Looking Back to Boston

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 November 2021 SPESA Speaks.


It was November 2019. The newly-minted SPESA team had just returned from its inaugural Executive Conference in New Orleans, and was looking to kick start planning for its 2020 edition of the event. Except this time, the team would head north, not south. Boston, it was decided. A city known for bright minds, and neighboring manufacturing hubs. It felt like the right fit, and after a site visit in December 2019, it was the confirmed destination.

Well, we know what happens next. Boston was put on hold. A virtual conference was held in 2020 in lieu of an in-person meeting. We pivoted, just as everyone did. And came out on the other end, a little weather-beaten, but stronger and more resilient than we were when we went in.

Two years after the SPESA team started planning its Executive Conference in Boston, it finally happened. For the team, it presented a whirlwind of emotions. There was an excitement to see familiar faces, and be introduced to new ones. There was a strong determination (accompanied with some nervousness) to do it right — find the best speakers, pinpoint the best topics. Let’s face it, a lot is at stake when it’s been two years! But once the event came to a close, and we all collectively exhaled, it felt good.

We reflect back on the newness of it all. There were new topics discussed, and new stories shared, and new ideas presented. More than twenty speakers shared insight into the work they’re doing and how the industry is shifting and innovating. When you bring together so many smart industry leaders to cover so many important topics, you’re left with what seems to be an endless list of takeaways. For that, we offer you some broad insights that we collected once the conference wrapped:

Massachusetts is a Thriving and Growing Manufacturing Hub

And they seem to be doing something right. On the first day of the SPESA Executive Conference, we brought together a panel of Massachusetts-based professionals, including Brenna Schneider, Founder & CEO of 99Degrees; Charlie Merrow, CEO of The Merrow Group Companies; and, Kevin McCoy, Vice President Made - Manufacturing, Engineering, R&D, Product and Innovation at New Balance. The panel was moderated by Matthew Wallace, CEO of DXM Inc. During the discussion, we learned about efforts being made at a local- and regional-level to recruit talent, incentivize productivity, and build a community on the manufacturing floor. The state of Massachusetts has reserved a significant portion of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to support workforce development efforts in the region. And although challenges still exist, the region appears to have a firm grasp on growing its workforce, whereas other markets across the U.S. (notably the Southeast) continue to struggle. Michael still hasn’t been able to wrap his head around Brenna’s comment “we have no trouble finding operators.” With workforce development being a major topic of interest for the SPESA team, this is a trend that we will continue to follow and report on.

The World and Its Supply Chains Have Been Forever Changed

With the supply chain crisis still looming, manufacturers and suppliers are scrambling to identify alternative strategies to mitigate future risks. One idea: a renewed focus on reshoring and near-shoring. This is a topic that came up multiple times during the SPESA Executive Conference, most notably during a virtual presentation from Walmart’s Ashish Bharara who leads the company’s American Lighthouses initiative. Bharara shared how Walmart is investing in American manufacturing to support U.S. job growth.

While there is an overarching understanding that a strong global ecosystem is important for many businesses, there is also a belief that less reliance on foreign shores is crucial for success. The recently released Thomas Index State of North American Manufacturing Report reveals that many manufacturers intend to reshore parts of their supply chains. More supply coming from the U.S. could contribute more than $400 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the Thomas Index.

Connection and Collaboration Are More Important Than Ever Before

Arnie Kravitz, Chief Technology Officer at Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing said it best: “Overall, the importance of collaboration and connection is huge when it comes to innovating.” Arnie, alongside Cheryl Gomes, Technical Program Manager at University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Department of Industry Partnerships and Economic Development; Katya Roelse, Instructor at the University of Delaware’s Fashion and Apparel Program; and, moderator Lloyd Wood, President of the Lloyd Wood Group joined for a conversation on how educational institutions were joining forces to advance the sewn products industry. The panel, coined “Wicked Smart: Textile Research and Innovation”, served as a reminder of the importance of collaboration when it comes to progress and industry growth.

But the importance of collaboration and connection doesn’t stop there. At one point during the second Workforce Development Case Study session, led by Sarah Krasley, CEO of Shimmy Technologies, and Daniella Ambrogi, Global Marketing Director at CGS, a conversation on company mission and vision statements started. Multiple members of the audience raised hands to read their own mission and vision statements. A synergy was felt across the room, as people shared ideas and goals for the future. It was a unique experience to witness.

Last week, in many ways, served as a new launchpad for SPESA. As an organization, we thrive on bringing people together. Growing and learning, connecting and collaborating. And our time in Boston achieved just that. As we start to map out our 2022 Executive Conference (which will likely be held in warmer climates), we look forward to finding new ways to bring people together and new opportunities to learn and grow. In the meantime, we wish you all a wicked good close to 2021.