Blog: Leonie BarrieHappy Birthday AAPN!

Leonie Barrie | 26 January 2006

Congratulations to the American Apparel Producers’ Network, which has just reached its quarter-century milestone. Over the years that I’ve been studying and writing about the clothing industry, numerous trade groups have sprung into life and, it has to be said, an even higher number have fallen by the wayside. Some have just been too specific in their aims, while others have found that organisation in terms of geography, market or service has ultimately worked against them as their members have shifted gear or moved offshore. Those that are still with us – and I can really think of just a handful that truly make a difference – have been flexible, proactive and ultimately responsive in meeting the needs of their members in a changing market.

The story of AAPN, as it is now called, fits this bill perfectly. Set up by Don Strickland in 1981 as the Garment Association of Georgia, with the goal of driving down the cost of Workers Comp insurance, the organisation grew to represent the cut and sew industry in the US and Canada. Don passed away suddenly in 1990 and his wife, Sue C Strickland took over the leadership.

Sue has survived many serious tests over those 16 years, not the least of which was NAFTA when her membership dropped by over half. But she responded with new services that delivered new value to members. In 1994, AAPN was the first apparel organisation to list its members on-line for sourcing. By 1996, Sue took the database to the Internet. “I’ve seen two things every year I’ve been here – first, new technology from us for our members. Second, far fewer organisations in this industry. There were dozens of associations ten years ago, today only a handful. There’s a relationship there. In organisations like ours, meaning matters, or else,” she says.

Since 1995, the AAPN has gone global with contractors on every continent; it has recruited the US industry’s leading sourcing executives into full membership; grown its supply chain membership down to fibre and yarn; and incorporated leaders from every step and stage of the supply chain worldwide.

AAPN really is a network. It has no legislative agenda, geographical boundaries, special interests, need for high dues or expensive sponsorship. It is able to do “quick turns” of sourcing, research, special projects, ad hoc meetings, team building and application of the latest networking technologies.

And I have to say that I’ve experienced at first hand the power of this network. Although I’ve never had the pleasure of attending an AAPN meeting, I’ve met Sue and Mike (Todaro, AAPN managing director) on numerous occasions and at venues all over the world. Their stand at exhibitions is always one of the busiest; a stop-off point that provides a brief and welcoming respite from the rigours of a trade show. And wherever they are there’s an introduction to their members, all of whom are only too willing to share their ideas, insight and experience. Not to mention the tears of laughter that have been shed along the way too.

And this, to my mind, is the real value of a network like AAPN: a meeting of minds, an understanding that competitors can also be your greatest allies, and the realisation that there really is strength in numbers.

Congratulations Sue, Mike and all AAPN members on your tremendous achievements...where’s the party? 



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