ATLANTA — Executives at the SPESA Expo showed a renewed commitment to reducing shipping time lines, strengthening supply chains and adopting new technology and equipment to produce faster.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The show, which ended its three-day run at the Georgia World Congress Center on May 20, is the first since 2007 for SPESA, or Sewn Product Equipment & Suppliers of the Americas. SPESA had been affiliated with Material World in Miami on a once-every-three-years basis since the 2002 demise of the Bobbin Show, which was held at the same venue and focused on the sewn products and equipment industry.

Still more changes are afoot with SPESA, as it recently agreed to partner with trade show producer Messe Frankfurt USA to launch Texprocess Americas, a new sewn goods trade show the two companies will coproduce. Texprocess Americas will be held every even year and will colocate with Techtextil North America. The first show is to be held in Atlanta from April 24 to 26, 2012.

SPESA’s 240 exhibitors colocated this year with Techtextil North America and another textile show, ATME-I Megatex, allowing buyers entry to each with just one badge in what was dubbed Textile & Sewn Products Industry Week.

Benton Gardner, president of SPESA, said the co-location of shows brought in more crossover business and helped strengthen attendance.

Although the show is primarily marketed toward companies in the Western Hemisphere, there was a strong international presence from 67 countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, China and Venezuela. While hedging against the exodus of domestic manufacturing to Asia and Central America has been a hot-button topic at past shows, many companies focused on ways to improve foreign production rather than resist it.

Mike Fralix, president and chief executive officer of TC2, a technology research, development and consulting company in Cary, N.C., predicted most manufacturing would continue to occur abroad, but by focusing on improving foreign factories’ equipment, such as needle positioning and stitch counters, production could potentially move back to the Western Hemisphere within five to 10 years.

“When manufacturers began moving out of the U.S. years ago, a lot of that business moved into areas in Asia and Central America where automation wasn’t used properly,” Fralix said. “We’re starting to see those countries adopt the proper equipment now. As digital technology becomes more and more advanced and the need for physical samples is reduced, companies will want to get their manufacturing closer to home since there won’t be such a need for major sample production.”

To this end, advancements in technology took center stage, particularly in the “Cool Zone,” an area devoted to interactive demonstrations of machinery and technology.

TC2 organized the area, as well as educational seminars that ran during the show, and reported a trend toward virtual imaging technology, including body scanners and avatar software designed to provide more visualization and cut down excess sample production.

“There are 5.2 samples created for every product that goes through the design process,” Fralix said. “If you can reduce that number to one, you eliminate waste and become more sustainable.”

Exhibitors within the “Cool Zone” area addressed this by offering faster, more cutting-edge products.

Sam Simpson, vice president of sales for Gerber Technology, an integrated software and hardware automation systems company that showed in the area, said buyers responded best to Gerber’s new PLM solution software that focuses on improving management, an AccuMark system that strengthens collaboration on functionality such as pattern modification between domestic companies and overseas producers, a full-format plotter at a reduced price and Pivex equipment that features a high-speed oscillating knife.

Gerber introduced 12 products at the show and saw between 150 and 175 new clients, which Simpson said were most interested in computer-aided design systems because “they are the entry-level point for a manufacturer when they’re trying to change their business.”

Among the more novel and affordable solutions in bridging supply chain gaps were exhibitors such as FastFit360, which offered a Web-based tool featuring 3-D fit models rotating at 360 degrees, allowing for quick alterations and fit adjustments.

The firm’s current client list includes Victoria Secret, Maidenform and Marks & Spencer.

Roxy Starr, chief technical officer, said the online system, designed to mirror social networking, reduces shipping time and costs, and helps strengthen communication between domestic companies and their foreign producers.

Show participants also buzzed about fast fashion and sought ways to secure market share in such a lightning-speed market.

Kevin Knaus, a fashion industry consultant and professor of fashion marketing and management at the Savannah College of Art and Design, contributed to a seminar on trend forecasting and emphasized the challenges manufacturers face in competing with fast fashion.

“What’s happening on runways is happening now in fast fashion,” Knaus said. “Manufacturers, more than ever, have to compete with companies like Zara, which produces 26 collections a year with 40 to 60 pieces each. People have to do business lean and mean to keep up. [The apparel industry] has this mind-set that China is cheap, but there are multiple places there where companies can go to make a good, quality product. You can get low-end or high-end [products] in every country.”

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