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.

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  1. Eric H says:

    I’m glad we both agree on both means and ends on this (in case anyone cares, we normally agree on ends but not always on means). I think this actually opens rather than closes the door for smart DEs and especially the suppliers who start to focus on them. Now all we need is for a few suppliers to learn about the internet, buy computers, and find this blog (and the companion forum).

  2. Josh says:

    It has always been in my plans to own a fabric mill one day. If I can ever get my clothing started and making money I plan on it. Although you got me pretty down with the reality of how hard it is to get fabric.

    Why can’t we start some sort of Union that deals with this sort of thing? We all come together and try and forcefully educate these mills. Make something happen. I’m ready to work for the cause and make something happen. You got me fired up Kathleen. This is something I’m extremely passionate about. It fustrates me to no end that the fabric is so hard to get to. Think of the DE’s that feel the same way. We have to unite and show that we mean business and we are not gonna take it.

  3. J says:

    “…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.”

    I think you were being rather tongue in cheek in this statement as well as staying on topic, but CAFTA would really affect a lot more, including availability of over the counter and prescription drugs and the availability to purchase things like vitamins without approval of the product by the larger US pharmecutical companies.

  4. Ironies of fabric sourcing

    I often talk to Kathleen about my woes of being a DE and starting off small. One of the biggest problems I have is sourcing fabric at small minimums, meaning 100 yards or less per fabric. Many of you know…

  5. Josh says:

    Since I’ve revisited this post I have a question. Why is it that Thailand can supply small mins but the US has trouble doing the same? Is it just that asia is more lean friendly? Help me understand that.

  6. Irv says:

    I think one single dollar means more to some in Asia. Attitude is part of it as well. Small tasks you ask of Asian producers are gladly accepted, and they don’t surcharge you at every turn for seemingly mundane chores.
    We purchase cloth from all over the world and do try to support US mills as much as we can. You would think that proximity would help in shortening the supply chain. Well guess what. In many cases, Asian sources totally outperform US and CDN sources in every aspect.
    I purchased $800.00 worth of sample yardage yesterday from a mill in Massachusetts. I asked if I could have them split a 50 yd roll to accomodate one last color. Sure, for an additional $50.00 cutting fee.
    You see my point. Piss poor attitude, and total lack of customer service really makes you wonder.
    Is anyone on this continent hungry anymore?

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