AAPN again helps connect the dots with ‘Carolina Mill Express”

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THE CAROLINAS – Last month, I rode a bus with 24 (mostly) young people from a dozen brands and organizations through the highways and byways of the two Southern sister states. We were on the Americas Apparel Producers Network’s (AAPN’s) “Carolina Mill Tour Express” (my term), the second iteration of this unique journey that took us to seven textile facilities in six days.

The tour started last year at the behest of Ron Roach, president of Contempora Fabrics, to help brands who work with textile producers better understand the processes it takes to make their raw materials, as well as the terminology, the testing and the techniques it takes to make a yarn, a fiber or a fabric.

Or, as Tony Anzovino, chief sourcing & merchandising officer, Haggar Clothing Co., Dallas, has said of one of his goals as president of AAPN, he wants the network to grow “AIQ” (Apparel Intelligence Quotient). He has described AIQ as a person’s proficiency in, or knowledge of, the apparel and textile industry. Oh, and somehow, we were able to squeeze in a half-day educational event, AAPN’s Charlotte Regional Conference, where Barbara Zeins, president of Gerson and Gerson, Inc., and Tom Glaser, vice president at VF Corporation and president of its supply chain, imparted extensive knowledge from their years of experience in our industry.

Those objectives were clearly accomplished, especially when you read the feedback from below from a few participants. And if you witnessed them taking many, many photos with their cell phones and asking inquisitive, well-thought-out questions, you know they were eager to learn and grasping the information imparted.

This year, attendees received tours and a few hands-on workshops at: Contempora Fabrics, Lumberton, N.C.; Patrick Yarns/Coats, Kings Mountain, N.C.; Milliken’s Innovation Center in Spartanburg, S.C., and its Magnolia Finishing plant in Blacksburg, S.C.; Carolina Cotton Works (CCW), Gaffney, S.C.; Parkdale’s W. Duke Kimbrell Plant, Gaffney, S.C.; Hamrick Mills, Gaffney, S.C.; and American & Efird (A&E), Mount Holly, N.C.Here are what some of the tour takers said (edited by Mike Todaro – full text here):

Miranda Tidwell, materials developer, Supply Chain, VF Workwear, Nashville, Tenn.: “This is a great experience! It was worthwhile to take time to concentrate on manufacturing processes. I made meaningful contacts both at the mills and with fellow tour participants".

Avery Davis, production manager, Haggar Clothing Co., Dallas: “Overall, I was very impressed with the content of the tours. Most were very interactive and I learned a lot. I appreciated the variety of businesses featured on the tour. The speakers and tour guides were very knowledgeable. I work in sourcing (specifically production) so learning about this pivotal part of the supply chain will help me make more informed decisions.”

Dorota Arcentales, fabric manager, PVH, New York City: “I love that we were able to experience such a wide breadth of plant specialties – from knitting to yarn spinners to dye house and even a thread spinner! Our schedules were on point – just the right amount of touring/learning and socializing with the mill partners and other tour members, any more would have been overwhelming, any less would have been disappointing. It was a perfect combination. Quite honestly, most of the things I’ve learned I wasn’t aware of it – I acquired such a wealth of information on this tour that I don’t even know where I would start to be able to cover everything.”

Elizabeth Back, Supply Chain Development, VF Workwear, Nashville, Tenn.: “The Carolina Mill Tours would be very helpful and eye opening to pretty much anyone in the apparel market who is responsible for developing, producing, planning or sourcing goods. It was helpful to see all the steps in the fabric manufacturing process from fiber level, to yarn level, to spinning and knitting and then dyeing and finishing. It really is a process! Our end-users and customers often wonder why the development process is so long, you can see why on the tour! It is also very helpful making industry connections and learning about new sources/resources. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the new people!”

Felipe Antunez, color coordinator, Fanatics LATAM, Honduras: “Personally I learned a lot of new technical things that can be apply to my day-to-day activities. Sue (Strickland) and Mike (Todaro) make a great job organizing the event"

Leslie Cook, manager, Product Integrity Safety/Quality Compliance, Fanatics, Tampa, Fla.: “As a quality manager, I feel it is imperative to understand how your suppliers operate from start to finish. Quality starts at the beginning of the cycle; it should never be an afterthought.

These tours are a great learning tool to see how things are done in general (cleaning cotton, knitting, dyeing) but it’s particularly helpful, and rather interesting, to see how suppliers do things differently. Whether they rely on automation (robots) and software or still rely on lots of manual processes; whether they’ve developed their own software or equipment, or perhaps purchased software with the agreement to modify and customize as needed. It was nice to see the housekeeping at each facility (is lint floating everywhere or is it controlled?). And hearing how each company treats its workers; what are the shifts like, how much time off, health checks, etc. It’s important to understand all challenges your suppliers face and strides taken to achieve their goals.”

Meagan A Cowles, materials developer, Supply Chain, VF Workwear, Nashville, Tenn.: "Most of my career has been in knits, I am just now digging deep into woven fabrics. Seeing all the work that goes into setting up a woven fabric and creating the warp was a game changer for me. The woven process is starting to make more sense and I have a deeper appreciation for each fabric construction. I was not aware of the government checking the cotton and giving it a rating, so yarn mills can blend the different qualities. Parkdale commits to having a consistent cotton yarn for 52 weeks, meani

Dilshan De Silva, senior manager, Western Hemisphere Sourcing, Global Communications & Product Integrity, Jockey International, Inc., Kenosha, Wis.: “It gives us an opportunity to learn some of the intricate parts of the manufacturing operations of each component and understand operational challenges and opportunities. Also, it was a great opportunity to interact and discuss with senior executives in respective facilities we visited as well as with fellow participants on our operational challenges and exchange knowledge/ideas. I’m sure these relationships we built with each other will continue way beyond the week we had together.”

Jill Loughridge, fabric assistant, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Coraopolis, Pa.: “Being more educated with the process will help us do what’s right for our company. For example, seeing that dye lots are handled by weight could be useful in MCQ negotiations when needed. Also, seeing the quality of the products and working conditions sets a great standard for us as we visit other mills around the globe. And maybe most importantly, it was absolutely wonderful to meet so many industry peers and discuss our common challenges.”

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