Q&A with president

Despite cancellation of beach meeting, STA still shines bright, Shannon says

Posted June 25, 2020

 

(Editor’s note: The 112-year-old Southern Textile Association (STA) cancelled its in-person annual meeting scheduled for Myrtle Beach, S.C., this month, and is holding at virtual Board of Governors’ meeting and members’ meeting on Tuesday, June 30. At that time, the board will elect new officers and governors, as well as handle other business. Matt Shannon, plant manager at Greenwood Mills, Greenwood, S.C., has served as STA president over the last year and is expected to be elevated to chairman. In advance of the meeting, eTC Publisher Devin Steele posed the following questions to Shannon.)

 

eTC: Matt, as another in a good number of Greenwood Mills representatives over the years to serve in leadership positions within the Southern Textile Association, please speak to the privilege of leading such an esteemed organization.

 

Shannon: The history of the STA and Greenwood Mills has been intertwined for many years. It is an honor to represent both wonderful organizations at the same time in my career. As I follow in the footsteps of my company leaders who are past presidents – such as Doyle Kidd, Jay Self and Eddie Gaither – I am reminded of the expression of Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

eTC: The last quarter or so of your term as president of the 112-year-old STA has been, shall we say, “extraordinary.” Much of the world went into virtual lockdown in March, forcing the cancellation of so many face-to-face events, including the association’s two spring meetings and its annual meeting this month. I understand the Executive Board made some unprecedented decisions as a result, including waiving membership fees through the end of the year. Tell us about why this decision was made in response to COVID-19.

 

Shannon: The decision to cancel the last three STA meetings was actually an easy one to make. The health and safety of our members is the most important priority of our organization. Our Executive Board unanimously agreed to err on the side of caution. Fortunately, we have been left in good shape financially from past leadership to allow us to waive fees in this unprecedented time of uncertainty.

eTC: Another first in the history of the organization will occur on June 30, when STA’s Board of Governors and member meetings will take place virtually via Zoom. During the board meeting, officer and board elections and other business will be handled. What’s on the agenda for the member meeting and why would you encourage all members to participate?

 

Shannon: The agenda will be pretty much the same as we would have at a normal meeting. Aside from normal business, I think it will be an opportunity for all members to reconnect in this era of social distancing. It will be good for all of us to touch base as an organization.

 

eTC: The planning committee for the STA’s annual Summer Marketing Forum, originally scheduled for August 19 in Belmont, N.C., recently decided to make that event virtual also. What can attendees expect?

 

Shannon: The planning committee, led by Unifi’s Chad Bolick and Jim Ciccone, also made what is likely the best decision given the coronavirus continues to hang around and, in some areas, rise in numbers. They have decided that, instead of holding a half-day meeting, to spread speakers out over each of the five days that week in something of a “Lunch and Learn” series. The event will again be moderated by the always-engaging Jim Booterbaugh, president & CEO of National Spinning Co., and will take place under the aptly-titled theme, “SURVIVING AND THRIVING: Resilient U.S. Textile Industry Emerging Stronger, More Sustainable in Wake of COVID-19.”

 

Speakers include Emily Neville of Reborn Clothing; Roger Tutterow of Kennesaw State University; Guy Carpenter of Bear Fiber / Cape Fear Apparel / Horizon Hemp; Jordan Schindler of Nufabrx; and Stacy Flynn of Evrnu. This is an outstanding lineup, and we encourage all of our members to check out each of these speakers. Registration details will be forthcoming soon. Hope to “see” everyone there!

 

eTC: Growing membership and relevance is always a goal of STA, of course. Please give us an update on these fronts, especially in light of the coronavirus crisis.

 

Shannon: While difficult, we are still actively recruiting membership. There are many opportunities in the textile industry to those who adapt to these ever-changing times. It is very helpful to have a network of contacts in order to take advantage of these opportunities. The PPE business is a prime example of this.

eTC: At least pre-COVID, has the year met your expectations in terms of growth, member participation and meeting satisfaction? And do you think those factors mirror the U.S. textile industry’s resurgence?

 

Shannon: Absolutely. Our organization is stronger than it has ever been in years. We have seen the efforts of beneficial trade deals come to fruition. We believe this trend will continue into the future with much of our PPE business being reshored to the USA.

eTC: What is your elevator speech for prospective members?

 

Shannon: Elevator pitch? Join or Die! No, seriously, I believe if you are in our industry the STA is a lifeline to success in a sea of opportunity.

 

eTC: If you had to pick a highlight of the year for the association, what would it be and why?

 

Shannon: The highlight of the year for me is always and without a doubt the joint STA/Fiber Buyers summer event. It always has a great turnout and the networking is incredible. Top it off with some fantastic speakers and you have an event that cannot be missed.

 

eTC: You’re about to move into the chairman’s role, leaving you one more year on the Executive Committee. Please comment on your colleagues who are serving in officers’ roles within the STA, as well as longtime Secretary/Treasurer Lillian Link, and how they have supported your goals, helped you prepare for the presidency and assisted you in this role.

 

Shannon: First of all, Lillian Link IS the STA – I will make no bones about it. She did not assist me – I assisted her! Over the years, officers come and go but Lillian is the glue that holds us together. Andrew Barker (Matrix Yarns) paved the way for my term as president and made my job easy. Rick Carpenter (Conitex Sonoco) has an unparalleled enthusiasm for the STA that is contagious. Our future is bright!


eTC: Can you share any stories or “things I’ve heard or seen” anecdotes about the STA related to how the organization is important for members and potential members?

 

Shannon: Throughout this strange and difficult time I have had many members contact me and say, “I sure miss the spring event “ or “This would have been the week we were at the beach.” Everyone cannot wait to resume face-to-face meetings as soon as it is safe. I think we all agree the STA will be stronger because of this.

 

eTC: What are some of the issues in which STA is engaged that may help it grow and become an even better resource for the industry?

 

Shannon: Obviously, first and foremost is surviving this pandemic. We have to get through this thing and get back to in-person meetings as soon as it is a viable option. In the meantime we have had to adapt and utilize technology and social media to carry out the mission of the STA, which is a gathering of the best and brightest in the textile industry.

eTC: Rick Carpenter of Conitex Sonoco, who you mentioned, is your expected successor. Please speak to the strengths he brings to the table.

 

Shannon: Easy question. Rick Carpenter is the most enthusiastic member of the STA I have ever met – and that is saying a lot. He has shouted the praises of the STA from the time I met him. He is positive and engaging and will guide us to great things in the future.

eTC: If you had to pick a “legacy item” for your leadership year at the STA, what would it be?

 

Shannon: My legacy item would be bridging the past and present of our industry together. I think we have done an excellent job of honoring all those who put in the hard work before us and embracing the next generation.

 

eTC: On a semi-related note around the current crisis, your company, Greenwood Mills, was among a number of companies in our industry to pivot into the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). How did this decision come about? And please discuss the learning curve involved in the shift; the type of products you’re making and where they’re being shipped; the company’s commitment to this cause from a plant leadership perspective; and any other points you’d like to make.

 

Shannon: PPE was a natural fit for us. We saw the need to protect our frontline workers and the citizens of our great country so we jumped at the opportunity to do so. Our sister company Single Source Apparel has vast experience with cut-and-sew operations and was producing face masks in record time. We feel it is a special honor to help out in times of great need.

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