A Word From The Wise

Each month, Behind the Seams explores a different aspect of the sewn products industry with an editorial/introduction from the SPESA team called SPESA Speaks (which is only slightly confusing that it's also the name of our blog). This is the August 2021 SPESA Speaks.


In just three weeks, we’ll gather in Raleigh for SPESA’s 10th Advancements in Manufacturing Technologies Conference.

This conference is especially unique this year: it represents the first time SPESA is hosting an in-person event in more than eighteen months, and it comes at a time when a lot is happening across the industry. It’s important to us that we cover as much as we can during this one-day event. But before we get there, we wanted to give our Behind the Seams readers a first look at the topics being discussed.

Read on to hear what the Advancements Conference panelists have to say about the topics they will be covering on August 24. And if you haven't done so yet, we invite you to register for the Advancements Conference here.

What are the most pressing supply chain issues today?

"Supply Chain visibility, collaboration and agility are top of mind for all players in the industry in order to meet the changing consumer demands. Before the pandemic, one of the primary concerns was price. Retailers were focused on keeping costs low while producing and selling the most product in the most efficient manner. While this is still crucial, today’s market has moved to smaller, more customized work orders. Consumers want a larger variety of fashion goods and faster speed to market, so retailers are feeling overwhelmed. The sheer quantity and variety of runs, with very short time to delivery, outline the need for technology more than ever, and recent regulations are further driving the need to track garments back to the source. Clear transparency into the sourcing-through-production process is key in the apparel, garment and textile markets."

- Paul Magel, President, Application Solutions Group, Computer Generated Solutions

"Currently, some of the most pressing supply chain issues include increased cost of production with access to supply and raw materials from overseas being increasingly difficult; the need for faster production in order to keep up with consumer demands; and limited visibility into the full supply chain. This is stacked up against shipping and other logistics issues that make deliveries of either those raw materials or finished goods very unpredictable. Labor is also increasingly difficult, especially in the U.S., as people are still not coming back to work and the skillset for many applications is not there. Many companies are seeing an increased backlog now more than ever and they do not have the staff or materials to be able to fulfill these orders."

- Leonard Marano, President, Americas, Lectra

"(1) The challenges to forecasting — consumer demand and the corresponding production requirements — through a cloudy and opaque lens due to the current turbulence being experienced throughout the entire supply chain. (2) The interest in reshoring or near-shoring in order to alleviate some of the challenges associated with long and complex global supply chains. (3) The development of a modular approach to cut-and-sew operations to provide flexibility and more rapidly react to swings in consumer demand, particularly in an e-commerce driven environment."

- Mariano Amezcua, President, DAP America, Inc.


How will these issues change global supply chains moving forward?

"Brands and retailers are now accountable for their suppliers’ labor and environmental practices. To ensure the supply chain is in compliance, brands must review their suppliers. Concerns include having factories in countries that traditionally have not followed ethical practices or those countries that are currently suffering from political unrest (e.g., Hong Kong, Myanmar), which will affect labor, manufacturing and infrastructure. On retailers’ end, managing inventory is critical to the sustainability process.

"The change in buyer habits including the immediate need for a garment and/or more rapid trends have left retailers with too much inventory or not the right inventory — wrong colors, sizes or styles. With digital applications, brands and retailers can better estimate, allowing for accuracy and thus less waste. The brand and retailer can meet the consumers’ demands for faster turnaround and less overstock and waste. The use of technology can easily review the end-to-end supply chain, helping to ensure their materials, practices and partners/suppliers are ethical and are following sustainable practices."

- Paul Magel, CGS

"Going forward, many companies are going to address these issues through digital integration. Throughout the pandemic, we've already seen many companies begin to utilize technology to address issues with the supply chain and we'll see this trend continue. Technology is no longer just an option, it's a requirement in order to succeed and overcome challenges. We will also see an increased need for nearshoring, and domestic supply at costs that are affordable, as well as the push for more mandates to get the supplies that are needed overseas so that business can operate at the capacity that is needed."

- Leonard Marano, Lectra

"(1) Closer relationships to industrial customers resulting in a highly-integrated supply chain. Reliance on data analytics to help more accurately decipher consumer demand; (2) A more integrated supplier base that can better respond to continuous changes in product development to deliver the right product, to the right place, at the right time; (3) A more concentrated supplier base that can gain the production efficiencies of verticalization and respond faster to market demands by being closer to the consumer."

- Mariano Amezcua, DAP America, Inc.


What does a “flexible” factory floor mean to you?

"A flexible factory floor is the ability to manufacture products quickly and convert from manufacturing one product to another product within the same types of goods: knits, wovens, jeans, etc. By using machines that can perform multiple operations you can reduce change-over time, de-skill the labor and produce multiple sewn products with the same machinery."

- Frank Henderson, CEO, Henderson Sewing Machine Co.

"Ability to adapt in real-time to the requests of customers while maintaining a productive and optimized process."

- Michael Rabin, President, Morgan Tecnica America

"A flexible factory floor to me means that your manufacturing can be quickly converted from manufacturing one product to another. By using machines that can perform multiple operations you can both reduce change-over time and potentially use less-skilled labor."

- Warren Shannon, Sales & Operations Manager, Industrial Sewing Machines, Mitsubishi Electric Automation, Inc.


What steps need to be taken for companies to adopt more flexible manufacturing practices?

"Companies need to take their sewing operations into the digital manufacturing workspace."

- Frank Henderson, Henderson Sewing Machine Co.

"Open to adapt solutions that will permit the factory to have the level of flexibility required."

- Michael Rabin, Morgan Tecnica America

"Companies need to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and experience in our industry. Working as partners manufacturers and suppliers can together identify areas where manufacturing processes can be improved to provide more flexibility and efficiency."

- Warren Shannon, Mitsubishi Electric Automation, Inc.


Why do you think the industry is pursuing alternatives (like bonding) to traditional sewing?

"Consumers have always wanted more from a garment. As consumers we require more than simply style and fashion. Comfort, fit, and appearance are so very important to all of us. The use of bonding allows for the elimination of stitching and sewn seams for greater comfort while providing smoother lines. Whether it’s ladies undergarments or various forms of athletic wear, the elimination of sewn seams is important in meeting today’s fashion, improved comfort, and fit."

- Rick Frye, Director of Engineering, Brother International

"I believe the industry is trying to pursue sewing alternatives to traditional sewing to begin to automate production flows while minimizing labor-intensive processes and minimizing waste. Automation can help minimize defects caused from human errors. In addition, the labor involved with sewing is where many of the social problems arise such as child labor, forced labor, and wages. If you begin to automate, you would need skilled staff to run the advanced equipment, allowing the heavy lifting to be on actual equipment and less on humans meaning less variables for error. Humans can then free up time to increase their education, knowledge and expertise to learn more advanced skillsets to operate technical equipment."

- Hayato Nishi, Public Relations Manager, SHIMA SEIKI U.S.A

"As we move to automated systems that need to achieve high throughput, the speed that ultrasonic bonding delivers is fantastic and you don't have to worry about thread breakage. On traditional sewing machines, the needle punctures holes into the fabric, weakening its structure while the overlap of fabrics at the joint creates thick seams that are bulky, can restrict movement, are wasteful and adds weight to the garment."

- Dr. Andre West, Director of the Zeis Textiles Extension for Economic Development


What do you envision is the future of sewing alternatives? How can traditional sewing and sewing alternatives work together in manufacturing?

"I think we need to be clear that the use of bonding to join materials in producing a garment is not to replace sewing. When you consider various forms of clothing, the use of bonding to join material is to “enhance” the garment. Bonding technology as well as other forms of sewing alternatives provide greater flexibility in the design and construction of a garment. Consider also the use bonding technology for non-apparel related products such as backpacks, outdoor gear, and other non-apparel type products that are typically sewn. Eliminating sewn seams can lead to watertight (or airtight) construction which can at times be a necessity."

- Rick Frye, Brother International

"I envision the future to be going from raw materials, directly to the final product. The raw materials will be turned into fiber, and then spun into yarn. The yarn can then be 3D Knitted into its final product form and shape using WHOLEGARMENT 3D Knitting. I also hope that someday there will be newer machinery innovations to develop 3D Weaving machines in the future, to get rid of relying on labor to piece different fabric panels together. Even with advanced 3D technologies like WHOLEGARMENT to construct the product, there will still be some additive processes after the garment is made. There is still a need for attaching main labels, care labels, trims, and hangtags so there will not be a world where sewing is obsolete. Therefore, it would be great if we can begin to take away sewing processes where possible, so that factories can begin to automate most of the product, and minimize the labor intensive processes to effectively streamline their production flow and decrease the margin of error caused by humans."

- Hayato Nishi, SHIMA SEIKI U.S.A.

"Ultrasound equipment can be used for many different technological devices. From detecting objects to measuring distances, cleaning and so much more, to seam, cut, slit, trim, tack, emboss, or to cut and seal at the same time. We have to look at how these operations can be incorporated into garment technology. Right now we have an all-or-nothing approach. It would be a better approach to ask the question does this improve garment functionality as opposed to the perceived conventional beauty of what we think a seam should look like. In the end, form always follows function."

- Dr. Andre West, Director of the Zeis Textiles Extension for Economic Development


Why should a member of the millennial or Gen Z generation want to join the sewn products industry?

"Why not join this industry? Think of your passion and what you are good at or always wanted to do. This industry offers it all from engineering, robotics, design, technology, science, government compliance, development of talent, and selling. This industry keeps reinventing itself with new materials, gaming-like software, digital designs, etc."

- Jill Coleman, Vice President Global Business Development & Sales, Motif


What can the industry do to fill the current generational gap?

"Invest time in listening to your employees, listen to what your children and grandchildren are doing, retain the expertise you have, promote a learning culture from the top down, and make training a priority in your annual budgets."

- Jill Coleman, Motif