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Vinyl Frontier
CHILEWICH LLC
By Bill Barol/New York City

(FORTUNE Small Business) – The words "Vinyl" and "Place Mat" don't usually connote breakthrough success. But after Chilewich released a series of products made of woven vinyl, its 2004 first-quarter revenues almost doubled. This year annual revenues are on track to jump 60%, to about $8 million.

BEYOND BOWLS: Sandy Chilewich, a former legwear designer, founded Chilewich LLC in 1997 to market mesh Lycra bowls to the retail-design market. When a hunt for new materials led her to woven vinyl—the very stuff of 1960s lawn chairs—she was initially unconvinced: "The material didn't want to be concave," she says. But she was so enraptured by the material that she expanded her product line into vinyl place mats, floor mats, tote bags, decorative cubes, and a flooring product called Plynyl. Customers are drawn to the fabric's sheen and texture, she says. "And then when they find out it's vinyl, they think, 'Great, I can wash it.'"

SITTING PRETTY: With products in some 500 retailers and with commercial installations adorning MTV's corporate offices, Chilewich has moved into restaurants. The company, which she runs with her husband, Joe Sultan, has seen a spike in sales of custom place mats to trendy eateries. Not that it's ignoring retail. Just out: woven-vinyl shag rugs. They're groovy and practical, and how often can you say that? —BILL BAROL/NEW YORK CITY