U.S. Textiles: COVID-19 Changes Everything

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

It’s fair to say that more has changed with U.S. textiles than has stayed the same in the age of COVID-19. From an economic standpoint, the U.S. has been turned on its head — supply chains disrupted, demand curtailed and uncertainty has skyrocketed economic risks.

For companies with deep pockets, entering protection and preservation modes have been short-term, but necessary strategies.

Others have taken the opportunity to modify their business lines to align with changing demands.

Volatile shipping costs and changing attitudes towards imported Chinese goods have many rethinking their supply chains. According to Nikkei Asian Review: “Most of the world’s major shipping lines sharply reduced their operations in February when demand dropped steeply as the outbreak was peaking in China, later spreading to the rest of the world.
At the end of May, the amount of idle capacity reached a record high with 550 ships anchored in ports. Prices began to rise at that time, prompting companies to start gradually putting capacity back on stream in the third quarter.

“Data from the Shanghai Shipping Exchange show that fees to send a 40-foot container from China to the U.S. West Coast had more than doubled year-on-year to around $3,900 as of mid-September. Sending a container to the U.S. East Coast cost as much as $4,700.”

But shipping costs are only part of the story. How the industry engages in B2B sales also has been severely disrupted.

“Virtual” solutions abound — webinars, zoom meetings and virtual seminars have become standard fare.

Much work is being done to enhance these virtual experiences, and because this COVID environment — with all its uncertainty — was unleashed with little preparation or notice, marketers were left scrambling.

Textile World has observed more inquiries for traditional advertising in
addition to electronic media marketing solutions, but budgets still seem lean even with vendors not spending on travel, entertainment or the cost of exhibiting at traditional trade shows. Many companies are not receiving visitors and have travel bans in place inhibiting personal sales calls.

The suspension of traditional trade shows and association meetings is a major blow to how U.S. textile professionals network, explore new products and processes, and engage in the sales process. This is a larger void than one might expect with these environments key to exchanging information, knowledge and in an interesting way, fellowship — the key to identifying as a cohesive industry.

TW editors have observed increased use of press releases by the industry — a positive trend to fill the information void — with many releases sharing good news of innovation, personnel changes and investment.

In early March, many forecasters were predicting a return to “normal” by September with an economic bounce in the third quarter. But with the political season in full swing and the pandemic still full of surprises, it seems operations will continue under the fog of the COVID war.

Thankfully, the U.S. textile industry is full of warriors that are very capable of surviving in a wartime environment.

September/October 2020