.
Another top priority for Maes is sustainability. In addition to the water purification plant opened back in the 1980s, which treats every drop of water the company uses without chemicals, Maes has installed LED fixtures throughout its factory. It also is adding solar panels to a portion of its facility to capture energy. On a smaller level, the company has provided all employees with reusable water bottles and offers a bicycle allowance to encourage people to cycle to work.
“We have a deep commitment to sustainability,” Maes says. “We’re always looking for new ways to reduce our carbon footprint and waste.”
Coping with inflation
Going forward, Maes expects both sides of its business — damasks and knits, which each account for half of sales globally — to continue the steady pattern of growth seen in 2022. While 2022 was a good year in terms of sales, inflation was a challenge.
“Raw materials, energy, packaging, transportation — each of these areas underwent major price hikes in 2022,” Desmet says. “Like everyone, we’ve seen a tsunami wave of rising prices. While some of this situation is cooling off, it remains a big issue.”
When faced with a challenge, Maes relies heavily on the perspective of longtime CEO, Jef Maes, who remains deeply involved in the business. The company also draws on its long history and deeply embedded culture, which has carried the company through the Great Depression, a World War and countless other challenges.
“We care about the people with whom we work, and we care about our customers,” Aurélie Maes says. “Our flat leadership structure and our family atmosphere mean that our employees are closely involved in the daily management of our company, and we support each other. We are always open to new ideas, and we keep the channels of communication wide open.”