NEW YORK — All the elements are there — a revival for U.S. manufacturing, lower cotton prices, rising consumer demand and a real commitment to innovation — to believe a new era has dawned for the global textile industry.
With serious attention being paid to sustainable fabrics and production methods, and renewed enthusiasm for organic, natural and recycled textiles, the exhibitors, attendees and show organizers at the recent round of textile and sourcing trade fairs here agreed there is a new reality in their industry. The consensus at Première Vision Preview, Spin Expo, Texworld USA, the International Apparel Sourcing Show and the Kingpins Show was that the days may be over of rushing to the lowest-priced factory or country, paying only lip service to environmental concerns or shunning product development in favor of cranking out basic, commercially safe goods.
But that doesn’t mean all is rosy. There are plenty of obstacles in the way to make for uncertain but still upbeat times. Among them:
• Where will cotton prices go?
• Will enough investment emerge to take Made in America out of mothballs?
• Will consumer demand wane?
• What impact will the next natural disaster or political circumstance have on the apparel world?
One of the more talked-about developments is a potential revival of U.S. manufacturing, as recent statistics have indicated. Across the board, executives agreed the interest is there, but questions remain whether there will be enough firms prepared to invest in manufacturing and enough retailers and brands ready to make the commitment to pay extra for domestically produced goods.
Showing at Texworld USA, Walter Meck, chief executive officer of Fessler USA, a manufacturer of fabric and yarn using primarily Lenzing cellulosic fibers, said his firm, based in Orwigsburg, Pa., has survived the economic crises and is ready to grow.
Meck noted how Fessler has just completed installing 1,600 solar panels that cover about half the roof of the company’s Deer Lake manufacturing facility. The photovoltaic system will generate about half of the facility’s energy needs.
“It’s a different market now,” Meck said. “It has caused us to change and change for the better. We have always served the fashion market, but we’ve had to develop new products for the fashion market using new capabilities. We’ve also changed by moving into different markets, such as performance wear, outdoor wear and activewear. These are markets that are uniquely suited for U.S. production — smaller runs, faster turns, higher quality and higher value fabric. We can compete very well in the premium fabric end of the market. We can produce fabrics as competitively as anyone in the world.”
Just like the use of blended fibers, such as Lenzing’s Tencel mixed with cotton, gives a garment the best qualities of both materials, Meck said, so does a blended sourcing strategy.
“Bringing back U.S. manufacturing is more than talk; we’re seeing it,” he said. “It’s not going to happen the way people think it’s going to happen. We’re going to end up with a blended sourcing strategy. We’re getting back to the true theory of comparative advantage — where’s the best place to make certain things. For us it’s about sell-through for retailers, selling more goods at full price. If you have to pay a little bit of a premium, but you don’t have to mark down goods, then the retailers fall in love with Made in the USA again.”
David Sasso, vice president of international sales with Buhler Quality Yarns Corp., a fine-count yarn spinner of Supima cotton, Tencel, Modal and other Lenzing cellulosic fibers based in Jefferson, Ga., and also presenting at Texworld, said, “When people talk about coming back to the Western Hemisphere, there’s only so much that can come back. The number-one reason is we don’t have full confidence that the retailer will stay. Second, the U.S. government trade policy is our number-one enemy. You have the retail lobby pushing for free trade, pushing for cheaper products.”
However, Buhler, which Sasso said spins yarn for the “Kohl’s and upward” retail market, has benefitted from exporting — 60 percent of sales — to countries involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central American Free Trade Agreement.
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