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Changing an Industry

Nanotechnology is showing up in some strange places these days. How about those Tiger Woods golf pants by Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) , or the brand-spanking-new shirt you just bought at Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) ? They're all treated with Nano-Tex nano particles, stain-proofed and coated with water repellant. This concept -- of giving textiles new properties without changing the physical attributes of the fiber -- could dramatically change the textile industry. That should perk up the ears of all who call themselves Rule Breakers.

All this was made possible by Wilbur Ross, who spent millions of dollars for Nano-Tex and its technology, which he acquired with the purchase of Burlington Industries last year. His belief that this decade will be "the decade of basic industries" may start to pay off with the help of beyond-basic -- groundbreaking, actually -- nanotechnology.

Nano-Tex was named 2003 Company of the Year in the November/December 2003 issue of Small Times magazine. Since then, it has continued to sign up textile manufacturers and retailers, such as Levi Strauss' Dockers and Marks and Spencer (NQB: MAKSY) in the U.K.

Ross has a reputation of helping old industries with no clear path to profit find their way out of the modern wilderness. Nano is rejuvenating the textile industry with garments that repel stains, resist creasing, and require fewer cleanings -- all without changing the appearance of the fabric.

This bet will rely on joint ventures in India and China and the pending Central American Free Trade Agreement among the United States and five other countries. A factory south of the border would provide fabric to apparel makers, which could ship finished products duty-free to the U.S. from Central America.

In a recent meeting with representatives of apparel companies, Ross said, "I've always been taught that the globe was round, but many textile people believe that it is flat and that you will fall off it if you go outside the United States."

Ross is a contrarian whose increased spending on investigation of nanofiber has made him the textile industry's top research investor. Those who look for different ways to solve problems are looking for success, while anyone trapped in the past is doomed to fail. Those who dare to be Rule Breakers may ultimately reap the most rewards from their bets.

The entire textile industry could be reinvented, from manufacturing abroad, to shipment to the U.S., to treatment by Nano-Tex nano products, and finally to the consumer.

This is a tall order. Will the contrarian pull it off?

Carl Wherrett doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article, and neither does John Yelovich. You can reach them both by email. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

If you're looking for the next growth company in groundbreaking fields such as nanotechnology, try our ultimate growth service, Motley Fool Rule Breakers.

Do you have high hopes for the nanotech sector? Share your views with Carl (TMFBreakerCarl) and John (TMFBreakerJohn) on the Nanotechnology discussion board.

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