10 Things I’ve Learned in Our Industry


Well, it’s far more than 10 of course, but these are some of the most important:

1. THE CHAIN – All companies compete as supply chains. And all links in your chain compete as supply chains. To make men’s elastic waistbands, one elastic producing AAPN member maintains 735 items in inventory from 36 vendors. Many still manage the business as though we were all in different businesses. We aren’t. AAPN meets as an end-to-end supply chain. Members interact with people they would not otherwise meet, have conversations that cut across silos and get critical ‘insider’ information that gives them an economic advantage.

2. APPAREL IQ – Good intelligence about the world has never been more critical. The chain has intelligence about the industry. In an age when all companies and many professionals are one tweet away from disaster, the AAPN is a place to help you learn forward because none of us is as smart as all of us. You make your mind brighter by rubbing and polishing it against the minds of others. As Martin Fischer wrote, “Information is the act of finding facts; knowledge is a process of piling them up; wisdom lies in their simplification”.

3. COUNTRIES – Today it’s about companies, not countries. Still, the AAPN has specialized in The Americas. This is because of our belief that the world is divided into two parts, China and not-China. As Bill McRaith of PVH put it, “The next China is not a where, it’s a how”. So, we have made it our mission to know every key player in the supply chain of the Western Hemisphere.

4. MARKETING – Marketing is a contact sport. As Woody Allen wrote, “80% of success in business comes from just showing up”. Tom Peters added, “The most important personal “core competence” by far is a rich set of relationships.” We’ve found within AAPN that exactly what you are trying to sell is what someone is looking to buy, and vice versa. HBR: April 2013: Three Rules for Making a Company Truly Great, “Better before cheaper, revenue before cost, there are no other rules”.

5. LOGISTICS – Way back in 1997, the great Robin Lewis said in a program we shared, “the most important word in the apparel industry today is …. logistics”. Tom Nelson introduced us to the concept, “until you have trust, you’ll never have speed”. This year, our President Kevin Williams said, “Logistics is the new marketing”. Li & Fung recently stated, “speed is the new currency”. It is all about movement of stuff.

6. TECHNOLOGY – Today, the cost of doing nothing is going up faster than the cost of whatever you do. Technology is daunting. The saying is, “Change is a door that can only be opened from the inside”. We have seen, just in ink jet sublimation printing technology, the elimination of months and months from cycle times. With this pace of innovation, we allocate one hour in our annual conference just to technology.

7. THE STORY – There is only one story in this industry and we know what it is. Everyone is a variation on the theme. If the story was a book, the Table of Contents would be the AAPN ASIA/AMERICAS REPORT CARD. It lists the issues of our industry and the skills within our network. As Seth Godin said of AAPN in our 2015 Annual Conference, “If you want to give away your secrets, give away your secrets because it turns out the people who give away their secrets, the people who share the most, the people who introduce each other, the people who join groups like AAPN come out ahead because there are no industry secrets”.

8. TALENT – The loss of talent in our industry has been staggering. Yet, as we told a start up recently, you do not have to learn textiles, but you do have to meet someone who does. As Inc. Magazine wrote, “Never before has social capital and collaboration been more a core part of getting things done”. As Marshall Cohen once wrote, “The lack of understanding of sourcing is the issue – this is where you reach out to the people who do know, the professionals”. That’s you.

9. ACTION – As HBR wrote, “….the computer revolution missed a step. When companies went from enterprise computing to individual computing, they jumped over the small-group level, where the preponderance of the work takes place”. Margaret Mead wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. We’re that small group.

10. NETWORK – Networking, is ‘work’, it is not easy work….. doing it is less a matter of skill than of will. It is not easy to show up, to be disrupted, to sit with your suppliers and your customers. Again, Seth Godin said of AAPN, “You people don’t realize how lucky you are. This network, this supply chain, is the power that drives you. You are clearly a tribe in this room”. Relationships are not big game hunting, they’re more like farming, cultivating them over time. We’ve been outstanding in our field since 1981.



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