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SPRINGS FAMILY TIES

FORT MILL -- Crandall Bowles, Springs CEO and a descendant of the S.C. home textile maker's founders, broke her silence Thursday to comment on the company's return to public ownership in its new headquarters country of Brazil.

Bowles' family started the company 120 years ago, and it became one of the world's largest makers of sheets, towels and other home furnishings.

Bowles has been CEO of the company for 10 years and spent much of that time struggling to compete with low-cost imports.

Last year, the Fort Mill company merged with Brazil's Coteminas amid worsening competition from low-cost imports.

"We have almost completed the transfer of much of our U.S. bedding and towel manufacturing to Brazil, where we will have a low-cost, globally competitive base of production," Bowles said in a statement Thursday. "We are also well positioned to source or produce product in China and Mexico."

That production shift has resulted in thousands of jobs lost and the closure of Springs' last factories in South Carolina, where it was once the economic spine of many small towns.

"We are beginning a new phase of our history as a global company," she said.

The original Springs stock traded publicly from 1966 until 2001 when Bowles led a $1.2 billion deal to buy back the stock and return to private ownership.

Bowles will retire at an unspecified time following the stock offering, ending the family's daily role in the company it built.

She will remain a director of the new company.

"Certainly, I have had mixed feelings as we have made this transition, as my family has been committed to this company, its employees and the communities in which we've operated for 120 years," Bowles said. "However, as it became increasingly difficult to manufacture competitively in the U.S., the decision to close plants and eliminate jobs, though painful, was inevitable.

"The company's history, culture and the commitment of our employees have been a major motivation to me as a CEO during this period."

Bowles confirmed that, as part of the stock offering, "my family will sell a significant portion" of its investment.

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