Looking Forward: Textiles 2012
James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief
Economics — coined "the dismal science" by Thomas Carlyle in the 19th century — has been a rather
dismal topic in recent years. So when Economics Editor Robert Reichard turned in his
Economic Outlook article titled "Textiles 2012: The Prognosis Is Good," the first response
was "Really?" Could it be true that the industry will continue to pull through?
Reichard has been writing about the economics of the textile industry for years. So to read his analysis, one knows this is an author who has observed the industry through a sometimes painful lens and has never shied away from the occasionally unpleasant truth the industry data present.
Although Reichard's analysis doesn't call for anything robust, each data set seems to pivot from the downward trends of the recession — many bottoming in 2009 — to a flattened and often upward movement.
Anecdotally, there have been encouraging signals in the marketplace. Feedback from ITMA has shown renewed interest in investment and upgrading of plant and equipment. Suppliers to the industry seem a little more upbeat and are increasing marketing and promotional activities. There has been strong feedback and participation in exhibitions like Texworld, Kingpins and Outdoor Retailer.
The industry continues to innovate. This issue highlights the commercialization of spider silk technology and takes a look at ballistic apparel — not your father's bulletproof vest, but fashionable apparel that can take a bullet.
Challenges in 2012 will certainly take their toll. It appears that there is less talk based on fear, fewer backward-looking comparisons, and a stronger sense of adjustment to a new normal. Big issues like cotton price volatility and increased fiber prices have thrown their best curves at the industry, and many companies are still standing.
It is probably not quantifiable, but U.S. consumers seem genuinely interested in where things are made — and U.S. manufacturing's image seems to have shifted from rusty to job-creating. And the economics of offshoring has changed.
In this election year, political and policy uncertainties will pose questions. Cheap capital - for those who can get access to it — creates an opportunity to invest and adjust product lines and capabilities. Recent headlines have pointed to increases in productivity that also improves American manufacturing competitiveness.
Optimism is often dangerous, but with the changes and challenges of recent years, it takes much less to feel good about the future of the U.S. textile industry. Optimism for 2012 — it just might be worth the risk.