Andy Long (L), vice president of sales and marketing at Parkdale’s SpunLab Division, holds cotton sliver as TS Designs' Eric Henry looks on.
TS Designs among this week’s pitstops on the textile web infobahn
Posted January 14, 2021
Probably like many of you, I jumped on my Jetsons-level (virtual) flying car through cyberspace this week and hovered over a few textile-related webinars – about four-and-a-half hours’ worth. Subject matter experts from all corners of our industry and several corners of the country and the world imparted nuggets of knowledge and enough meaningful information to fill comprehensive textile textbooks.
And, like you, I’m all the better for it. I continue to be awed by your wisdom, vision and passion around textiles, which clothe us, comfort us, protect us, shade us, clean us, insulate us, cool us, heat us, decorate us and, you name it, textiles probably does it. But, as you all know, a lot of experience and innovation go into getting those advanced materials out to the world.
Coming down from this week’s ride through the infobahn, I still feel a number of buzzwords bouncing around in my hunkered-down head, many which we’ve been hearing a lot of lately or for years – but all representing trends that should be built into essential strategies as we move away from COVID-19 and into the future.
Among them: Sustainability. Circularity. Traceability. Transparency. Digitization. Customization. Reshoring. Local for local.
Multisyllabic words, signifying much, actually.
Learn them, live them, love them – these terms aren’t going anywhere, and they definitely are helping to drive our industry into a promising future as more companies embrace these practices and ingrain them into their forward-focused DNAs.
Solid State 'shares' glory with local cotton farmer
One of the pitstops I made on my trek through the woven, knitted and meltblown web of virtuality covered all of those topics. The event was hosted by Burlington, N.C.-based TS Designs, which is putting on monthly Zooms to update interested parties on an important, admirable project it has undertaken through its brand, Solid State Clothing. As part of its mission to be traceable, transparent and local, the company is introducing the people behind each step of the process.
During the event, Amy Dufault, who heads the company’s communications and strategy efforts, reported that the company reached its year-end goal of selling 2,000 “cotton shares” in its 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Crowdfunding campaign (2,065, to be exact).
As detailed on eTC in November, Solid State aimed to buy that much cotton – enough to make about 15,000 T-shirts – from a local farmer, and investors would receive an ROI in the form of a T-shirt in the spring. TS Designs Founder, President & CEO Eric Henry announced earlier that the goal is to pay North Carolina farmers at above-market rate prices for cotton as “an experiment to see how flipping the power in the cotton supply chain can change the way farmers operate,” he said. It’s all about building a “domestic, transparent and equitable apparel supply chain,” one of Henry’s goals for many years, he said.
Given the success of its 10,000 Pounds of Cotton project, an ambition to further help build that supply chain is a 100,000 Pounds of Cotton project, Henry pointed out. “And that 100,000 pounds would be at a farmer-negotiated price,” he said. “We want to make sure the farmer is getting to the price that’s right.”
After highlighting cotton farmer Andrew Burleson and ginner Wes Morgan the previous two months, the TS/Solid State team stopped by the yarn-spinning link in its supply chain this week to host “The Harvest: A Gathering of Conversations for the Future of Cotton.” Representing partner Parkdale was Andy Long, vice president of sales and marketing at Parkdale’s SpunLab Division. That specialty yarn unit, with manufacturing in Graniteville, S.C., handles small yarn-spinning runs for customers and is also a hub of yarn innovation, he said.
“At Parkdale, we try to be innovative in every step of the process,” Long said. “We don’t wait for somebody else to do it.”
Long explained many of the processes that go into yarn production and the different types of spinning. Solid State’s clothes are ring spun, which requires more processing in order to ensure hand, evenness and uniformity, he said. And Henry added that TS Designs, through its local supply chain model, specifies a ring-spun product because the Upland Cotton grown in the region produces a heavier yarn and a better hand.
“We realize we're not going to be the low-cost producer, so let's make sure we can produce the best product while supporting the farmers here,” Henry said. “These shirts will be a 20-single ring spun, and it helps us utilize the cotton that's available in this area.”
Long also called Parkdale “farm-centric,” noting that its plants for the most part process cotton grown in the area of each of its 20-+ plants to reduce transportation costs and support the local economy.
He added that Parkdale is “stringent in its specs” because yarn is the starting point of fabric, and whatever you put into knitting or weaving is what you’re going to get out, he said.
“We make sure the micronaire, the strength, the length, the color, the trash level, everything is at a level where we feel very comfortable that, in our processes, we can get it to where its needs it to be, both from a performance standpoint in knitting or weaving and in dyeing and finishing,” he said.
Henry added that the U.S. grows great cotton, and having those resources allows Parkdale and others to produce good yarn that ends up in great textile products.
“We live in a country where pretty much everything is made overseas, and I hope that with this great wakeup call of COVID, we will realize we have this great resource here,” he said. “Let's stop importing 98 percent of our apparel from around the world and start making it here again. And we can. We have the most important starting point right here in our backyard.”
On the topic of sustainability, Long noted that the quality of the Solid State T-shirts, for instance, are much more preferable than a cheaper T-shirt.
“Fast fashion is throwaway garments,” he said. “And that's not good for everything else we're concerned about today – landfills, ocean pollution and all that. If you're wearing a garment twice and then chunking it into the garbage can, that’s not where we want to be in this industry, not long term.”
With a focus on domestic manufacturing, emerging from the pandemic offers an opportunity to build more local, resilient supply chains, Henry added.
“We have learned to produce more locally during COVID,” he said. “It would be hard to produce face masks and PPE quickly if you're 10 time zones away. So we're a lot nimbler now. And we're super excited because we have all the assets to grow, process and manufacture natural fibers here in the Carolinas.”
Henry also noted that an educated customer is the best customer, but that apparel is a challenge when it comes to building a local supply chain.
“But it starts with education and transparency,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but we have to start somewhere because what we’ve been doing with apparel is not sustainable – not sustainable for the environment, not sustainable for the country, not sustainable for the economy. We've got to change.”