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ATLANTA — The Techtextil North America and TexProcess Americas shows — focused on technology and innovation — fed right into the resurgence of apparel manufacturing in North America.
With consumer-led trends forcing faster turnarounds for producers, companies served advancements focused on high-tech automation in cutting, spreading and sewing, collaborative product development, quicker costing and advancements in sizing and 3-D design.
Ending its three-day run May 15 at the Georgia World Congress Center here, the co-located fairs offered fabrics for basics to fashion apparel, as well as backpacks, flame-retardant uniforms, medical applications, filtration and textile architecture. TexProcess featured apparel equipment and technology suppliers. There were 363 exhibitors at Techtextil and 164 at TexProcess.
“Made in America is very hot right now,” said Shane Cumming, vice president of sales and fashion at Lectra North America. “We see that in a number of areas. We’re working closely with the CFDA’s (Fashion Manufacturing Initiative) to bring some of the industry back to New York — not in its former form, but in a form in which manufacturing supports the design aspect of the industry. Trends now are shorter lead times to market and that’s hard to do when all your manufacturing is offshore.
“We’re seeing movement of production from Asia to Central America, as China becomes more expensive,” Cumming continued. “There’s not enough sewing capacity anymore in the U.S. and bringing it back to the U.S. takes time because you need skilled sewing operators.”
Sam Simpson, vice president of global strategic accounts at Gerber Technology, said, “The buying pattern of the consumer has changed. They’re putting off their decision to buy until they’re ready and they want their clothing to be more individualized. Small lots and fashion runs are causing a shift of the business.”
A lot of talk on the show floor was about VF Corp. bringing manufacturing back to the Western Hemisphere. Aaron Ledet, vice president of U.S. manufacturing, said the company is bringing back some production for The North Face and Timberland. The North Face originally was made in the U.S. until production moved to Asia. Now, VF has opened two factories in Honduras for The North Face, reducing lead times to about three weeks from five months in Asia.
“We think that trend will continue as we bring more production back,” he said.
VF also has moved some Timberland production to the Dominican Republic. Ledet said VF was able to achieve cost reduction and shorter production lead times for both brands. The company already makes Majestic Athletic and the Seven For All Mankind denim line in the U.S. Ledet said VF was at the show looking for automation to reduce labor costs at any stage of manufacturing and there was plenty to find. New technology focused on speed, accuracy and less operator handling.
In a seminar on “Re-shoring, Near-shoring and Startup Manufacturing Strategies,” Will Duncan, executive vice president at TC2, said priorities for companies now are being beyond reproach on ethical issues, shorter product development cycles, quick costing, shorter production lead times, and not chasing the cheapest labor costs, which means investments in automation and manufacturing technologies.
“To me, this means that manufacturing in the U.S. makes good sense,” he said.
Duncan added that TC2, a Cary, N.C.-based research and consulting organization, is working on an apparel factory re-shoring fashion initiative that includes a modern model of a factory with lean manufacturing and management, extensive cross-training of employees, and a lean supply chain.
Lectra pushed lean manufacturing and product development, including an upgrade in its Kaledo product that saves all design aspects to the Lectra fashion platform and makes components available to Lectra Fashion PLM. Gerber showed a new release of its AccuMark 9.0 pattern design and marking software integrated with its XLS spreader and Paragon cutting system that tracks work in process and minimizes errors. The company also showed a new cutting platform requiring little operator intervention. Henderson Sewing Machine Co. introduced the Lowry button-hole machine using SoftWear Automation’s gantry-style robot that is vision-controlled to load cut goods into a sewing machine.
“It helps keep labor costs down and is flexible manufacturing to integrate into existing sewn products manufacturing systems,” said Frank Henderson, president of Henderson.
Durkopp Adler showed the latest in automatic sleeve setting, pocket setting for jeans and other bottoms and setting of button holes.
One of the hottest areas at TexProcess Americas was CoolZone, sponsored by TC2. Here, SoftWear Automation also demonstrated a robotic sewing machine capable of sewing together two independent pieces of fabric. This technology should be ready for market within 18 to 24 months. Sizemic, based in London, showed its 3-D approach for size and fit solutions to provide retailers with more consistency in sizing for their customers.
Also at CoolZone, Styku launched a new version of MeasureMe, integrating its portable body-scanning technology with Tukacad’s Tailor Edition technology. Veit demonstrated its Shirt Finisher with Moisture Control that has an automatic drying sensor for shirts, saving on energy and working time. AM4U presented VIMA, a manufacturing project that has completed the first integrated mini factory and now is finishing a consumer interface for online and retail sales, and Browzwear USA offered its latest 3-D fashion design tool that allows designers to use tools like Adobe to create designs.
Mount Vernon Mills shows denim fabrics, some with 40 percent stretch for jeggings, as well as cotton and flax blends for sportswear, a nylon and Cordura blend for workwear, and a lightweight cotton and Repreve blend for workwear and activewear. Milliken & Co. had fabrics with wicking and odor control for the activewear market. Contempora Fabrics showed piece-dyed fabrics with heather or striated looks, while American & Efird showed its new AneSoft thread that has stretch and recovery for use in activewear, intimates and garments where softness is critical.