Americas Apparel Producers’ Network Annual pro:Americas Conference 2021

Adapting to the COVID environment, AAPN brings new technology to the Network’s mission.

TW Special Report

The Americas Apparel Producers’ Network’s (AAPN) Executive Director Sue Strickland and Managing Director Mike Todaro have a long history of dedication to the members of the apparel supply chain in the Americas.

Strickland has run the organization since 1990 when it was known as the American Apparel Contractors Association. Todaro joined her in 1995. Membership numbers dropped drastically following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but through hard work and a willingness to embrace change — opening membership to the Americas in 2001, later the world; changing the name first to the American Apparel Producers’ Network, then in 2013 to the Americas Apparel Producers’ Network to reflect the changing nature of the organization; hosting conferences in Central and South America; adding regional conferences across the United States to allow less-senior personnel the opportunity to participate in the network; and establishing the Carolinas Mill tour to help educate brands and retailers on steps in the garment production chain with a focus on the supply chain available in the Carolinas — AAPN is thriving and growing today and adapting to meet the challenges of the Covid and post-Covid environments.

AAPN’s annual meeting, traditionally held in May in Miami, has grown through the years both in attendance and reputation. As Todaro commented at the close of the 2019 event, “This is my 25th year in the AAPN,” Todaro said. “Every year, EVERY year, these conferences get bigger, better and more important. Meeting as a supply chain is unique. Meeting as the Americas is unique. Meeting with so many key industry leaders is unique. We’re a one-of-a-kind network that learns from ourselves. We featured eight agenda events, six speakers and two panels — a total of 17 people, excluding me and our president Tony Anzovino — and only four of them were men! Lots of networking, lots of business transacted, lots of relationships formed, lots of trust. AAPN put the Americas on the map, and in May the Americas met at the AAPN.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March of 2020, it became clear that the 2020 in person event could not take place. Soon, travel restrictions, a growing understand of Covid and new demands on the apparel supply chain were in full swing.

AAPN’s responses was to open up the Network’s online Sourcing Center to produce for the medical community. Strickland noted at the time: “Within 10 minutes of launching on March 22, the center had its first post. As of April 3, more than 10,000 have viewed the center, with 3,500-plus registered users and nearly 500 posts. Users have come from every corner of the industry including members of NAUMD (uniforms), IFAI (fabric), INDA (nonwovens), SPESA (equipment), SEAMS (regional) and AAFA (lobby).”

The response was swift and potent. “This experience has been one of the most ground-breaking validations of the power of trust-through-networking in the nearly 40 year history at AAPN, which has been under Sue Strickland’s leadership for 30 years,” commented Todaro at the time.

As the response to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) stabilized, AAPN sought to use technology to fill the networking gap created by member’s inability to travel or meet in person. AAPN offered a series of “Fireside Chats” — virtual meetings with topics ranging from “The Swift Response – Activation Of Our Industry To Confront An Existential Crisis” to “Industry Insights From a Former Fortune 50 CEO” and “Traceability & Transparency”.

Now, the Annual pro:Americas Conference 2021 is on the calendar May 4, 2021, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with registration now open and closing April 27. As Strickland explained: “There is one new and exciting twist to the 2020 meeting. The event will be virtual, held in a massive multi-floor ‘convention center’ with attendees seated at eight person tables and moving table-to-table as seats open, sending notes agreeing to meet others privately, or one-on-one at a table for two. This is a bit of a learning curve but we are putting in place some tutorials and resources to enhance member’s experiences.”

The AAPN 2021 Annual Conference Agenda

  • Laura Phillips, senior vice president, Walmart, on its $350 billion Made in USA investment;
  • Dr. Juan Jose Daboub, president, ThinkHUGE, on its project top invest billions in apparel in Central America;
  • Steve Lamar, CEO of AAFA, on apparel industry legislation and sourcing post-pandemic;
  • Dr. Lynne Sprugel, CEO, abuzz global LLC, on her four Future Forum Innovation tams and their June report; and
  • Jesus Canahuati, CEO, Elcatex, on how Honduras is emerging from the virus and ramping up production.
Mike Todaro (left) and Sue Strickland

Strickland and Todaro sat down — virtually — with Textile World editors to elaborate on the new technology and expectations of the May 2021 conference that will notably go beyond zoom.

TW: AAPN adapted quickly to going virtual, first with the sourcing center, then the Fireside chats, how did members respond?

Strickland: Enthusiastically. We were all in the same boat, trapped at home. With the Sourcing Center, our first response was actually from a non-member, so it wasn’t just members, it was the entire industry, sitting there shell shocked until a “call to arms’” activated our industry’s sense of urgency.

TW: In trying to enhance the networking aspect of the annual meeting which has become so popular, what solutions did you investigate?

Strickland: We knew that people were overloaded with virtual events so we had to be respectful of their time while still giving them access to networking, for which we are known. We knew we could recruit terrific speakers. The challenge was literally face-to-face networking. A Board member referred a small firm to us that would manage our event on a proven conferencing platform.

TW: How does the multi-floor convention center with attendees seated at eight-person-tables work?

Strickland: Every registered attendee creates a profile including name, contact, linkedin and more. The screen for our conference shows a large number of tables for eight. If you roll over that table you can see who is sitting there. If there is an empty seat, you double click on it. As you sit, you can see the other seven people on a typical zoom screen.

TW: What can attendees expect from the experience? 

Todaro: Great, topical, useful, actionable content. WAY overdue face-to-face networking with long lost friends. Random break out sessions. Perhaps even a panel pulled from the audience. In other words, a high energy, no politics, deeply trusting AAPN event.

TW: The apparel supply chain has a heavily traveling membership. Do you think this will change? And what are your expectations for future in person events??

Todaro: Walmart told us they are going back to their offices on July 5. THAT will be a tipping point! We expect serious travel to be more frequent in the fourth quarter. The question of how one gets into or out of any country is going to be challenging.

TW: Is your Annual Conference the only major virtual event left for this year?.

Todaro: No. Last year, we hosted a virtual Future Form with over three dozen senior members. From that two hours came so much visionary forecasting we created an industry survey. From THAT came so many potential outcomes we created four Innovation Teams of three dozen members. Each team will present their conclusions, one virtual event per week, in June.

As vaccinations for COVID rise and the economy opens, the future of all industry events are coming into focus. Will the pandemic change the landscape of event offerings and expectations? No doubt, but if you’ve ever experienced an AAPN annual meeting, the environment where everyone in the room is accessible and welcoming of new relationships, will be craved by members and non-members alike.

April 6, 2021