The State of the Textile and Apparel Industry in the New World Economy

Before this catastrophic virus attacked the world, the U.S. textile and apparel industry was already going through many necessary changes. Big department stores were closing, and more goods were being sold online. Fast fashion was being replaced with demands for more sustainable products.

Due to this new coronavirus world epidemic, these facts are now being magnified, and it will be important to address them with new solutions. The U.S. textile and apparel industry could, with good planning, return as a vibrant industry.

We must first begin with the realization that traditional higher education for the industry needs rethinking. Traditional curriculum content of the training delivered in two- and four-year programs is mostly outdated. Student debt and the lack of well-paid jobs after graduation is leaving graduates with years of debt that can never be repaid.

As a solution, there is a return by some universities and colleges to offer certified short-term training and even a new model of apprenticeship programs. Once the apprentice/student graduates, they will usually get a job offer. Plus, while they serve their apprenticeship, they usually receive a stipend of some kind. More online classes are here to stay, and this will also require curriculum changes and professors and educators to be retrained.

The vibrant L.A. apparel industry of the past is in dire need of restructuring and effective planning for a more efficient infrastructure. Old buildings with out-of-date elevators and alleys too narrow for trucks to unload and reload are only a few of the issues which make it hard for factories to be competitive with the efficient factories in China or the cheap labor of developing countries. More help and training is necessary to incorporate better equipment and the use of robots. Planning for more mass customization with an emphasis on the benefits of investing in 3D printing, digital printing, recycling and upcycling are just a few changes that need to be made.

The Marts with showrooms are also shrinking and closing. Trade show managers are also realizing that they will need to offer an alternative to onsite shows with sourcing online.

Additionally — I never thought I would say this — we all have enough clothing to last for years. These days, we are not basing our clothes shopping so much on trends but more on our lifestyle. Lululemon leggings, for example, are often being worn all day. Millennials are much more focused on the environment and often frequent secondhand stores to purchase their new wardrobe. Companies are recycling and upcycling used clothing.

Another very important part to this overall shift and plans for redevelopment of the U.S. textile and apparel industry is that the end consumer must be educated and be prepared to pay more for what they choose to purchase and wear. Landfills are full of fast fashion, and the production of clothing is a major global polluter. Even top brands would rather take their labels off their products before they are discarded rather than donating to third world countries. However, there is a shift for high-end brands to accept their used clothing from customers and recycling them.

These key factors should be discussed before subsidies are given out to small and large businesses. Otherwise, these funds are at risk of being wasted. It will require an overall intensive plan and the involvement of progressive industry thinkers to advise on the integration of the above points to help make it a successful venture. It’s not only about the California apparel industry; these points affect the whole global textile and apparel industry.

Frances Harder

Fashion for Profit Consulting

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