STA Marketing Forum: Five days. Five speakers. Endless takeaways.
Posted September 10, 2020
By Devin Steele (DSteele@eTextileCommunications.com)
The traffic is heavy in cyberspace during these atypical days, of course, with most conferences, meetings and trade shows taking center stage on our screens.
The Southern Textile Association (STA) recently ventured into the virtual venue recently when it hosted its Summer Marketing Forum Lunch and Learn Series, with one speaker presenting each day of the week. Five diverse speakers all touched on aspects of the meeting’s theme, “SURVIVING AND THRIVING: Resilient U.S. Textile Industry Emerging Stronger, More Sustainable in Wake of COVID-19.”
As he has done in person for more than a dozen years during this annual event, Jim Booterbaugh, CEO of National Spinning Company and STA past president, emceed the event, bringing online his brand of humor and professionalism that regular attendees’ have become accustomed to seeing in person.
Jordan Schindler: Nufabrx
Jordan Schindler, founder & CEO of Nufabrx, kicked off the forum with an overview of the company he founded as an incubator at the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) at Catawba Valley Community College in Conover, N.C. Nufabrx is a proprietary biomaterial platform that embeds active ingredients into fabrics, and these active ingredients can be programmed to respond to the body for predictable, effective and long-lasting dermal release. Ingredients it has infused in fabrics include pain medicine, CBD and melatonin, among others.
Later that week, the company launched its Soliscia brand, a shea butter-infused face mask for continued moisturization. The company already had jumped into the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) realm in March when it created a line called TheraMask.
“We’re hoping to create a buzz around this new category of products called ‘healthwear,’ ” he said. “We’re here to simplify health and wellness for the consumer. We have received great support from MSC and the Textile Technology Center at Gaston College. I don’t think we could’ve done it anywhere other than this area (the Carolinas).
“That really allowed us to get our masks done so fast,” he added. “Within 10 minutes we had our raw materials supplier and within 30 minutes, we had our testing. We’re committed to making things here in the U.S., which allows us to pivot very quickly.”
In the last two months, the Nufabrx team has grown 80 percent, from seven full time employees to 25, Schindler reported.
“It’s a credit to everyone and this ecosystem that allows this level of innovation to take place,” he said. “And I think in response to COVID, we’ve realized now more than ever that we all should be more reliant on domestic manufacturing. And we’re happy to be a use case for that because that’s what has ultimately allowed us to have such success.”
“I think now more than ever, the domestic textile industry has a real opportunity to help shape the conversation,” he added.
Dr. Roger Tutterow: Kennesaw State
Roger Tutterow, Ph.D., professor of Economics at Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Ga., presented an economic overview, “Outlook: Returning to Economic Normalcy in the ‘New Normal.’ ”
When he addressed the association last year, he told attendees that the economy was still expanding, and he expected it to do so in 2020, he reminded the group. His forecast for 2019 was about 2.25 percent GDP growth, he added.
“When the original reading for 2019 growth came in, it was a little bit higher than that,” he said. “But two weeks ago they finally gave the revised data showing the updates for 2019 and it came in at 2.24. So I missed it my one one hundredth of a percent. I’ll never be that close to being right again the rest of my life, so I’ll take it.”
Early this year, he and his colleagues expected the economy to continue to grow but would moderate to about 1.9 percent GDP growth, he said.
“But we said that with two important asterisks,” he said. “No. 1, we said there was the possibility that we would have the continued escalation of trade battles and more tariffs, and that could slow the economy into a recession. The second caveat was the possibility that this relatively – we thought – well-contained virus in China could break out of China, spread around the world and form a global pandemic and, if it did that, all bets were off the table and a recession in 2020 was very possible.
“Obviously, the first one didn’t come true, but the second came true more so than we wished,” he continued. “So here we stand today with an understanding that for the most part everything that we said last December has been to some degree discarded or invalidated by this exogenous shock that we went through.”
Looking ahead, he said the combination of the fiscal cliff, the possibility of (coronavirus) reinfections and the likely of recurrence in terms of forbearance agreements going away all leave the possibility of a double-dip recession.
“So while we celebrate the fact the economy has done better over the last couple of months, we are nowhere near where we were in January of this year,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a ways to go. And there are risks that we will see things soften even more late in 2020, early 2021.”
Guy Carpenter: Bear Fiber
Guy Carpenter, president of Bear Fiber, Wilmington, N.C., said he and his partner started the company three years ago to promote and process hemp fiber. Bear Fiber developed a method to “cottonize” hemp fiber so it can be easily spun on short-fiber spinning systems, he said.
“We developed a unique, proprietary system to do that ourselves, and while doing that we have gotten a lot of attention,” he said.
“Cottonized hemp fiber not only closely resembles cotton, but it looks like cotton in a beauty contest,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter, who serves as commissioner for the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Pilot Program, has run numerous tests and conducted studies of hemp fiber at the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) in Conover, N.C., and the N.C. Hemp Consortium through N.C. State’s Wilson College of Textiles to work on processing issues and to help bring the natural fiber into the mainstream commercially.
“Hemp is known to be stronger than other natural fibers,” Carpenter added. “Hemp fiber is stronger than cotton, it is more abrasion resistant and it is antimicrobial.”
Emily Neville: Reborn Clothing
Emily Neville founded Reborn Clothing in Raleigh, N.C., when she was a sophomore at the N.C. State Wilson College of Textiles. The company transforms surplus branded apparel and premium textile waste into new products through upcycling and works with more than 60 universities and numerous corporate partners.
“There is a growing demand for eco-conscious, sustainable products with a more transparent supply chain, so I decided to do something about that with a business solution,” she said.
Neville, 22, is a graduate of the prestigious Park Scholarships program, a four-year fully funded, merit-based scholarship at N.C. State that is awarded to 40 individuals each year. Today, Reborn employs 15 people, including five full time, she said.
“We're seeing monumental shift from consumers, and it's something that we can all be a part of,” she said. “They want to see the story of where the product is being made, who is making it and how companies are showing that they're being responsible, that they have a code of conduct and auditing processes in place and they have the right types of contract manufacturing. They're following the steps throughout the manufacturing process to be more sustainable, more transparent and more ethical. That also falls into meeting Fair Labor Standards and having a smaller environmental footprint.”
With the pandemic, this has been a “crazy year for our business,” she added.
“But what we have seen is that partners we're working with are saying, ‘hey, there is still demand and if you can fill this demand with an onshore supply chain – because you're ready to go and you're turning around products in less than two months – then we want to work with you,’ ” she said. “So, really, the fact that we have domestic manufacturing – while maybe before COVID that would've been a problem – today it's a value proposition for our brand and something I'm really proud of and excited about. Now, it just makes common business sense.”
Stacy Flynn: Evrnu
Stacy Flynn, co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Evrnu to create engineered fibers with extraordinary performance and environmental advantages, made from discarded clothing, she said. Evrnu has been recognized as an organization making notable contributions to the circular economy as well as being an honoree in the 2020 Fast Company World Changing Ideas.
“The business model (around environmental issues) that the brands and retailers are using is flawed,” she said “We go around the world trying to figure out how to make cheap product so we can throw it away. It's just insanity.”
In 2019, Evrnu debuted NuCycl™, a technology that transforms garment waste into a resource by recovering the raw materials for reuse, she explained.
“Innovation has not kept up with the pace of the industry and the problem, and this really comes down to a lack of funding,” she added. “And that's also causing a lot of the status quo because we have not been pumping in the proper amount of capital to help modernize the industry.”
Pointing out that the “consumer is king,” she continued: The consumer is the one who votes with their dollar and are really in charge here. The consumer is now demanding more transparency around how their products are made.”
COVID-19 has illuminated the fragility around the business model, Flynn said. “It's unprecedented in our time and the industry in effect has crashed. We're all anticipating around a 24-month turnaround, which actually creates an incredible opportunity for change. We have a choice now. Do we want to rebuild on a model that's flawed or do we want to rebuild on a model that's designed for the 21st century reality?”