Samson Bitensky, 86, Introduced Supersuede
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Samson Bitensky, who died yesterday at 86, was a leading New York textile manufacturer who in 1974 introduced the world to Supersuede and a man who escaped the gathering Holocaust in Europe to write a remarkable chapter in the story of the American dream.
Supersuede, lighter and more flexible than Ultrasuede, was one of a myriad of knit fabrics and lace that Bitensky’s Fab Industries produced at factories in the Adirondacks and North Carolina. At its height, the company had sales of nearly $200 million.
Bitensky, a figure in the New York textile world for more than half a century, a genius of a negotiator who was uncommonly successful at making both sides of a transaction feel like a winner. And what was perceived by some as autocratic was perceived by his employees as vision and commitment, qualities that kept many of his executives working for him loyally throughout long careers.
Born and raised in Poland, Bitensky managed to escape to America in 1938, and came to live with relatives in Far Rockaway, N.Y. He volunteered for service in World War II, during which he participated in the invasion of Italy, before contracting malaria. After the war, he joined relatives to form a dress manufacturing company. Bitensky had a knack for coming up with gimmicks, like adding a broach to a dress that would make it sell for a few dollars more. He had a way with vendors, and as a veteran he was exempt from postwar rationing of cloth.
In 1955, Bitensky founded Fab-Lace, Incorporated, a specialty lace company. He began manufacturing operations at a former rug mill in upstate Amsterdam, N.Y. In 1966, John MacArthur asked Bitensky to take over a foreclosed North Carolina textile mill. Bitensky reorganized his company as Fab Industries, and added MacArthur to the board. He began the large-scale manufacturing of tricot knits and other fabrics. The company went public in 1968.
After introducing Supersuede and several other specialty fabrics in the 1970s, Fab began manufacturing bedding and airline blankets. The company peaked with $189 million in sales in the mid-1990s, and thereafter contracted somewhat. It returned to private ownership last year. Bitensky was for a number of years numbered by Crain’s among the highest-paid New York executives, though by the standards of the current salary wars his compensation was modest.
He was a member of the board of trustees of Yeshiva University, Beth Israel Hospital, and the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat-Gan, Israel.
Born January 6, 1920, in Maytchet, a shtetl in Poland, now in Belarus; died May 17 at Beth Israel Medical Center; survived by his wife of 56 years, Halina Zobler, daughters Beth Myers and Susan Lerner, and three grandchildren.