By  on November 14, 2007

NEW YORK — After nearly 70 years as an organization, the Textile Distributors Association plans to disband next month.

About 25 members met Tuesday at Sardi's restaurant here, a gathering described by executive director Bruce Roberts as a "preliminary wake." Members will reconvene there on Dec. 11 to vote to dissolve the group at the TDA's final meeting-holiday party. Once members agree to dissolve the association, there will be a 90-day waiting period to ensure there is no outstanding debt. After that, the TDA plans to donate an estimated $30,000 runover to the Fashion Institute of Technology to set up a scholarship in Roberts' name. He serves on the school's board.

Following that motion's approval, members encouraged one another to continue to donate to the scholarship on their own — one attendee immediately pledged to give the equivalent of his company's annual dues to FIT.

"The TDA is not nearly as relevant as it used to be and the industry certainly isn't as relevant as it used to be," Roberts told the crowd. "Membership continues to shrink and the industry continues to shrink."

More than anything, the TDA's demise was at the cost of an increasing amount of apparel production being handled offshore. Membership has dwindled from about 365 to 50, said Roberts, who first joined the association in 1955 when he was working in Eastman Kodak's fibers area. Active in Washington lobbying, the TDA was instrumental in establishing flame-resistant standards, Roberts said.

Founded in 1938 as the Textiles Distributors Institute, the group has long been committed to keeping textile distributors abreast of issues affecting the industry. The ever-increasing number of imports has "obviously" been a concern for members for the past 30 years, he said. More recently, the TDA kept members informed about trademark and copyright issues as well as imports, quotas, bilateral agreements and textiles.

There were lighter times along the way. The TDA's annual meeting, which included musical lampoons of different industry issues, was a sold-out affair for years, especially when held at the Rainbow Room.

Roberts said there will always be a need for local producers to make certain special items and short-lead pieces. In addition, high-end producers can afford to have some goods made in the U.S., he said. "But that's going to be a small, small portion of the business."

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