SPESA marks 30th anniversary at Virtual Executive Conference
Posted November 11, 2020
Nearly 150 attendees registered for SPESA’s first-ever Virtual Executive Conference, which took place October 29-30 and was held in lieu of its in-person event scheduled to occur in Boston.
Over the course of two days, attendees heard from speakers discussing a wide range of topics, from economics to politics to technology to sourcing. SPESA embraced its original meeting theme, “Past, Present & Future of the Sewn Products Industry,” and highlighted how and why our future now looks very different than was expected. During the event, attendees celebrated SPESA’s 30th anniversary with a virtual happy hour.
Around one-third of the attendees were SPESA members and other sewn products industry suppliers, one-third were brands and retailers (mostly apparel) and one-third were representatives from other industry associations, academia and government.
SPESA Chairwoman Nina McCormack of DAP America kicked off the meeting by welcoming attendees to the conference and sharing her hopes for the SPESA membership and the sewn products industry moving forward.
“Hopefully, we will get an indication over the next two afternoons where our industry stands today,” she said. “There is a lot of uncertainty right now, but I believe 2020 has taught all of us so far, that we have to adapt, do this quickly and that every challenge brings new opportunities. We might never completely go back to doing business as before, but the opportunities are out there and it is up to all of us to find them and take advantage of them.” (Read or watch McCormack’s remarks.)
The 2020 keynote speaker was Roger Tutterow, Ph.D., professor of Economics at Kennesaw State University (KSU), where he also holds the Henssler Financial Endowed Chair and serves as director of the Econometric Center, an applied research center housed in KSU’s Coles College of Business. Tutterow’s remarks, which were off the record, were not specific to the sewn products industry; they apply to every business, every facet of the economy.
He explained the importance of understanding the confluence of economics and politics, even at a high level, to gauge how their impact trickles down to businesses and industry. He also explained how data and statistical models can be used in unexpected ways. For example, using birth rates to predict fluxes in the workforce, Tutterow presented a realistic and cautiously optimistic picture of the state of manufacturing in the United States.
Trade & tariff policy update
Nicole Bivens Collinson leads the International Trade and Government Relations practice of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A., and is a well-known authority on trade policy and legislation. During the conference, Collinson provided an overview of key trade issues affecting the industry including the U.S. Section 301 tariff investigations in France and Vietnam, digital services tax, and carbon taxes, as well as other policies that we should expect to see in the coming months.
She explained that the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum, combined with the uncertainty surrounding their implementation, has contributed to a drop in U.S. manufacturing output. Overall, her message was that the policies being made and implemented by governments around the world have a direct impact on trade, sales, and production capabilities across the supply chain.
Collinson noted the Section 301 tariffs on Chinese products imposed by the Trump Administration are unlikely to go away, even with Joe Biden as president. However, under Biden’s Administration, we might see some easing in certain areas and on certain products, as well as an exclusion process reopened. This possibility is still a ways off as the Biden Administration will likely focus on the economy, healthcare and job creation first.
Collinson also discussed the investigations and government policies related to forced labor in the Xinjiang region and what it means for companies manufacturing in China. (Watch Collinson’s presentation.)
Devolving supply chains
Dr. Sheng Lu, associate professor of Fashion & Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware, began his presentation by explaining why it is so important to promote dialogue between academia and industry.
“We have the data, we have the model, but you have the real stories, the real observations of what is going on in the industry,” he said.
In addition, he noted, academia is responsible for training students – the next generation of industry professionals.
The bulk of Lu’s presentation examined the impact of Covid-19 on the sewn products industry through a supply chain and sourcing perspective. He introduced the “regional textile and apparel trade and production network” concept and examined the competitiveness of sourcing from Asia versus sourcing from the Western Hemisphere.
He also explained his “unpopular opinion” that sewn product sourcing isn’t coming back to the United States. Lu shared a wealth of data that can help companies understand the current sourcing patterns leading the industry into the future. (Watch Lu’s presentation and download Lu's PowerPoint.)
U.S. resources for business promotion
The second day of the conference began with Lloyd Wood, deputy assistant secretary for Textiles, Consumer Goods, and Materials at the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration (ITA). The ITA Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) is responsible for increasing the international competitiveness of the U.S. sewn products industry through industry analysis, U.S. trade policy development, trade negotiation and promotion.
The office provides resources to help U.S. companies advance their business. Wood shared an update on the state of the U.S. sewn products industry, and highlighted the enormous collaborative efforts to significantly upscale domestic production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). His remarks were off-the-record.
Utilizing technology in manufacturing & products
To tackle the topic of technology, Natasha Spackey of the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) and Arnie Kravitz from Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) tag-teamed. AFFOA and ARM are industry-leading research institutes focused on innovation and advancement in the sewn products industry.
The panel was moderated by Eric Spackey, CEO of Bluewater Defense, who led a discussion on the changing landscape of technology in the industry, the existing research and where the industry needs to go from here.
Eric Spackey highlighted the recent convergence of technology integrating into apparel and the key parts that need to be considered. On one side there is the material science piece, which is the foundation of the 21st century materials that will make up higher-value apparel and textiles from which the industry can hopefully generate more margin. And then there is the manufacturing side which is key to achieving a “made in America” strategy.
Natasha Spackey and Kravitz shared examples of technology increasing productivity in manufacturing and the fascinating advancements in wearable tech. (Watch the Technology Panel.)
Digitalization of the sewn products industry
The final speaker was Jeff Streader of Go Global Retail. Streader pulled from his 30+ years of experience across the industry and his current expertise as an investor in the “consumer vertical” to explain what we should expect in retail’s future.
Pre-COVID, the apparel and footwear industry was inconsistent and saturated, he said. There were too many stores, too many brands and too many choices, which led to an environment with a lot of discounting and smart consumers not willing to pay full price, he added. This led to constant evolution and turnover of the industry, Streader posited. That pattern will accelerate with the impact of COVID-19 and inventory problems will increase, he added, noting that dveryone in the sewn products supply chain will be forced to rethink their model.
Streader’s solution to all of this is one with a baseline of a vertically integrated supply chain, he said. That includes reducing cycle time, being more responsive and being transparent end-to-end. He went further to argue that, looking at 2021 and beyond, solutions all have to be powered by digital capabilities. During his remarks, Streader provided examples of a few of the digital solutions available now and the brands and retailers that are benefitting from them. (Watch Mr. Streader’s Presentation.)
SPESA Business Meeting
The Virtual Executive Conference ended with the annual SPESA Business Meeting, during which time the SPESA membership voted to approve the following candidates for the SPESA Board of Directors Class of 2023:
Dan Berzack, Sewn Products Equipment Company (SPEC)
Melvyn Blore, Pegasus Corp. of America, Inc.
Ed Gribbin, Gribbin Strategic
Nina McCormack, DAP America, Inc.
John Stern, Methods Workshop
In addition, SPESA announced that current SPESA officers will retain their positions for another year. SPESA President Michael McDonald encouraged any interested attendees (SPESA members and others) to reach out if they are interested in joining any of SPESA’s membership committees. Committee members help guide SPESA’s activities, including planning future conferences and events.
McDonald closed the meeting with a “State of SPESA” address, at which time he shared his pride for the accomplishments of the SPESA team and membership, as well as the sewn products industry overall. (Read McDonald’s remarks and watch the video of the SPESA Business Meeting.)
SPESA’s next Executive Conference is scheduled for October 27-28, 2021, in Boston.