U.S. Textiles: From Obscurity To Relevence

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

It wasn’t that long ago that U.S. manufacturers — including textile — were declared a thing-of-the-past. Their decline was brought about by ignorance of the true spirit of globalism, a lack of understanding of the new rules of
outsourcing and the growing dominance of the service sector as the true way forward for the U.S. economy.

In November of 2016, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman proclaimed in a series of tweets: “The story of U.S. manufacturing is basically one of high productivity growth allowing demand to be met with ever fewer workers … Nothing policy can do will bring back those lost jobs. The service sector is the future of work; but nobody wants to hear it.”

However, this isn’t the first time manufacturing or textiles was swept aside — virtually every trade deal — including CBI, CBTPA, NAFTA, CAFTA-DR — asked U.S. textiles to take one for the team. Don’t you know we have planes and soybeans to sell? Cheap apparel — regardless of its source or the conditions in which it is made is none of your business or concern. It’s anti-inflationary, and good for retailers and consumers alike, don’t you know?

Maybe that rhetoric is a little heavy, but after years spent in the industry it’s clear that U.S. textiles has fought the good fight, overcome obstacles, and invested in technology and innovation all to get to where the industry sits today.

The COVID-19 response mounted by the U.S. textile industry has been overwhelming. The way manufacturers big and small, some fierce competitors, and industry associations joined together for a common cause is nothing short of amazing.

In this issue, TW Executive Editor Rachael Davis was tasked with shining a light on the various aspects of the industry’s pandemic response. It’s still an evolving story and virtually an impossible task to highlight everything the industry is working on. (See “COVID-19: The Textile Industry Responds To PPE Shortage,” TW, this issue).

There also is a challenge with the genericization of the term PPE — personal protective equipment — which actually has a very specific meaning. Much the way Kleenex came to mean any facial tissue or Xerox came to represent making a copy regardless of the copy machine brand in use — PPE has quickly entered the lexicon to mean just about anything from a homemade face covering to an N95 mask.

Textiles & The Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2),” in this issue tries to shed some light on the subject. It’s not a criticism, rather a clarification of PPE including some thoughts on handmade face coverings.

Just two of many interesting takeaways from this issue include using reusable cloth face coverings in conjunction with an N95 mask can improve the longevity of the N95 mask. Under certain conditions, face coverings also can be laundered and reused.

Secondly, why did U.S. Cotton need to jump through hoops to convert swab manufacturing from cotton to polyester for COVID-19 testing? It seems that cotton has DNA, and cotton DNA can interfere with COVID-19 tests leading to inaccurate results.

This pandemic is a disaster on many levels. But it has clearly demonstrated the necessity for a vibrant U.S. manufacturing environment, an evaluation of international trade dependencies and investment in near shoring to strengthen U.S. supply chains.

May/June 2020