ForeThought: IFAI—100; ShowStoppers—1

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This afternoon, omnipresent online retailer Amazon.com sent me an email about a new book coming out: “How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants,” by craftsman David Rees, the “world’s number one #2 pencil sharpener.” Is this another tasteless electronic joke being played on the print-loving editors of the world? I wondered. Happily, that’s apparently not the case.

At first I was amused by the concept of being able to download a book about how to best utilize graphite to make marks on processed wood pulp, still one of my favorite activities. But it also brought to mind a recent story in the Minneapolis StarTribune about the re-opening of Minnesota’s Faribault Woolen Mill Co. The existing plant, which dates back to the 1890s, at one time had a workforce of about 80 and produced half the woolen blankets made in the United States. The mill is resuming production with 31 workers, some of them former employees, and will likely expand to 50 to 60 before long. 

Although the plant is being upgraded, most of the existing equipment was still serviceable. The blankets are being updated for the hospitality and health care markets, and will also be sold in Bloomington’s Mall of America. That blend of tradition and technology, innovation and craftsmanship, economy and value isn’t unique to the specialty fabrics industry, but it has been a dominant theme in our history.

As IFAI prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary at IFAI Expo Americas 2012 in Boston, we’re working to uphold that tradition, bringing together equipment from sewing machines to lasers, fabrics for everything from awnings to implants, and educational sessions from basic business to advanced textile technologies. We’re also starting a new tradition with the “ShowStopper” awards for exhibitors, to recognize the importance of the new products being shown each year at the show. Unlike IFAI’s annual International Achievement Awards (IAA) program to recognize excellence in specialty fabrics projects, ShowStopper entries will be displayed and judged during the show—by show attendees.

For IFAI Expo exhibitors, entry instructions will be available soon on www.ifaiexpo.com. For attendees, you won’t be able to vote on your favorite products until the show, but applications for this year’s IAA competition are now available at www.ifaipublications.com/iaasubmit. A “Shade Sails” category has been added for 2012, and entries are due by July 15.

As it says on the Faribault Woolen Mill website: “We recognize that in today’s highly dynamic and competitive international marketplace, the ability to meet our customer’s expanding expectations for exceptional service, value and unique product design is absolutely critical.” Our awards programs are another way to recognize this kind of success in our industry.

IFAI is 100 years old this year. The International Achievement Awards are 65. And the ShowStoppers awards will be one. Don’t forget to cast your votes for your favorite new products before joining us at the opening reception on the show floor. It’ll be more fun than that other election.

—Galynn Nordstrom, senior editor, Specialty Fabrics Review magazine

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