Expert's Opinion

What to Wear: Part One

By Bob Bayer, Contributor | February 22, 2010

Bob Bayer reminisces about nonwovens’ journey in apparel.

I first saw a sample of Kimberly-Stevens’ Kaycel nonwoven fabric about 1961 and immediately envisioned utilizing this scrim-reinforced tissue product for disposable undershorts for the Army in Viet Nam, to be followed by industrial and medical apparel. At the time I was a principal and vice president of Manufacturing for a small family-owned hosiery manufacturing company in Asheville, NC—Mars Manufacturing Co.

Working with the Natick Army Testing Lab, we produced several dozen undershorts for field testing.Everything worked well in initial testing, and we envisioned a huge opportunity! However, the early version of Kaycel did not have good abrasion resistance and the chaffing of the legs resulted in the rapid deterioration of the fabric. So much for that venture.

We immediately turned our attention to what we viewed as a huge potential market – disposable work clothing. We produced samples of lab coats, coveralls, aprons, shoecovers, caps, etc. However we quickly determined that the concept of disposability was too “new.”Because we were so early we felt that the public needed exposure to the concept before we could begin to achieve acceptance. And what better way to get exposure than the “fashion” field.Thus, we turned our attention to developing a “paper” dress.We developed a few paper dresses, shipped samples to department stores, but little interest was generated.Again, the concept was too new.

When Scott Paper brought out a paper dress in 1966 as a device to promote its other products, this was the boost that we at Mars were waiting for.With Scott’s nationwide advertising paving the way for nationwide acceptance, we were ready and immediately went into production.We focused our attention on the retail market, and offered the retailer the world’s first “Paper Dress.”

My wife Audie, a Cornell Liberal Arts graduate with no prior experience in fashion design, developed a full line of Kaycel dresses under the “Wastebasket Boutique” label.The August 11, 1966 issue of Woman’s Wear Daily ran an article that said: “Mars Mfg. Co. wrote a new chapter in the apparel industry book when it unleashed the $1.29 throwaway paper shift.Now the red hot firm is pressing plans for an epic fashion expansion.”

We expanded the line to include children’s clothing, bathing suits, evening gowns, men’s vests, shirts, pants, football jerseys, etc.(The dresses, for example, averaged four or five wearings…utilizing this first generation Kaycel nonwoven fabric.) This carried over into the premium/promotion field where we produced hundreds of thousands of apparel items for major corporations, political campaigns, etc.

But now it was time to turn our attention to the industrial and medical apparel fields.


Bob Bayer pioneered the introduction of disposable retail apparel at Mars Manufacturing in the 1960s and 1970s and went on to found and head American Threshold Industries, a manufacturer of disposable industrial, medical and cleanroom products. He sold the company to a private equity firm in 1998.

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