In response to CompanyWeek Publisher Bart Taylor's Feb. 21 column on reshoring, I think it important to consider a couple of points when thinking about sewing in the USA.
American sewing operations will not look like Chinese shops. The Americans will either sew in smaller teams with more cross training and flexibility, i.e., more of a small batch/workshop mentality. Or they will automate larger commodity based sewing operations. The industry is on the edge of a revolution in automation and the robots will be happy to slug it out with Asian factories 24/7.
For brands that sell direct, American manufacturing is currently more than competitive with street retail pricing. The 50-plus percent margin that street retailers demand doubles the wholesale price to their customers. Without that markup, brands that sell directly to their community have room in their cost of goods for American manufacturing.
American fabric mills are some of the best in the world with the most arcane business practices imaginable. Until the American textile industry figures out their relationship with jobbers and drops their insistence on selling full dye lots, small- and medium-sized sewn goods makers will struggle. In order to prosper, the American sewn goods makers need access to a wide variety of textiles in modern colors.
Apparel pattern-making software and digital cutting has to catch up to the times. I can buy an AutoCAD clone for $99 but it is $10,000 to touch digital pattern-making software, and that is without the hardware and yearly license fee. Open-source software and low-cost digital cutting are critical to all aspects of a healthy sewn goods industry. Factory efficiency, communication, and innovation all depend on us being able to communicate with each other in a 21st century manner.
The sewn goods industry in the United States must be reimagined with these four points in mind. Without a modern production vision, flexible supply chain, and high-tech tools, it will stay much as it is.
Kurt Gray is a consultant in the apparel industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.