NEW YORK — The arguments for Made in America’s role in the global supply chain have crystallized in the last couple of years and were voiced by a diverse panel at the offices of Lectra North America here.
Roy Shurling, president of Lectra North America, which specializes in automated product design, development and manufacturing systems in apparel and textiles, along with furniture and automotive, noted several factors came together to bring the resurgence of American manufacturing from a pipe dream to a reality.
“The first was the need for compression of time…people wanting things faster in the stores and wanting to manufacture closer to their stores,” Shurling said. “Another key point was brand image and where you manufacture having an impact.”
Then there’s the issues of corporate social responsibility, he noted, as companies didn’t want to be associated with negative stories in the media.
“If you look at all the bad things that happened in Bangladesh, those aren’t really good things for the brand image of the companies that produce in those facilities,” he said. “Control is another issue, working across distances. There also began to be the feeling that the Asian supply chain wasn’t as stable. There were changes in China to manufacture more for local consumption. The stability of the supply chain was moving and shifting.”
In addition, he said, rising fuel and labor costs in Asia created a rebalancing of costs.
Juan Zighelboim, president of Textiles Opico, an El Salvador-based activewear manufacturer, said proximity and upgrading his factory with state-of-the-art technology for greater capability and efficiency have been his greatest attributes.
“Proximity is a wonderful thing,” Zighelboim said. “I can leave New York at seven and am at the factory at 11. It is also very important when dealing with product development and design people.”
He said this extends from better communication to the logistics of shipping fabrics within the Western Hemisphere compared with Asia.
Ashley Stone, vice president of operations at Ashley Manufacturing Corp., a maker and marketer of dancewear, said, “We make 800 styles a year and produce smaller runs, so we can’t be producing 10,000 garments in China. Making our line in the U.S. allows us to be more current. We need shorter runs and have quick demands, so we need faster turnaround times. So it’s ideal for us.”
Tod Greenfield, vice president of manufacturing for Martin Greenfield Clothiers, said, “More than half of what we produce are single garments made to measure, so those could be produced overseas. But we’ve always been located in New York, so there is no need to move somewhere else. It might be somewhat cheaper to manufacture somewhere else, but there’s no real value added to doing that. We’re close to our customers.…We also have a dedication to our workforce. It doesn’t make sense to us to save a few percent and put those families out of work.”
Greenfield said there are challenges with the supply chain, such as availability of certain trimming and materials, “but as more manufacturing returns, then more supply chain will follow.”
Zighelboim said for some companies it’s a change of mind-set that had them thinking for so many years that U.S. manufacturing was dead, or that it would be too difficult to switch operations to the Western Hemisphere from Asia.
“We try to explain that there’s a whole host of advantages to doing things quicker and nearer,” he said. “The further out you have to plan things, your risks and liabilities are higher. It makes sense to balance your portfolio. You might not leave Asia, but you should put some items in the fire here.”
As discussion turned to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s mulitbillion-dollar commitment to Made in America, Mike Todaro, managing director of the American Apparel Producers Network, with 180 member companies spanning the supply chain, said AAPN’s message to Wal-Mart is: “We’re not competing. You’re coming to our members for Made in America, so take it or leave it. We’re not competing on price. You can have a Made in USA program or just go back to Cambodia.”
Some talked about the challenges of finding the right factories in the U.S. to produce the merchandise, since Wal-Mart’s program doesn’t allow for production in other Western Hemisphere countries, even if it includes U.S. fabrics or yarns. There was also a question of whether there are enough trained workers in the U.S.
Stone’s company, which manufactures in Jesup, Ga., participates in a state-funded training program and has been able to hire qualified workers. She added, “In a small town, people need jobs.”
Greenfield said, “We have a lot of immigrants from Central and South America that came here with some industry experience. We’re able to find some pretty good sewers.”
The bottom line for these executives is that if a company wants to manufacture in America or the Americas, there’s a growing opportunity to do that.