BISCOE, NC September 2nd, 2019 — Breathing new life into an old hosiery mill has proven to be “a heck of a retirement project” for Tom and Susan Miles.
The couple has transformed the former Jeanette Maternity/Bossong Hosiery plant in Biscoe into a modern producer of supportive maternity undergarments called Belevation — the Belly Elevation Innovation.
The website, belevation.com, explains: “Through constant effort and lots of trial and error over the past decade, Belevation’s garments have become mom favorites on both Amazon and on the company’s website.”
Tom Miles, who has about half a century of experience in textiles, is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Textiles. His career has included stints with Allied Chemical, Milliken and Springs Industries as well as freelancing with New York knit converters. In the late 1980s, he opened New Jersey-based Circular Knit Service, dealing with such apparel icons as Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Tom is from New Jersey but lived in North Carolina for much of his childhood as his father moved around in the textile industry. He, himself, worked in the South until mills began closing. He then moved back to New York and started his own business.
Susan said she grew up in New York and studied art and fashion. She met Tom in the New York garment district.
When textile production began being outsourced overseas, Miles found himself with a fully-electronic seamless knitting machine that was made for men’s sizes. But instead of knitting men’s apparel, he and Susan decided to produce supportive maternity undergarments for pregnant women. Their line of products has expanded to include shapewear for postpartum women as well.
Belevation started out in a small building in Fort Mill, S.C., just outside Charlotte. As sales grew, they realized they needed larger quarters and they began looking for a bigger building.
When Bossong decided in 2017 to consolidate its operations in Asheboro, Tom jumped at the opportunity to buy the 14,000-square-foot Biscoe building.
“Tom used Excel to lay out the floor plan and it fit like puzzle pieces,” Susan said.
Initially, Belevation knit the fabric but farmed out for sewing and dyeing. Now the sewing is done in-house and a new dye house opened at the site on Jan. 1 of this year.
The company now has six high-tech knitting machines of various sizes and a workforce of 8-10.
The Miles have been fortunate to find local employees who are experienced in the business.
“We have a couple of women who worked 12 years for Bossong,” Susan said.
“We have a close group of competent people,” Tom added. “They don’t work on piece work but on quality.”
Susan said the garments are “heavily inspected.” Any items with tiny irregularities are given to the health departments in Montgomery and Stanly counties for donation to needy women.
The Miles decided early on to cut out the middleman and sell their products online. Most of their Belevation garments are sold on Amazon with the rest from their website.
“We only ship top-quality products,” Susan said. “Since we cut out the middle man, we can sell at extremely affordable prices.”
She said they started when the economy was down, their name wasn’t recognized and they almost quit. “So we gave the internet a try,” Susan said. “We increased our volume on Amazon. We’re a small shop but they made a big impact.
“We want to let people know we’re here and we grow jobs.”
Keeping with a “buy American” theme, Belevation gets its yarn from Sapona Manufacturing in Cedar Falls and Dyna Yarn in Graham.
When the yarn comes in, it’s run through one of six knitting machines, from 16-20 inches in width. The fabric is then washed and cut, with the gusset sewn to the band.
Now the dyeing is done in-house on a German dye machine, “which is fully electronically controlled,” Tom said. “The operator puts in the proper dyes and chemicals. A boiler (which Tom bought and installed) generates steam for the dye machine.”
The Miles keep an inventory based on the online sales, which “are not massive volumes” but the future looks bright. “We are now in the EU (European Union) with dozens of products,” Susan said. The product line now includes briefs, maternity bands, pettipants and postpartum wear in four sizes and two colors.
“We’re contemplating taking outside work,” Susan said, adding that a woman is looking for someone to produce nursing bras, which she now gets from China. “We have the capacity to do more.”
“I would like to run two full shifts,” Tom said. “We’re working on some projects.”
Asked what the future holds, he said, “Different products.” This from someone who could be seriously considering retirement. But he’s always looking for the next challenge, according to Susan.
She put their latest enterprise into perspective: “It’s a labor of love.”