AAPN’s 2019 Carolina Mill Tour educated participants and highlighted the capabilities of seven Carolinas-based mills.
By Rachael S. Davis, Executive Editor
Pulling off the Carolina Mill Tour is no easy feat for the Atlanta-based American Apparel Producers’ Network (AAPN). The logistics and transportation required for the event take countless hours of planning, but for the past two years — with the assistance of participating mills — AAPN has made it happen.
Established in 2018, the idea for the tour originated with Ron Roach, president, Contempora Fabrics, Lumberton, N.C. (see sidebar). Over the course of five full days, the 2019 tour took 24 participants — who source fabric, production or trim directly for a brand/retailer — to seven mills located in North and South Carolina (see box) to learn first-hand about production methods and capabilities that exist in the Carolinas. The tour even threw in a regional AAPN meeting in Charlotte one morning, so participants also got to experience a regional AAPN meeting — one that featured VF Corp. Vice President Thomas A. Glaser.
Participants in the 2019 mill tour came from companies including PVH Corp.; Jockey International; Dick’s Sporting Goods; Fanatics; Tegra; VF Workwear; Haggar; and the U.S. Air Force Uniform Office.
Speaking of the 2019 mill tour participants, AAPN Managing Director Mike Todaro said: “We were delighted to have 24 people from 12 organizations, especially since 16 of those touring were women. This dovetails into our new AAPN (Women) initiative. These young people want to take new skills back to work. They come expecting to learn textiles, but what they also take away is knowledge that others share their profession and that there is a network of them as well.”
Each participating mill had the chance to showcase their capabilities, and was asked to offer insightful tours with education thrown in. American & Efird’s U.S. Global Retail Solutions Manager Bo Graham presented an interactive short course on different threads and when and how it makes sense to use them. The presentation was coupled with a tour of A&E’s Mount Holly dyeing and finishing facility.
Hamrick Mills’ Director of Sales Jim Hopkins gave an entertaining, but insightful look into textile terms common to spinning and weaving — for example, in the textile world, sliver is not a term used to describe something that seeps out of the corner of one’s mouth while sleeping; and drawing is not something performed using a pencil and paper — before participants saw first-hand Hamrick’s spinning and weaving capabilities on a lengthy and informative tour.
Stacey Bridges, vice president of sales, CCW, discussed a variety of dyeing and finishing processes in-depth with tour attendees before the group saw the technologies live and in action on the CCW plant floor.
Feedback regarding the 2019 tour was positive from both participating mills and tour attendees.
CCW was a second-time participant in the tour. “CCW had the opportunity to teach sourcing managers about dyeing and finishing knit and woven fabrics through the AAPN Carolina Mill Tour,” Bridges said. This opportunity allows us to not only show our plant, but also to teach sourcing managers in detail about dyeing different fibers and fabrics. The more sourcing managers know about the fabrics they purchase, the more this will help them speed up fabric development and reduce problems in production. It also gives CCW an opportunity to not only become a vendor, but a true partner with customers.”
“The Carolina Mill Tour provides us with the valuable opportunity of interacting with industry partners and showcasing A&E’s advanced thread technology and commitment to sustainable products and business practices,” said Robert Hallet, vice president, Global Retail Solutions, A&E — also a second-time participant in the tour. “We believe the week’s learning experience has been invaluable to both the host companies and the mill tour participants.”
“We at Hamrick Mills are very proud to be members of the AAPN and take great pride in participating in this event,” Hopkins said. “We are very pleased to be able to impart some knowledge of our company and of our product capabilities to this group of industry representatives from the downstream supply chain. Our belief is that the information gained from this event will benefit us in the long term.”
“The 2019 Carolina Tour was even better than 2018,” said Contempora’s Roach. “We had a younger group this year that was so eager to learn everything. This was the exact group that we are targeting. The participants all realized how passionate we are about our business and how eager we are to help them learn. One person said that they felt as if Contempora was investing in them, better equipping them for their own careers. That statement tells me we achieved our goals.”
“I found the tour to be both educational and insightful,” said Dilshan De Silva, senior manager, western hemisphere sourcing, global communications and product integrity, Jockey International Inc. “Not only do we take away a great deal of knowledge, we also take away a network of suppliers and possibilities within U.S./Western Hemisphere region.”
Dorota Arcentales, fabric manager with PVH Corp., reported that not only did she learn a lot about textile manufacturing, but she also learned an invaluable lesson about the textile industry in the Carolinas. “I learned quite a variety of things on this tour — yet the most important ones aren’t exactly what I had anticipated,” Arcentales said. “Yes, I learned a great deal about textiles and the processes involved. Yes, I learned a lot about the industry from the hands-on tours and not-usually granted access to the plants we visited. Yet the greatest a-ha moment was with the tour group itself because it brought together people from all over the western hemisphere. We shared insights, talked about our experiences and formed new contacts.
“Being a self-centered New Yorker, my idea of fashion and the textile world always revolved around the notion that this industry is centered around sanctuary cities, like New York City or Los Angeles,” Arcentales continued. “All of a sudden, I discovered there’s a whole other world across the United States and Central/South America. I met professionals from Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon and Nicaragua. I’ve seen mills and dyehouses in the Carolinas that aren’t just thriving, they are proactively evolving — and much more rapidly than those who don’t travel within the U.S. region. This tour not only taught me about textiles; it expanded my world view and helped me visualize the progressive future of this industry, on the Western Hemisphere.
AAPN was happy with the feedback about the 2019 Carolina Mill Tour and aims to make the tour even better next year. “We adjusted this year‘s tour based on last year’s feedback, and will do the same for 2020,” Todaro said. “No-one is working harder to raise the ‘Apparel IQ’ of the industry than the board of directors of the AAPN. While so many others work with college students, we‘re the only ones working to help those who have the jobs now but lack the investment in their careers. Now we offer their companies a new way to learn, network, experience and gain confidence in this industry.”
The Idea That Started It All
Contempora’s management team has more than 250 years of combined experience in circular knits. I wanted to be able to transfer that knowledge and experience to our customers in a true manufacturing environment. There are so many young people at all levels working for brands and retailers that we felt could really benefit from a classroom-like experience.
So we created workshops that dove deep into fabric analysis, the inner workings of a knitting machine as well as all aspects of quality issues including root causes and solutions. Adding the rest of the supply chain companies in allows participants to get a week-long education of virtually every aspect of textiles. With the help of AAPN, and Mike and Sue, we were able to get this off the ground in 2018 with great success.
The Carolina Tour is all about education. We did not want this to be a fabric show or a trade fair. We wanted to educate in full detail as to how things get made. Hopefully, at the end of the week the participants go home with a better sense of how things get done as well. They see an aspect of a full U.S.-based supply chain in the Carolinas. A supply chain that is willing to trust, and willing to take ownership of inventory to gain speed to market.
We also established a dedicated email address that anyone can use to get any technical questions answered quickly. Not just our customers, but anyone that needs some help or has a question: educate@contempora fabrics.com.
The AAPN has a goal of raising the industry’s “Apparel IQ”, and the Carolina Tour has become one perfect example of these efforts.
— Ron Roach, president, Contempora Fabrics