Apparel suppliers at the Texprocess Americas trade fair

Apparel suppliers at the Texprocess Americas trade fair

One of the hot conversation topics at the recent Texprocess Americas show in Atlanta, in addition to the technological advances on the floor, was the prospect of at least some sewing operations returning to the western hemisphere.

Many exhibitors reported discussions with customers about this prospect. Many were also interested in automation advancements to take some of the labour aspect out of sewing.

While some of this production might wind up back in the US, machinery vendors say the migration will first happen farther south.

"I think it is safe to say that significant manufacturing is coming back West, but it is first stopping off in Central and South America," says Harry Berzack with the Fox Company, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based supplier of cutting and sewing equipment.

"I do not see any sign of the return to the US of the high volume mass-produced staples that left. Apart from the labour cost, the country has lost its pool of sewing operators, but more important, its line supervisors, sewing machine mechanics, and even general managers such as plant engineers.

"I heard on a number of occasions that people want to bring work back on shore, but can't find labour - this in an economy with such high unemployment."

Berzack says the sewing that comes back will be related to high-quality, higher-priced department store apparel and some niche categories rather than mass produced jeans or T-shirts.

"The limiting factor could ironically prove to be the availability of labour. Perhaps that is why we see so much interest in automation and deskilling of the process."

Frank Henderson, president of Henderson Sewing in Andalusia, Alabama, says some customers have an overall sense of not being able to control their own destiny with Asian production due to transportation costs, rising costs of production and delays in delivery time. He says they are looking for vertical integration from fabric manufacturing to distribution to retail stores with little or no human intervention.

"We were told by several different customers that they were considering moving product back to the western hemisphere," Henderson says. "Many more customers are looking for speed to market, fast fashion, more frequent styles, less monetary outlay up front."

Mike Fralix, president of the Textile/Clothing Technology Corporation [TC2], had similar comments.

"We've been hearing all year about sewing, that companies are rethinking their global sourcing strategy. They are not moving out in full force, but are repositioning some percentage back in this hemisphere to Mexico and Columbia and Central America, and believe it or not to the US. It's been more talk than anything happening, but talk is an indicator that companies are starting to plan."

Gerber Technologies, which had one of the busiest stands on the Texprocess side of the exhibit hall, has also observed the trend.

"We are seeing signs of some small production runs returning to the US from the Far East," said Bud Staples, vice president of sales for North America for Gerber Technologies. "Our sales team has also begun to see some of the design work beginning to return to the US, particularly with companies on the West Coast that create their own samples and manage smaller size production runs. These companies want to regain control of their patterns so they can ensure proper fit."

Strong turnout of US customers
Exhibitors, organisers and attendees all seemed to be pleased with the show, which incorporates the former SPESA Expo and was making its US debut. It was paired with Techtextil North America, which was making its ninth run. The combined shows, organised by Messe Frankfurt USA, drew more than 6,800 people to the Georgia World Congress Center.

"It was already the 9th Techtextil North America, but I cannot remember such a busy show since the very first minute of the first day," says Michael Jaenecke, director of brand management for Techtextil.

"The feedback from the busy floor was very positive regarding quality and quantity of the business talks. The reasons are various, amongst others the recovery of the US economy, the combination with the premiere of Texprocess Americas and the support of the associations, ATMA and SPESA."

Berzack says there was a strong turnout of US customers, but the attendance from Latin America was weak.

"The attendee quality was high, and we met with many top line decision makers," Berzack says. "Many attendees were there to learn what was new, and where technology was headed. It seemed to me that prime interest was in spreading and cutting rather than sewing.

"If I am correct then this is an encouraging sign, as what gets cut must later be sewn; and historically cutting has often been the orphan in the manufacturing process."

Mark Hatton, director of marketing and sales administration for Mount Holly, North Carolina-based thread specialist A&E, which exhibited in the Texprocess side of the exhibit hall, was elated with the show's results.

"We pushed out three new sewing threads for athletic wear which have been very well received. Most customers report that business is looking up and seem optimistic. Maybe lower gas prices are giving people some confidence back. From an A&E perspective, customers are looking for both the newest and the basics. We heard much talk about efficiency and automation."

Merrow Sewing Machines chose the Atlanta show to release a new product.

"For Merrow, the show was terrific," says CEO Charlie Merrow. "Considering that we released a new stitch, we got a lot of attention. We have been working on the new flat overlock stitch, the branding programme for Activeseam and samples for more than a year. Considering that releasing the programme in Atlanta was a late call, it turned out to be the right one. It was a small enough show that we were able to spend quality time with a lot of people."

Heavy machinery is scarce at TTNA, which now incorporates the remnants of ATME-I, which is no longer a stand-alone exhibition. But smaller devices, such as testing equipment are in good supply. These include products from companies such as SDL Atlas, which highlighted its Drying Rate Tester, which determines drying rates of fabrics. This device was of particular interest to TTNA visitors.

"It electronically measures a fabric's size as it dries," says John Crocker, the company's sales manager for the US and Canada.

Sporting goods companies and garment manufacturers are among the target markets for the device.