I am no one’s apologist. I am a displaced garment worker yet I’m having a hard time drumming up more than perfunctory sympathy for the National Textile Association. The latter by the way, is busily lobbying congress on your behalf in an effort to defeat CAFTA or the Central American Free Trade Act which only affects textile producers. Yes, I’m sure you’re gratified to know that the NTA is busily telling Congress that you’re going to ship jobs overseas because you can’t buy US made fabric. As if. Were that the case, most of you wouldn’t have produced here in the first place since you couldn’t buy fabric made here from the day you opened your doors.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m opposed to unfair terms of trade but protectionist legislation has always protected this industry to its detriment. Consider the alternative, had the trade faced the sort of historic competition characteristic of other industries, there is every likelihood that apparel related businesses would have evolved their practices to be more efficient. We would have become more lean and a long time ago. When compared to other forms of manufacturing, apparel manufacturing is a barely concealed form of manufacturing by brute force and ignorance. This industry sports the lowest levels of education, pay, training and equipment. This industry is the industry with the least amount of investment in their employees and plants. According to standard manufacturing benchmarks, the apparel industry is “the antithesis of most modern industries in the postwar economy.” and I find that insulting by implication because I’m smarter than that and I know lots of people who are smarter than that too. Still, I have a hard time feeling sorry for someone who won’t do anything to improve themselves; those lobbying funds could have been better spent cleaning their own houses rather than the White House.
Believe me, I could not be more sympathetic towards those who’ll most certainly lose their jobs (mostly pocket twill evidently); in fact, I dare suggest I’m more sympathetic than those who employ them. If those who employed those workers looked around once in awhile, they’d see there’s tons of US based entrepreneurs who’d be delighted -beside themselves- to buy their goods. Unfortunately, the textile industry has ignored small businesses forever. After 15 years, I’m sick of it. It’s ludicrous that there’s a home industry desperate to buy piece goods and these guys can’t figure out a way to serve up smaller quantities. Maybe some of their members do -the directory is here– but I don’t know of any. Somebody, please prove me wrong.
You’ve seen what lean is, lean means small batches, lean is the future but these guys only want to deal in the thousands of yards. They haven’t re-invented their own processes to serve those customers -who could then grow themselves and buy more piece goods- the path of least resistance remains the status quo. I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for these guys whenever -daily- a DE tells me they had to buy 2 or 3 seasons worth of goods just to make a cut; that’s not lean. Our supply chain is holding us back from growing and moving forward. Access to reasonable fabric minimums outweighs any other complaint I hear from DEs. I have a hard time feeling sorry for the NTA when a designer has to go all the way to Thailand or Nepal to find fabrics with a lower minimum. I have a hard time feeling sorry for these guys when most of the DEs I know have to have most of their fabric imported from the Far East because they can’t find lower minimums closer to home.
All I can hope is that more of these displaced textile workers (sewing is unaffected) will buy a couple of knitting machines from the factory when it closes and start producing fabrics themselves. That’s happening you know. Displaced textile workers are opening up their own mills and luckily, they’re just our size. If any of you come up on any of these smaller mills and suppliers, share the wealth and pass along the information. I know lots of people who would love to do business with them. The NTA has ignored small producers for far too long and I resent the use of them to justify the continuation of archaic, monolithic business practices from behemoths. I am outraged that they ignore the “two thirds of all establishments that employ fewer than 20 workers” and have the nerve to complain about anything.