On Thursday, September 6, 2018, I spoke to a meeting in El Salvador of some 150 public and private sector people, including staff from the US Embassy. The theme was strengthening of the US/CAFTA relationship.
My message was about a string of ‘calls to action’ we’ve seen answered and acted upon since the AAPN opened its membership to the region in 2001. Looking back, I was able to share 4 significant ‘call to action’ moments we have been the catalyst for and how they have lead to the fifth major tipping point.
The first spark was in 2003 when we hosted the inaugural of what would be five AAPN CAFTA SUMMIT conferences. The first 3 summits were in El Salvador, in the same room as my recent meeting there. From the first summit of some 350 suppliers to, customers of and producers in the region, you could feel the energy of change sweep the room.
In this 2003 event, Li & Fung read the room the riot act, comparing the Americas to Asia and saying the region wasn’t close in any of 4 measurements – access to raw materials; flexibility; speed to market; and cost competitiveness. Trust me when I tell you the factories in the room sat bolt upright and began to talk to one another.
Why? Because up until this meeting most factories only sold labor. They received cut piece goods, sewed them then shipped them back. They did not cut. They most certainly did not design, or print fabric, or have pre-production systems, or sample rooms or their own products. On the other hand, Asia had always been the full package.
One monumental outcome of the 3 summits in El Salvador was the decision by Pettenati to expand their knitting operation in Brazil into El Salvador, building a massive state-of-the-art synthetics mill. This second ‘call to action’ – of new regional fabric capacity for high-value activewear production – literally saved and created tens of thousands of jobs.
For the rest of the decade of the 2010’s, more and more brands began to source activewear from the region. The factories, in turn, developed cutting tables, sample rooms, lean manufacturing and, because they now had world class fabrics from Pettenati, even installed ink jet sublimation quick turn systems.
2010 gave us the third call to action. We spent that year’s annual conference discussing and documenting sustainability and social responsibility in the region. It hit us then that the region had a distinct global advantage – its people programs were world class, its transparency was crystal clear and they were doing it right from the start.
Then in 2012 came the 4th major call to action, the AAPN ASIA/AMERICAS REPORT CARD. Senior sourcing executives scored both regions, answering 31 questions, grading each region on a score of 1 to 5 and stating why. The results? Asia led in 21 categories and scored higher with a 3.5 average to the region’s 3.1, which was much closer than we expected.
In 2016 we ran the survey again. As before, the Americas had 10 categories of strength but the gaps had closed significantly with Asia having an average score of 3.6 to the West’s 3.4. It was also during this period of 2012-2016 that Honduras took its own action which quickly evolved into the region’s fifth call to action.
The project Honduras2020 created the first five-year plan we had ever seen in the West, including and especially the US. Apparel/Textiles was one of five areas of investment, with the goal to create 200,000 new jobs in that sector alone. Jesus Canahuati of Elcatex presented the plan in detail at our 2016 Annual Conference.
Shortly after that meeting, Jesus met with other AAPN members and together they invested $73 million to create a built-from-scratch world class 500,000 square foot synthetic yarn spinning operation in Choloma, Honduras that they named UTEXA. Other investments there include knitting and sewing, plus energy and housing.
This new capacity is the fifth ‘call to action’. The first woke the region up. The second brought new fabric capacity. The third documented the region’s advantage in sustainability. The fourth gave us the score with gaps we could begin to close. And the fifth closed one massive gap – production of more synthetic yarn.
Investors don’t just invest. They answer calls to opportunity. The ripple effect of this new yarn capacity is cascading over the entire supply chain of this hemisphere. That is why brands and retailers will descend upon Honduras Nov 27-29 to the APPAREL SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS.
Understand that while your company may just now be discovering the Americas, other brands never left. They’ve produced there for many years. That’s why the official AAPN position on the Americas is that it is easier, better, faster, cheaper and safer than other regions of the world, and we prove it every day.
If you missed those first four calls, now is your opportunity to answer this latest call to action for activewear that will be — easier, better, faster, cheaper and safer. Register now on https://www.aapnetwork.net/