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New Life for Mill

Lincolnton’s Warp Knits Inc. and its Hickory sister company Crystal Dyeing & Finishing are reinventing themselves. They can thank their parent company — Fort Lee, N.J.-based Crystal Textile Group — which has developed a line of products marketed as Pain Checker.

The Crystal Group has just launched a national campaign for 21 Pain Checker items ranging from a $13 wristband to a $385 king-size mattress cover. They’re all made of fabric that Crystal officials say relieves pain, though no clinical trials have yet been held. Some of the products are even made for pets.

As textile companies have steadily downsized or closed with the rise of imported apparel and furnishings fabrics, companies looking to survive have looked for niche markets in industrial and technical fabrics.

Lincolnton’s Warp Knits has started making Pain Checker fabrics, a patent-pending mixture of carbon conductive yarn with either nonconductive stretch nylon or polyester. Hickory’s Crystal Dyeing dyes and finishes the material. And three companies — Valdese’s Pro Edge Sports and Houston Hosiery and Hickory’s Techstyles Inc. — are contracted to cut and sew the products, which are returned to Lincolnton for distribution.

Warp’s staffing has dropped from about 175 to about 20 in the past three years because of competition from importers. The company hopes the Pain Checker venture will provide a lasting niche market.

Company officials say Pain Checker products work like this: The garment is worn on the body part experiencing pain. The fabric conducts electrical energy from the body and the environment to send a signal to the brain that interrupts the pain sensation. The mattress cover works the same way.

Arthur Goldberg, national director for Pain Checker, said he discovered the fabric’s potential to relieve pain accidentally in 1996. While working on a surgical drape, he accidentally hit his funny bone and on reflex grabbed the elbow with his other hand that was holding some fabric. The pain ceased.

When he took the fabric away, the pain returned. But each time he applied the fabric, it went away.

Goldberg started giving samples to family and friends, who used it for everything from arthritis pain to carpal tunnel syndrome. For a while, he admits, not even the Crystal Group believed him.

“They thought I was an off-the-wall scientist,” Goldberg said. But two years ago, when imports started to weigh heavily on the Crystal Group’s profits, company officials had enough faith in the product that they decided to seek patent protection for Pain Checker, Goldberg said.

Goldberg stressed that there have been no clinical trials for Pain Checker, but 90 percent of users in a company field survey said they experienced at least some pain relief.

There’s even a letter of endorsement from David Price, head trainer for the National Football League’s New York Jets. Goldberg said members of the team have been using the products for the past two years. Goldberg said Duke Clinical Research Institute and N.C. State University plan to do clinical trials. Before Pain Checker, the Crystal Group was a fabrics-only supplier to companies whose end uses include military wear and automobile roof liners. That remains part of the business, but Pain Checker has allowed the company to branch into a niche market. “This is a new venture for us,” said Bob Clewell, executive director of Pain Checker and Warp’s vice president operations. “It will go directly to the consumer.” Pain Checker products will be sold by independent distributors who can sell them directly or market them to retailers. Six people have signed on so far. Clewell and Goldberg said they hope to attract displaced textile workers and Crystal Group employees to become distributors.

Cathy Stone, a Lincolnton resident and Warp employee who has worked in textiles for more than 30 years, said she’d welcome the chance to sell the products. She hasn’t used them herself, but said she’s given samples to arthritic relatives, including her elderly sister-in-law and her brother. “I think they fight back and forth over it,” she said.