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Interview with Shawn Honeycutt

Shawn Honeycutt
Shawn Honeycutt
Marketing Director
Bolger & O’Hearn
Bolger & O’Hearn

Water repellents, DSM's North American textile polymer portfolio to top 2019-20 initiatives
US firm Bolger & O'Hearn manufactures and distributes a wide variety of speciality chemicals for the textiles, non-wovens and paper industries. Founded in 1969, the company has a diverse and comprehensive product line of over 2,500 products and is sold and distributed globally. Marketing director Shawn Honeycutt shares details about the customised solutions and sustainable chemistries in a conversation with Fibre2Fashion.

What is the global market size for specialty chemicals for textiles and non-wovens? What is the annual growth rate?

The global specialty chemical market is estimated to be around $1.11 trillion, but we estimate that for the textile and non-wovens market, it is in the $25-40 billion range with a compound annual growth rate of 3-4 per cent.

What are the key market trends affecting the growth of the specialty chemicals market?

Sustainability is the key word that we have started to hear. We believe this year will be a tipping point for an awakening from the consumer standpoint. This trend has a strong foundation with apparel brands as they are more closely connected with consumers. The upholstery, automotive, marine, medical and military markets are all somewhat more removed and, in a way, have been insulated from this trend. But we think consumers will start leveraging their collective purchasing powers into other segments beyond apparel beginning 2019.

Which are your major markets for textile and non-wovens speciality chemicals? Where do you see the consumption growing?

We have a diverse portfolio and work with and sell into many markets including the military, apparel, medical, automotive, consumer care, construction and upholstery markets. 

In general, we predict that growth will come from our latest developments of more sustainable chemistries, including non-formaldehyde acrylic resins, fluorine-free water repellents and our recent association with the DSM textile polymer portfolio. 

What are the types and applications of speciality chemicals? What is the market share of each type and application?

The term 'speciality chemicals' covers a broad range of chemistry and is more related to the volume of a chemical manufactured and the targeted performance of the chemistry. So, think of commodity chemicals to be large volume chemicals with broad applications and speciality chemicals as smaller volume but with a targeted function. In our case, we bring the 'speciality chemical' term to a fine point as we typically work very closely with customers to provide a highly-customised solution.

What is B&O's market share in the global speciality chemicals market? What is your USP compared to other big players?

Bolger & O'Hearn is a niche player in the global speciality chemical market and is a privately-held business that has been in operation since 1966.  We manufacture in the United States but work with brands, mills, and factories throughout the world. Our focus is on steady and sustainable organic growth rather than a pure market share growth strategy.

What is the contribution of water repellants, flame retardants, odour control and custom solutions to B&O's revenue mix?

Water repellents, flame retardants, and flame-retardant coatings make up as much as 30 per cent of our revenue mix on any given year, but our water repellent technology platforms have been the growth drivers for us over the last few years. Our water repellent products took some time for the market to catch on, but now our fluorine-free Altopel F3 and our PFOA-free OmniBloq have been growing at double digit rates for the past three years. These unique water repellents are high in performance.

What kinds of customised solutions do you offer? Can you share a few examples?

In many cases, we help solve specific needs, but we also help companies explore conceptual ideas or provide proof-of-concept development.  One of our most successful developments was a micro-abrasive ink for facial wipe/make-up remover applications. This co-development took two years, but can be found today in most cosmetic isles on many consumer-branded wipes. We were also engaged to make a thermal adhesive into an ultra-high frequency reactive adhesive. In this case, the customer was using a bake cycle of 90 minutes to melt and turn an adhesive reactive to bond window shades. The idea was to use ultra high frequency energy to cut the cycle time, but when that was tried, the energy absorbed into the window shade and the adhesive would not melt or react. We 'tuned' the adhesive to preferentially absorb the energy and eventually, the cycle time was cut from 90 minutes to 2 minutes, saving an enormous amount of time and energy. In a more recent example, Dick's Sporting Goods asked us to develop a fluorine-free water repellent for certain styles of performance wear. Again, this was a multi-year development, but today our Altopel F3 is the leading fluorine-free water repellent technology on the market.

What percentage of your products are sustainable?

We have an internal initiative to make all our products in a more sustainable manner and in some ways, we have already accomplished this. In 2016, we started generating about half of all our electricity needs from a solar array system that we installed on our manufacturing and office facilities. I must believe that we are the only chemical company to be doing something like this in a big way.

In 2014 we also became a Bluesign-certified member. The Bluesign system is the solution for a sustainable textile production. It eliminates harmful substances right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for environment-friendly and safe production. This not only ensures that the final textile product meets very stringent consumer safety requirements worldwide, but also provides confidence to the consumer that they are acquiring a sustainable product.

Bluesign is a global certification that the world's leading apparel brands, including Patagonia, Nike, Adidas and Polartec, require to participate in their respective supply chains. This was an enormous accomplishment and one that we are very proud of. 

Bluesign has a global reach and collaborates worldwide with industry, governments, and non-governmental organisations to help drive the most sustainable solutions for the world's textile markets. Our association with Bluesign provides us access and insights into the most sustainable practices being used worldwide. 

What are the latest new chemistries that your research and development (R&D) team is working on? What is the annual budget allocated towards R&D?

We recently teamed up with Dutch multinational DSM to support its North American textile polymer portfolio. In this role, we are helping to bring recent DSM sustainable chemistries to market, including Nmp-free and co-solvent-free water-based polyurethane dispersions. We are also providing market feedback and analysis to DSM to help it drive innovation in the textile market areas.

Any plans to expand or add to your current product basket in future?

Water repellents and the DSM portfolio will continue to be at the forefront of our 2019-2020 initiatives. We will start to look at 2021 as we roll into the 3rd quarter this year. (HO)
Published on: 19/04/2019

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.