A Look at the Past, Present, and Future of the Industry
Each month, Behind the Seams explores a different aspect of the sewn products industry. For October, we're looking at the past, present, and future of the industry.
This special edition of SPESA Speaks was penned by SPESA Chairwoman Nina McCormack.
At the beginning of this year, the SPESA Board of Directors and Events Committee sat down to discuss the 2020 Executive Conference. We talked about the issues facing this industry at the time, the fact that the event would be held just one week before the U.S. presidential elections, and our excitement to celebrate SPESA’s 30th anniversary. From there, it became obvious that the conference should tie all of those things together. We would spend our two days in Boston gathering with good company, reflecting on the past, talking about the present, and looking ahead to the future.
We aren’t going to make it to Boston this year, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. But we are dedicating this month’s Behind the Seams issues to exploring the past, present, and future of the sewn products industry, something I feel is well-timed as our industry faces new challenges.
We also look forward to bringing people together virtually in lieu of a live event. The Virtual Executive Conference (October 29-30) will aim to capture the same quality of content that industry professionals, including myself, have come to expect from SPESA events over the years. It is my hope that you’ll join us and raise a virtual glass to the legacy of this established and esteemed organization.
As I think of SPESA’s 30th anniversary, I find myself reflecting on my own time in the industry. It was a journey that started in Germany with Dürkopp Adler in 1996, and eventually brought me to Atlanta in 2004 when I took the position of President and CEO of Dürkopp Adler America, Inc. (now DAP America, Inc.). My new role in Atlanta differed from my work in Germany, presenting both challenges and opportunities to learn and adapt quickly. But it also opened a door to a brand-new industry community that welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to people I still consider mentors and friends today.
Many of those people I met through SPESA. In the spring of 2005, my predecessor encouraged me to attend the SPESA Annual Meeting — an event I have looked forward to every year since. Not only did that meeting (now called the Executive Conference) offer the latest and greatest in sewn products industry education, it also provided ample opportunities to network, have some fun, and connect with fellow industry professionals. It was a comradery like no other.
When I reflect on how the industry has evolved over the past 20+ years, that commitment to comradery has not changed. I recognize the fundamental principles remain the same: a dedication to good work, good people, and good products. It is this solid foundation that has laid the groundwork for the industry to be able to adapt to new trends. Throughout the years, we have seen the adoption of more automation and made-to-order technologies designed to keep up with the changing markets and consumer demands.
I genuinely believe the industry’s commitment to its people and ability to adapt to a changing world is what allowed for the quick pivot in production lines during this era of Covid-19. In just a matter of weeks I witnessed DAP America, Inc., along with other businesses in the industry, come together, identify resources, and transition to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). As challenging as these last few months have been, I have been captivated by how the industry has been able to take a difficult situation and turn it into something productive.
Watching the industry come together during such a challenging time gives me great hope for the future. I look forward to seeing how it continues to embrace the trends of modernization and automation, while maintaining the fundamental principles I spoke of earlier. It is also my hope that as the industry enters its next chapter it will embrace and foster environments that see more women and people of color in roles of leadership. I am a firm believer that a diverse workforce is key to a company’s continued success and growth.
Having been in Atlanta for just over 15 years now, it is also important for me to see that the U.S. continues to remain competitive among some of the major manufacturing markets around the world. The rapid increase in domestic PPE production over the last few months gives me confidence that the U.S. has reignited a new flame and will be a force in the industry for decades to come.
As generational shifts occur and new consumer and industry trends emerge, it is one of my greatest hopes to see the work of my peers and predecessors continue to be recognized and celebrated. And may we someday soon gather once more (ideally at a SPESA event!) to share stories about the past, cherish the present, and seek solutions to prevail in the future. For anyone reading this, I hope you’ll join me.
Nina McCormack is the Vice President and CFO of DAP America, Inc. She is also the Chairwoman of SPESA’s Board of Directors, a role she has held since 2019.