I do a lot of lamenting about the loss of the textile industry in my area, and in the South in general. It was reported in the Asheville Citizen last week that the closed American Enka plant is in the process of being demolished, and that the site will be developed for retail use.
Enka may not be familiar to you, but if you’ve dealt much in rayon from the 1930s and 40s, or nylon from the 50s through 80s, chances you’ve touched the product produced by Enka. They made a high quality rayon that was used by everyone from Maurice Rentner to L’aiglon. Back in those days, the fibre and fabric manufacturers often teamed with clothing makers to run ads in fashion magazines. The two Enka examples here are from 1940 Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Yes, there was a time when the fabric was just as important as the designer, and in many cases, even more so. People knew the names of quality fabrics and the major companies advertised to keep their names in front of the buying fashionables. Some companies, especially wool producers, even put their own label in the garments along with that of the maker. And many labels have both the designer and the fabric proudly displayed.
I’ve never seen a label with Enka printed on it, but I imagine such a thing might exist. They did print and distribute hangtags (see the ad below) for the manufacturers to pin onto the finished garments.
The American Enka factory was built in 1928 by a Dutch company. Jobs there were highly prized – only workers at the local paper mill made more money. An additional perk was that the workers often got to keep unsold fabrics. A friend of my mother’s worked there as a fabric tester during the nylon days. She always had a rainbow of lovely nylon to share with her friends.