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Dreaming big: Why she's leading her family's old wholesale bedding business into 'scary' change online

Diane Mastrull, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Science & Technology News

PHILADELPHIA -- Janet Wischnia has been working in her family's wholesale bedding and bath linens business, ATD-American, for nearly half of its 88-year history, 10 years as president.

About to turn 60 in August, the grandmother of three was itching for a new challenge within the company. She found it by venturing way out of ATD-American's comfort zone, launching in January a line of U.S.-made sheets created from 100% organic cotton grown in West Texas for sale direct to consumers online.

That's right, a company started the year that Al Capone was convicted of tax fraud and a dozen eggs cost 18 cents is vying for customers in today's social-media-driven retail environment, where so-called influencers -- those with big online audiences -- can make or break a business with a blog post or YouTube video review.

"You can't be afraid to change. It's scary, but it's also fun," Wischnia said recently about her new "baby," American Blossom Linens, which she's overseeing from ATD-American's headquarters in Wyncote. "It's good to learn new things."

Selling anything but wholesale is not something that ATD-American or its sister company, Thomaston Mills, has done in about 60 years -- ever since Wischnia's father, Jerome Zaslow, and his brothers Arnold and Spencer changed course for a business their parents started in 1931 as Jaffe's Art Linens, a storefront in what was Philadelphia's garment district.

A couple of years ago, Wischnia decided it was again time for something new. She took her cues, in part, from Donald Trump.

--Sponsored Video--

"With the political climate, the current president, Made in USA is more out there, people seem to think about it a little bit more than they did before," Wischnia said. "When we saw that trend and the whole environmental trend, the trend for people wanting products made out of organic fibers, we thought we would give a try at creating a product and doing direct-to-consumer."

In a sense, there was a feeling they had little to lose.

"Not a lot of people have gone into American textile manufacturing recently thinking it's a great new career. We needed to get better at all of these things and change," Tim Voit, chief marketing officer at ATD-American and Thomaston Mills, said of setting out to make "the greenest, most sustainable product out there when we saw that there was a niche in the retail market."

American Blossom sheets are made from cotton grown in Texas and spun in North Carolina. Weaving is done in South Carolina and cutting and sewing at the Thomaston Mills plant in Georgia, founded in 1899 and a part of what Wischnia said her family bought out of bankruptcy in 2001.

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