U.S. Textiles: COVID-19 Impact

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

So much has changed in so little time. Just six short months ago Textile World editors were busy reporting on stellar economic indicators and making forecasts of continued growth and prosperity in the United States. Excitement and anticipation also was building for the upcoming spring events including Techtextil North America and Texprocess Americas, and the Synthetic Yarn and Fabrics Association and Americas Apparel Producers’ Network meetings.

The global economy was showing cracks, but the United States, with energy independence, the then newly passed USMCA trade deal and pressure on China, was well positioned with record low unemployment, wage growth and low inflation.

Then rumblings began about a novel virus, and with limited and even false information, health around the globe started to erode and the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

Slowly businesses and governments started to react. Truthfully, no-one wanted to accept what was coming and humans tend to err on the optimistic side of predictions. Things were so good, it was impossible to accept that the tide had turned and the incoming viral tsunami was about to change everything.

Interestingly, the virus brought to light facts that were apparent to many in the U.S. textile industry for years — the dangers of global trade interdependency, and the effects of offshoring manufacturing, drug production and personal protective equipment capabilities.

A lack of stockpiled medical equipment and ability to test for disease on a widespread scale also complicated a bad situation.

Though many took to pointing fingers, others took action — the U.S. textile industry and its leaders chose to take action and continue to do so.

Events are canceled, webinars are everywhere and Zoom meetings have replaced face-to-face contact for now.

Face coverings rule the day. Include the conflicts of peaceful social protest and violent unrest in the country’s largest cities and the total effect is devastating.

How people work, if they have a job or are “essential,” how education works, how people shop — or don’t — and the impact of social isolation will have lasting effects beyond the pandemic.

Some interesting facts were recently cited in a letter from U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) addressed to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), “… urging the next round of COVID-19 assistance adequately address the magnitude of the losses felt throughout the cotton supply chain by cotton farmers, textile mills, and the cotton merchandising segment.”

They state: “From March through May, the Census Bureau reports that clothing sales are down by $44 billion, or 67 percent, relative to the same 3-month period in 2019. U.S. textile mills report a 90-percent drop in orders for the yarn they produce and are consuming cotton at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of just 250,000 bales, down over 90-percent from year-ago levels. With mill consumption at an all-time low, the loss in monthly yarn production value is $200 to $300 million.”

Those facts don’t lie — but as COVID-19 cases continue, hopefully the industry will seize new opportunities, innovate new ways to do business and re-shore the U.S. textile supply chain.

July/August 2020