The Kayser-Roth Logo, Burlington, NC
Photo Gary N. Mock
A neighbor was Burlington Socks – “The Green Toe Seam” logo on the old Water Tower, Burlington, NC
Photo Gary N. Mock
Kayser-Roth Corporation – James W. Maynard
Julius Kayser originally of Brooklyn, NY, founded Julius Kayser & Co. and was a dominant factor in hosiery, gloves and lingerie in the early part of the 20th Century. They acquired Chester H. Roth Co. (Esquire Socks) in1958 and changed the name to Kayser- Roth. Alfred P. Slaner (1919-1996), the nephew of Chester Roth, had been running the Chester H. Roth Co. since the early 1950’s and became head of KR. He developed Supp- Hose™ as an alternative to rubber support stockings. In the 1970s, Merwin Joseph was the President of the Hosiery Division, Irving Hoffman was the CFO. In 1973, Frank Calabretta – a marketing guru, is credited with developing and promoting “No Nonsense” brand panty hose to compete with the L’Eggs™ brand from Hanes Hosiery. (1,2)
Kayser logo 1956
Hosiery and Underwear magazine cover
1958 Ad featuring the many brands united under Kayser-Roth Hosiery Co., Inc.
Consider the climate that the hosiery industry was dealing with at the time. Three major things took place in the early 70’s that could not have been forecast and together created the “perfect storm” of events for the ladies hosiery industry. (1)
First, 1970-1973 saw a major recession in the economy with the usual negative effects on business in general and the hosiery industry was no exception. Second, around 1972, production from Gebor came on line. Gebor was a company set up in the new state of Israel and subsidized by the US government for the sole purpose of manufacturing and exporting pantyhose to the US retail market. Before long, the volume approached 20% of the domestic market and, like automobiles later, was a factor in depressing the US market. Finally, 1970-1973 witnessed a cruel and relentless change in women’s fashions. The mini skirt explosion of the 1960’s, which had been a boon to the pantyhose industry, collapsed. Since WWII, an old wives tale but uncannily accurate saying, was that the health of the economy varied directly proportionally with the length of women’s skirts and dresses. As the miniskirt disappeared, longer skirts came into vogue. More importantly, pant suits for women exploded in popularity. Pants had started out as dress for the yard and garden, but then became accepted for work and the office and finally were acceptable for social occasions and party attire. It was a grim time. (1)
In 1973, KR was faced with a need to do something drastic to combat the competition from their major brand competitor – Hanes Hosiery. Hanes had introduced the L’Eggs™ brand and was experiencing dramatic growth in face of the other adverse factors of the time. It was a dramatic and drastic change in the way pantyhose was marketed. (1)
Years earlier, in the 40’s and 50’s, full-fashion stockings were sold by department store clerks who took the boarded pairs of hosiery out of the tissue wrapped package in a 1/4 dozen wrapped box and spread them on a counter for the customer not only to see the color but feel the fabric! When pantyhose replaced stockings, the package became an L-board or V-board with the fully boarded pantyhose wrapped around an insert and overwrapped or sealed in cello bag. Now, the customer could see the color but could not touch the fabric. No sales clerk was involved as the packages were displayed on a rack or on shelves. (1)
What exactly had Hanes’ L’Eggs™ accomplished? They were stuffing an unboarded pair of pantyhose into a sealed plastic egg-shaped package. The customer could not see the color, feel the fabric or even see the product! The retailer was provided color swatches and style descriptions to attach the shelves or racks. (1)
Who was the retailer? All of a sudden, Hanes had penetrated not only the conventional soft goods retailer like department stores and what we know today as the big box stores, but they were entering new outlets for hosiery. These were the regional and national grocery chains and drug store chains. (1)
KR could not sit idly by. As the other major hosiery brand, they had to react. Private label hosiery manufacturers would also tap these new outlets for their merchandise. KR committed to a major program which was No Nonsense. The packaging was a sealed, flexible, foil envelope on self service racks complete with color displays and product descripion displays, in addition to what was printed on the package. (1)
The industry recognized that the un-boarded product was technically superior to boarded pantyhose because it retained more stretch and recoverability in the knee and ankle areas. The thermoplastic nylon yarn had not been heated and the stretch characteristic not partially killed as a result. However, to overcome the crumpled appearance, first to the retail buyer and then the consumer, took tremendous efforts and advertising monies to educate the public. Hanes worked through a network of distributers to service the retailers while KR continued their more conventional distribution methods. (1)
Thirty-five years later, it is apparent that these high level management decisions to substantially alter the way a product was manufactured, packaged, distributed, advertised and sold to the ultimate consumer was a real coup. Done during periods where survival was paramount and growing to an unprecedented level of success, the development of No Nonsense brand pantyhose and later all kinds of ladies hosiery products is testament to the dedication of KR management and employees. (1)
In 1975, the conglomerate, Gulf +Western, acquired KR. Gulf+Western became Paramount Communications in 1989 and Viacom in 1994. In 1999, Golden Lady of Florence, Italy purchased Kayser-Roth. Golden Lady is the largest hosiery manufacturer in Italy and supplies all of Italy and most of Europe. (1)
Note: The following has nothing to do with KR. The water tower shown in a picture at the top of the page is next door to the KR plant today. Burlington was a competitor with KR until going out of business.
Ad for Gold Cup by Burlington
Courtesy Peter Metzke
Ad for Bur-Mil Cameo hosiery and the major department stores featuring Cameo
During the 1940’s, May Hosiery Mills, owned by Ben V. May; McEwen Hosiery Mills, owned by James H. McEwen (1894-1946); and Herbert (Hub) Kaiser merged to become May McEwen Kaiser Hosiery Mills, Inc. Burlington Mills bought the company in 1948. Hub Kaiser became a director of Burlington Mills. Cameo, a successful hosiery brand for MMK, was adopted by Burlington.
- James W. Maynard, Personal Communication 2009, 2010.
- Susan Klinger, Personal Communication 2010.