Report from the Floor Day 2: A Bustling Crossroads

By Glenna Musante

After nearly a year and a half of being limited to working together by Zoom, Teams, Facetime, text, and phone, the US textile industry gathered together in person this week for Techtextil North America 2021. Although this was a highly anticipated reunion after months of shutdowns and quarantines, some in the industry wondered if the COVID-19 pandemic would keep people away. But strong attendance on Days 1 and 2 put those doubts quickly to rest.

Day 1 gained attendance as the day advanced. By early Day 2, the symposium rooms and the showroom floor at the Raleigh Convention Center were packed and bustling as old friends reconnected, new business relationships were formed and booths buzzed with sales pitches.

Throughout the show, the innovative spirit for which the US textile industry is known was alive and apparent, both in the discussions taking place between attendees and in the presentation topics at the Symposiums and in the Academy sessions on the show floor.

It was easy testimony to the fact that the US textile industry is thriving, but at the same time grappling with a new universe of issues. The COVID-19 global pandemic of the past 18 months flushed out a vast number of industry problems that require new levels of innovation and collaboration. Those problems include supply chain disruptions, logistic and shipping nightmares, uncertain product demand and onerous labor shortages. COVID-19 disrupted and even fully changed many aspects of the global textile industry. But as problems emerged, so have new solutions.

The Day 1 and Day 2 Symposium agendas, as well as the panel presentations at the SPESA meeting on Day 2, focused heavily on many of these issues. SPESA, the association for suppliers to the sewn products industry, held a day of meetings concurrently with Techtextil on Tuesday and their afternoon panel discussed the challenges of attracting labor back into the US textile industry.

New technologies, including advanced software and robotics, are now being integrated into many US textile manufacturing facilities and this is changing both the skills needed from and the career opportunities available to employees. The challenge now, according to staff at SPESA, is getting the word out that US textile manufacturing can once again offer an interesting, steady and rewarding career path.

Meanwhile, the symposium sessions focused on such topics as digital manufacturing strategies and digital tools, which have the potential to streamline an often fragmented supply chain. A morning panel on Monday titled Digital Transformation Strategy included industry experts from such companies and organizations as Henderson Sewing Machine Company, Fox River Mills, PVH and Carnegie Mellon.

The consensus in that session was that digitization prevents waste, reduces the time span from when a product is designed to when it is available for sale and can prevent ordering significantly more product than a brand or retailer can sell. That problem, in particular, was underscored during the early months of the pandemic.

Sustainability was a key topic in several of the symposia and floor presentations, as well. And in the booths on the show floor, companies announced new products and innovations. An example was the Hohenstein Institute, which introduced a new method for quantifying GMOs for organic cotton. As a spokesperson from Hohenstein explained, the company has introduced a DNA analysis that identifies genetic modifications in organic cotton. This, in turn, can help determine whether or not that particular cotton sample actually qualifies as organic.

That, and dozens of other innovations made their way to Techtextil North America 2021 on Tuesday. It just goes to show, that despite being apart, the industry has continued to move forward and work together. As they say, working together toward any great goal often takes a village - and in this case, an occasional crossroads where the people who make up the industry can meet, break bread, sell products and keep the US textile industry moving forward.