Chairman Address: An Industry Outlook

As we begin our 32nd year as the association for suppliers to the wide universe of sewn products industries, we could note that some things have not changed much over that time; but if we did, we’d be missing the much bigger picture, not only on how much has changed but how that change is rapidly accelerating.

It’s true that our membership mix today, and the categories of products and services our members represent, is pretty much the same as it was 20 or more years ago. And it’s true that we still plan and look forward to the same signature events, a biannual trade show and an annual Executive Conference. But we’d be remiss not to note how globalization, digitalization, sustainable development goals, and now the impact of a global pandemic have changed not only our own companies but the companies of our customers and their customers and, frankly, consumers everywhere over that time.

When China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO), many of the products that our customers once produced in this country were already being sourced in Asia. Chasing the lowest cost was the primary focus behind the dramatic sourcing shifts in the '90s and 2000s. As we emerged from the great recession of 2008-09, and we saw the sewn products industries rebound, the mantra became speed, as in "how can we design, develop, and produce products faster?" The last decade saw the slow but steady rise of digital commerce and the creation of new, innovative business and logistics models. Through it all, SPESA members have responded to meet new challenges with creative solutions.

I am proud to have served on the SPESA Board for ten years now and I am even more proud to have worked with visionary Board members and Chairpersons, none more inspiring than our Immediate Past Chair, Nina McCormick. And, as proud as I am to have worked closely with the Gardner Group for nearly a decade, I am thrilled to be working with the McDonald Textile Group today. As an association, we have evolved and adapted admirably over the years but I fear that if we do not push that evolution into overdrive going forward we may be unable to effectively serve our members in the future. Sustainable development goals and the focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion are today more important principles than cost or speed for many, if not most, of our customers. Not only do our companies need to adapt to those changes, our association must find ways to help our members adapt.

Beyond that, it remains to be seen how the global Covid-19 pandemic will change how we do business in 2022 and beyond. In 2020, we witnessed an abrupt halt to business travel, trade shows — including our own Texprocess Americas — in-person meetings, and more. Through 2021, we still lived in the world according to Zoom, but we’ve also been optimistic that vaccines would pave the way to some kind of return to normalcy. We’ve all longed for a return to in-person gatherings and networking, and face-to-face encounters with customers. We were extremely fortunate to have pulled off a very successful Executive Conference in Boston in October.

But as we sit on the precipice of 2022, we find ourselves in a new Covid-19 surge, fueled by a far more contagious variant that’s already creating havoc in our industry. A major textile and apparel sourcing show set for late January in New York has already been shifted to virtual. On a personal note, I could count on one hand the number of people I knew who got Covid-19 prior to last month. As of this week, nearly everyone I speak with has or has had it. Our family, fully vaccinated and boosted, got it prior to Christmas and are just now fully recovered. The good news is that this new, highly contagious variant comes with milder symptoms and quicker recoveries, coupled (hopefully) with even stronger immunity. But, what about when the next variant emerges? I personally think that the wake-up call the world received with this pandemic has prepared us well for future variants and viruses. We are a resilient species and, thankfully, we are a resilient industry.

On that note, SPESA is confidently looking forward to hosting Texprocess Americas 2022 and SPESA's Opening Night Reception at Texprocess Americas this upcoming May. Whether you are a member, a subscriber, or an interested reader, we hope to see you there. We will host our 2022 Advancements in Manufacturing Technologies Conference in the quintessential USA manufacturing town, Detroit. And, we promise an even more exciting 2022 Executive Conference this Fall. We look forward to seeing you at all three.

As I embark on my tenure as SPESA Chairman, I have three key objectives. First, I want to broaden our membership base; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of suppliers to the sewn products industries who are not members today but would benefit by becoming a part of our network. There are whole categories of digitalization facilitators and software providers who could add to the depth and breadth of the products and services we provide to the market, exponentially adding value to all members. As a side benefit to growing our membership, I hope that enables us to increase the diversity of both our membership and our Board going forward. We will all benefit as our members and leaders better reflect our customers and their customers and this will undoubtedly create new opportunities for networking, business development, and education.

Second, I want to increase our collaboration and partnerships with other associations serving the sewn products industries; we all may have our own unique focus, but I believe we can add more value for all our members by finding common ground, conducting collaborative events, and sharing information.

Third, while I believe that large in-person trade shows will not go away, I think they will change and we need to prepare for that. Texprocess Americas 2022 will be a great test to gauge both exhibitor and attendee enthusiasm for this type of gathering; but Texprocess Americas 2023 will be an even bigger test. Making 2023 a success will require all of our collective energy, creativity, and, probably, some luck too. To that point, in the post-Covid world, I think we need to develop new and innovative ways to connect our members with customers and prospects that go beyond the traditional trade show.

What that looks like exactly, I am not sure today; but with your help and input, with our great SPESA Board, and with the dynamic leadership of the McDonald Textile Group, I am sure we will figure it out.

Best wishes for a healthy, safe, and prosperous 2022. I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta in May!

- Ed Gribbin, SPESA Chairman