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Positive trends loom large for industry, say Zoomers

Posted August 13, 2020


Being homebound and on lockdown for the most part since March has given me the opportunity to slip into Zoom Rooms and similar meeting spaces across cyberspace, mostly for educational purposes centered around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the “new normal” or “what’s next?”


As we continue to work to compress the curve and climb out of this cloud of uncertainty while keeping in touch virtually, it’s amazing to see all the converting, collaborating and creating our industry has been engaged in of late. And it’s reassuring to see promising signs of a better, stronger, faster industry emerging from this world-turned-upside-down crisis.


I’m certainly seeing a brighter future on the not-too-distant horizon, based on the many discussions I’ve been hearing from subject matter experts on my computer speakers. And I’ve gleaned a number of encouraging trends for U.S. textiles and apparel in the coming months and years. I’ll jot down five here.


To wit:


Trend #1: China is losing its luster.


China’s ambition to be the “workshop of the world” took a major hit as a result of that wicked virus that started there and exposed the glaring shortage of and dependence on many critical items, including PPE and pharmaceuticals. You don’t need me to tell you that, as that subject has been pored over ad infinitum recently. But the U.S. textile industry’s reaction to this news? “It’s about time.”


For years prior to China’s admittance into the WTO, the industry warned of the looming dragon that would be given almost free reign to eviscerate any sector it wanted to, steal its IP and leave hundreds of communities in tatters. That happened in many areas, of course, and the U.S. textile industry saw much of the carnage firsthand as its retail and brand brethren chased the needle to lowest cost. But, through it all, many in our industry learned how to compete on an unlevel playing field by modernizing, developing higher-tech products and turning to more efficient, cleaner processes.


And, finally, our government officials are beginning to take notice, as evidenced by several pieces of legislation put forward in recent weeks for made-in-America PPE under Berry-style restrictions. Certainly, they witnessed firsthand what the industry is capable of achieving when the government has its back and they are laser focused on one goal.


“For us, it’s a joy to see our industry activated in a completely vertical supply chain here in America, with everybody working together the way we have been,” said Frank Henderson, president of Henderson Sewing Machine Co., during a SEAMS and SPESA co-sponsored “Supply Chain Dynamics Amid COVID-19” webinar.  “Some of us have been waiting most of our lives to see this happen. For me it’s been 45 years – 45 years of seeing our industry gutted and decimated and shipped all over the world, to now being able to say these are essential items needed in America. These are essential items for the health and wellbeing of our people. And I hope our government will tune in to see that these products are just as essential as a military uniform or ammunition. Why aren't these items Berry compliant also? I think it's a question we all have to ask going forward.”


Which leads us to …


Trend #2: Supply chains will shorten.


As a result of Trend #1, the world – not just the U.S. – is taking another look at more local-for-local production models, which will only accelerate reshoring, onshoring and near-shoring. This crisis shed a high-beam light on the dire need to manufacture more for our own consumers, and numerous producers are rethinking strategies that include investment at home – eliminating some of the headaches that come with operating in foreign lands and shipping globally.


“Our belief is that much reshoring is feasible and we can do that and eliminate some of the environmental concerns and the other problems,” said Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative, during a webinar hosted by UNEP Wednesday titled, “Keeping Fashion Closer to Home for Better and Lighter Living.”


For textiles and apparel, developing a national or hemispheric strategy makes much sense – not only in the realm of PPE but in the ever-changing, consumer-led world of fast fashion, personalization and customization. We’ve seen a move in this direction for years, and recently for PPE, as companies such as HomTex and Lydall have announced major investments for the production of these materials.


“Bringing it home” is really happening, meaning that …


Trend #3: Collaboration will continue.


When the U.S. government asked for the U.S. textile and apparel industry’s urgent help to supply much-needed PPE when the pandemic was spreading, the sector came together like nobody’s – well, everybody’s – business to answer the call. That’s been well documented on these pages. Customers, competitors and even strangers came together quickly to create a supply chain.


Not necessarily for PPE – but in some cases, yes, for that – this teamwork will go on as new alliances have been built – and new possibilities have been discovered.


“Our whole supply chain will never be the same (after the pandemic),” said Ron Roach, president of Contempora Fabrics, Lumberton, N.C., during Thursday’s Americas Apparel Producers Network’s online Fireside Chat. His company, a fabric maker, joined a coalition of U.S. companies to repurpose fabric for face masks and has since begun to make fabric for isolation gowns.


“Maybe we’re not as guarded as before,” he added. “Maybe there will be more trust involved up and down the supply chain. If any of us are satisfied with returning to where we were pre-COVID, I don’t think that’s going to be good enough. We want to be a world-class fabric supplier, but I think we’ve learned that there are other areas we can play in now. I don’t want to say you get stuck in a rut, but you get used to doing the same things. This has reinvigorated our research and development and creative juices.”


And as production continues to shift production inward and collaborative talks advance, we will see that ...


Trend #4: Sustainable products and practices will continue to rise.


Given its importance in today’s world, sustainability is a key factor when it comes to reshoring and is a vital element to shortening supply chains. Sustainability is becoming not only a consumer demand, but an expectation, as we’re all well aware. And al though we’ve made great strides, much work needs to be done as an industry.


Said J. Kirby Best, chairman and founder of Nashville, Tenn.-based OnPoint Manufacturing (OPM), during a May webinar, “Ten Reasons to Bring Production Back Home,” sponsored by Kornit: “The waste we create in this industry is horrendous and we need new models. We need different ways to look at things. And from an environmental side, if you look at how many gallons of water it takes to make a pair of jeans, I think the answer is about 1,600. And look at the transportation and the waste that we have in that. All the areas that we waste money and time on is just not a sustainable model. So from a sustainability picture, I think we need to re-examine our core values, and now is the time.”


Sustainability was tackled from several angles during the UNEP webinar, with several speakers citing better sourcing and production efforts, consumer messaging, reuse and more product information as emerging solutions.


And one thing we know for sure is …


Trend #5: Nothing will ever be the same.


From a behavioral standpoint, social distancing, frequent sanitizing and perhaps mask wearing may become customary habits – and handshakes may give way to salutes.


For businesses, working (and cooking) from home may become the norm for many of you. And virtual meetings may become the go-to connection practice. Businesses may reconfigure workstations and breakrooms to help ensure employees are spaced out safely.


Ecommerce will continue to rise and brick-and-mortar retail will continue to suffer. “Couch shopping” will continue to rise in popularity – including for clothes, where 3D body scanning and made-to-measure will become “normal.” Likewise, home textiles can be easily ordered online, though the touch and feel factor won’t be possible.


The textile and apparel industry, particularly with that localization model in place, could take advantage of this tectonic shift as it collaborates more, builds those new supply chains, invests in equipment and people for faster turns that are more efficient and sustainable and looks at differentiating capabilities such as proprietary high-tech goods, mass customization or personalization.


The possibilities for these trendlines are endless. As Roach said, it’s all about reinvigorating those creative juices.

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