The Last Bag Blog
Just over a year ago our phones and email were buzzing with requests as a potential PPE source. Government agencies, private healthcare, and essential industries were clamoring for any production capacity we could provide. Cost was not an issue - supply was the only thing that mattered. We were intrigued, but wisely cautious about our investment in this business pivot.
Immediately, we examined what the short and long term implication might be on our business. Should we go CapEx crazy on automation equipment? Where can we find reliable raw material sources? How long will this demand actually last? We took a reasoned approach, found suitable partners in our supply chain for the short term, made incremental personnel investments that were flexible enough to pivot these investments back into our core business as demand flattened or waned. We could have taken on a lot more, but we chose not to. Why?
After 20 years in textiles, I have learned a few things. One, the U.S. textile infrastructure has been victim to a giant vacuum sound, sucking talent and capacity out since the 80’s. Second, our industry has not done enough to celebrate the STEM portion of our business to attract and retain incoming talent on the manufacturing side (design is doing just fine…). Third, and perhaps most relevant to this discussion, consumers are fickle beasts. The pandemic immediately spotlighted domestic textile production, launching a cavalcade of discussion, interest, passion-laden statements about re-shoring PPE, the return of Made in America and an investment domestically to prepare for the future. Lots of excitement, tons of chatter, some great consolidation of efforts and an industry boost and recognition well-deserved. So after one year of chaotic pivoting and scrambling, where are we at today?
I wish I could write that the consumer (institutional and retail) is holding their ground and demanding U.S. made goods. I wish I could write that our government has positively responded to the crisis and mandated U.S. made origin of goods. But what I really wish is that short term memory loss among these groups wasn’t so prevalent. Seems we have limited attention spans once the immediate fire is extinguished and we allow ourselves to ignore what’s left smoldering. Ultimately, we have to illustrate why re-shoring is critical, why it presents a greater value, and why the consumer should care. The industry can’t rely on Don Draper to brainstorm the most brilliant ad campaign ever. We need us all to commit to re-shoring - it is worth every effort.