WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is determined to give a boost to apparel and textile production in America.
In town for the Commerce Department’s SelectUSA summer conference, Michelle Gloeckler, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of home and the executive leading the U.S. manufacturing initiative, told WWD that fostering more apparel and textile production is key for the retail giant’s Made in America initiative. For the first time, Wal-Mart will try to connect manufacturers and suppliers — including apparel, textiles and home goods — with component parts makers at its second Manufacturing Summit in Denver Aug. 14 and 15, Gloeckler said.
At the same time, the retailer is stepping up its civic-minded role — cutting through red tape and knocking down obstacles to U.S. production — in its bid to invest $250 billion cumulatively in Made in America products over 10 years. Gloeckler said the retail giant is 18 months into its program and is on track to achieve its total investment commitment.
“We’ve been at this for 18 months and [chief executive officers] tell us that [among] the main obstacles to searching in the U.S. for a [factory] site is that it takes a lot of energy and navigation to go state by state because every state has different department leads on this,” Gloeckler said. “It can be very complicated and take a lot of time. Suppliers told us that our meeting last August,” cohosted with the National Retail Federation and bringing together 1,500 suppliers, governors, retailers and business leaders in Orlando, Fla., “helped them accelerate their timelines in finding new sites because we facilitated those meetings. They could see six state officials in one day, for example.”
At this year’s summit, the company is taking the networking concept a step further. It plans to hold an essential trade fair that brings together suppliers and components makers, she said.
“Wal-Mart does not make anything,” Gloeckler said. “Our goal is to facilitate and accelerate. Because we have relationships, through government relations and our stores and distribution centers, we can help them navigate in this arena and we can also reach out to mayors, congressmen, senators and governors and ask them to name the factories in their districts that have capacity and flexibility and can make component parts for suppliers who want to buy them here.”
She pointed to a list of raw materials categories and companies that will be represented at the Wal-Mart summit in August. Organized in trade-show booths, several U.S. textile companies, ranging from spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing and cut-and-sew operations, will be on hand to connect with apparel and home goods manufacturers.
Separately, on July 8, the company will host an “open call” in Bentonville, Ark., where the retailer has already registered 700 suppliers to pitch their finished products to about 200 Wal-Mart U.S., Sam’s Club and walmart.com buyers, she noted.
Gloeckler said 26 percent of the 700 registrants are from the “softlines” category, which includes apparel and home products. Another 30 percent are from the general merchandise sector and the remainder come from foods, consumables and goods not for resale.
In addition to the appointments with buyers, the suppliers will have an opportunity to sign up for educational break-out sessions, ranging from such topics as sustainability, financing, women-owned businesses, women economic empowerment, product compliance, labeling and packaging.
In a separate initiative, Wal-Mart has narrowed the field of manufacturing innovation grants it plans to give down to 20 finalists out of a pool of more than 75 applicants, Gloeckler said. The grants are part of the Wal-Mart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, which will give $10 million over five years in the form of grants to nonprofit organizations and universities. The first year of the initiative is focused on innovation in textile manufacturing and common manufacturing processes in the broader consumer goods area.
“The overall objective of the fund is to help accelerate progress in areas that have been obstacles to companies,” Gloeckler said. “A couple of key obstacles that people have told us about are around automated cut-and-sew and the regulations around the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], such as the disposal of dyes.”
She noted that the fund and allocated grants are not aimed at changing policy or regulations, but instead are focused on institutions developing innovative, cost-effective and sustainable technologies to make manufacturing more competitive in the U.S. in a broad array of products.
Asked if U.S. apparel and textile manufacturing will continue to grow and take hold, Gloeckler said: “With the appropriate amount of innovation and automation, it will become very compelling to evaluate making apparel, textile and shoes in the U.S.”