US Textiles: Optimism, Change And Innovation

As the first quarter of 2007 comes to a close, there is a sense among many in textiles that
business has stabilized. Even in segments like apparel, key players seem optimistic. The downside
is the long view — the insecurity regarding future business.

Unfortunately, lack of a sense of security is part of the new textile business paradigm — or,
more accurately,  the paradigm many have finally accepted after years of thinking they could
define their corporate destiny.

But hold on. This is not as negative as it sounds. Whether it is Glen Raven’s President Allen
Gant speaking at the recent Southern Textile Association meeting regarding the challenge of change
and the importance of personal freedom as it relates to innovation, or American Apparel’s Founder
Dov Charney speaking at the American Apparel Producers’ Network (AAPN) meeting in Santa Monica,
offering his view on pursuing fashion and serving the “international-class” customer — optimism is
a significant part of the entrepreneurial approach to business.

When successful people like these speak, the message that comes through is that very little
can stand in their way, and they are willing, if not eager, to meet their next business challenge.

This approach seems less about certainty and more about ability. Developing an inherent
corporate confidence that they can and will succeed through openness to the quick and drastic
changes demanded by the marketplace is at the core of these winning companies.

In markets like apparel, producers’ concerns about demand have moved beyond the retailer to
the consumer. As detailed at AAPN’s meeting by Carlos Arias, president of Koramsa, a well-known
Guatemala-based menswear producer: “When it doesn’t sell it’s our problem. Even if we’ve been paid,
it is our problem — it’s our future.” Arias explained how his company has changed drastically in
recent years and now is more open than ever, not to react to demand, but to understand trends
before the retailer asks for them.

For spinners, weavers, knitters and finishers, challenges abound. For those with the
flexibility necessary to serve today’s market — who know innovation and change are not optional —
the optimism of many industry leaders is not misguided.

One recent comment from a leading-edge knitter sums it up for many US producers: “If it comes
off a boat, I am not going to touch it.” He was refering to the abandonment of commodity or easily
produced products in favor of more complex products. “The harder to make, the better — that’s what
I’m talkin’ about,” he said.

Those are great words for an industry that has the ability, great minds and great technology
to succeed in a challenging environment. If the industry can embrace what Gant calls “changing the
channel” — if it can bring innovation and change to its core, just maybe the optimism of some of
its leading firms is the story of 2007. It’s not easy to develop that confidence, but as Gant said,
“You are the only one who can choose to change the channel” — to make the choices necessary to
change and innovate — choices necessary to win.

March/April 2007