Here, as he promised, is the second half of Ed Gribbin’s ‘report’ on our amazingly successful and informative AAPN Carolina Mill Tour. Enjoy!
It really could have gone a number of ways with 28 people, most not knowing each other, most not having been on a mill tour like this, spending four days and hundreds of miles on a bus (with questionable rear shocks) crisscrossing the North and South Carolina countryside. But, it could not have gone any better.
The group, ably led by Sue Strickland and Mike Todaro, included Target, Patagonia, VF, VF Workwear, Columbia, Lacoste, Academy Sports, Haggar, Full Beauty Brands, and Superior Uniform Group (and me). Most were seeing the core elements of our Americas supply chain for the first time. As I mentioned in the last post, I hadn’t been this far into the domestic supply chain (yarn-spinning, knitting, dyeing and finishing) in a very long time. I have to say the many hours of conversation among the group, on the bus, over meals, out by the fire pit in the evening, were inspiring made me very optimistic about the future of our industry. It’s one thing to see the innovation, technology and passion among the people we visited, but it truly gives me hope when I also see retailers and brands so interested in learning, not only about the capabilities and resources in the US supply chain, but in learning how to serve their customers faster, more efficiently, and with greater focus on sustainability and transparency. What a great group of people to spend a week with!
Our fourth visit was to Parkdale’s cotton spinning facility in Gaffney, SC. I know I said ‘wow’ before, but this place takes your breath away. When you enter the mill from the offices, there are automated spinning machines as far as the eye can see; it looked like something out of Star Wars. This place hums 24/7, 363 days a year (Christmas Eve and Christmas off) and produces enough cotton to make 5 million t-shirts per week.
Going deeper into the facility, you see the automatic sorting, mixing, cleaning of the cotton from bales of different grades to create a uniform quality in every spool of yarn. In the quality area, they not only put all of the yarn through a range of tests, they actually knit fabric samples to validate the quality. Automated pallet-loading and wrapping. There’s even an automated process that takes the dirt and branch residue from the cleaned cotton fiber and forms pellets which are given to local farmers as livestock feed. Talk about sustainability and circularity! CEO Charles Heilig and his team were amazing and informative hosts and I’m sure Parkdale, celebrating their 101styear, will be innovating and growing for many more.
Last but not least we visited A&E (American & Efird Thread) in Mt. Holly. Full disclosure here: I’ve known A&E leadership folks for a long time and have served with some of them on various industry boards, including American Apparel & Footwear Association, the International Apparel Federation and SPESA (Sewn Products Equipment Suppliers of the Americas); these are really bright people leading a workforce whose culture of innovation, quality, sustainability and service is unmatched. A&E has been in the textile industry for over 120 years and has facilities all over the globe to provide seamless (sorry…) service to their customers no matter how far their supply chains extend.
Besides industrial sewing thread (not only for apparel but a variety of industries including automotive — did you know that the thread holding in automotive airbags can’t be too strong? It has to be just the right strength to deploy consistently upon collision or consumer safety could be at risk) they make embroidery thread and technical textiles. There’s impressive science and art in how they create, test and manage color with over 100,000 colors in their library and the ability to match any that are not. Bringing the tour full circle from our first stop, they’re even making thread using Repreve, 100% recycled polyester yarn from Unifi.
All in all, the tour was an amazing success. It was educational and inspirational and I think we all feel as if we now have a couple dozen new close friends. We’re already planning a sequel where we will get cut & sew facilities into the mix as well, and possibly some examples of on-demand apparel creation. You may have heard of Amazon’s patent award a year ago for “on-demand apparel production”; well, they are in fact starting to test that concept (8 miles from my house), but it already exists in other companies (check out OnPoint Manufacturing and AM4U) and, with some luck, continued investment, and willing customers, it could radically change our supply chains and how we manage inventory for the better in the years ahead.