Fabric guru Major enters Furniture HOF

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, November 11, 2002

NEW YORK He's only the second fabric leader to be inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame in its 14-year history.

And the irony is that this year's fabric guru, Andrew Major, nominated Robert Culp Sr., who was inducted in 1994.

Looking back on a career which spanned more than a half century, Major, the long-time head of Mastercraft, said he is most proud of two things: "The recognition of the paramount importance of styling and design in decorative fabrics, and the same recognition that you have to have the best and most modern equipment to run the plants."

Discussing the design talent need for fabric companies, Major pointed to Mastercraft stars over the years like Carl Miller, Wesley Mancini, Bea Spires and Margaret Coffin — some still involved with the multi-divisional company now owned by Elkin McCallum, head of Joan Fabrics.

"For fabric companies, everything always started with the design talent," he said. "It is styling, styling, styling. It's like real estate, where the mantra is location, location, location."

In the old days, and even now, he related, "Fabric companies were loath to pay design talent what they should have been paid." Without naming names, he claimed that some of Mastercraft's talents were hovering close to the million-dollar bracket — a fitting price for their worth, he insisted. "And others that weren't recognized under following administrations were recruited by competitors."

Designers, Major emphasized, "are a very precious commodity. They're priceless."

In what might seem a contradiction to his dedication to design leadership, Major also was in the forefront of "the realization that you have to have the best and the most modern of equipment."

Looking back, he recalled the shift that took the company into shuttleless looms. "When we bought them when we couldn't afford them. They offered us more speed plus a really big key: more facility in terms of design."

His preoccupation with equipment efficiency was seen in the velvet segment: "I met two young guys from Van Derwiele who showed me looms that offered more capability and more design flexibility and were much more adaptable than the Guesken looms that everyone else was buying."

Moving along in the equipment saga, Major talked about what he called the fluke — the ability to pick up available looms from a key manufacturer when another fabric company decided to pull out of the upholstery fabric business. It was a move that set the company apart from the competition, he said.

Looking ahead, Major said, "There is no way America can compete on price with China. We have to be more differentiated in terms of quality and styling. Our biggest challenge is how to combat this. It has to be done with styling, small quantity runs and superb quality."

Major was head of Collins & Aikman Decorative Fabrics Group, a business that included Mastercraft, Home Fabrics, C&A Velvets, Doblin, Greeff and Warner. He joined Mastercraft in 1946, became president in 1960 and assumed ownership with the late Harry Turpan in 1969.

Ironically, he now is a board member of Joan Fabrics, which owns the Mastercraft group.

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