Valdese Weavers: Taking Sustainability to the Next Level

Valdese Weavers has been working with recycled yarns for nearly 20 years but in a bid to elevate its sustainability profile, the company turned to the SEAQUAL INITIATIVE based in Spain.

A leading fabric and textile producer that has been manufacturing residential and contract textiles for the furniture market in the foothills of North Carolina for more than 100 years, Valdese Weavers is widely considered to be an industry leader for designing and innovatively weaving beautiful decorative fabrics.

While the company takes pride in being a Made-in-USA manufacturer, one of its loftier goals has been to minimize its impact on the environment and the planet’s natural resources.

Valdese Weavers has used yarns recycled from plastic bottles for the past two decades to produce its environmentally-conscious products, especially in its contract division, but company officials began searching a few years ago for new ways to expand their sustainability efforts and achieve more innovative, sustainably-minded solutions to attack the existing problem of ocean pollution.

Fast forward to today and the journey has led Valdese to a dizzying array of new initiatives, including: a licensing arrangement with a Spanish non-profit organization named the SEAQUAL INITIATIVE; the launch of a new line of performance fabrics made from recycled ocean fabrics, InsideOut Performance Fabrics®; a collaboration with an award-winning artist; and a museum exhibit that opened on Friday (Nov. 4) at the Hickory Museum of Art in Hickory, N.C.

“We have been trying to find next steps of sustainability in terms of materials for several years,” says Christy Almond, vice president of product development and marketing at Valdese Weavers. “We have said ‘no’ to a lot of product material ideas that did not have an authentic story or durability, did not meet where we felt industry was headed, had inconsistent supply chains, or the price was out of line.”

In 2018, Valdese discovered the SEAQUAL INITIATIVE. After studying the non- profit organization’s mission, Almond says Valdese determined it could “take our recycling story to the next level.”

This organization founded on creating a collaborative community against pollution has brought together an extensive network of individuals, organizations, and companies “working together to help clean our oceans, raise awareness of the issue of marine litter and highlight those helping to fight it.”

“Their goal is to organize the individual organizations, cleanup committees and fishermen to bring their cleanup efforts together to incentivize them, clean up oceans, collect ocean trash, and use collective power to go to recycling agencies to process products and sort through it to use materials that can ultimately be upcycled,” Almond explains.

To view the entire process—from collection of ocean plastic waste to the production of the end product of Valdese Inside Out Performance fabrics, click here.

“When we met with SEAQUAL before COVID they were in 42 countries and now they are in 60 countries,” Almond says. “The amount of waste and upcycled materials has dramatically increased. We know they are making a difference.”

SEAQUAL has processed 600 tons of marine litter from the ocean. Of that total, the organization has transformed 200 tons of plastic into upcycled marine plastic and yarn for companies like Valdese to use.

“They actually embed the yarn with tracers, so that they know it is authentic. They are very serious about that process and they have certification at each of the steps in the supply chain that companies must adhere to,” Almond says. “As their network cleanup committees and processing grows, we are hoping that is going to continue to increase as more material becomes available.”

Hundreds of global brands and retailers are listed as licensing partners with SEAQUAL on its website, including such well-known retailers as American Eagle Outfitters, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Ikea.

“We had seen a lot of different ocean plastic stories out there. No one had this multi-faceted story about cleaning up the ocean, upcycling and properly disposing of the trash,” she said. “It’s one thing to sift through and take out the parts that you want, but you are not really making a difference.”

SEAQUAL, on the other hand, properly disposes of the ocean materials that are not recyclable.

“Taking on new yarn SKUs is an investment. To meet their 20 percent content, we had to invest in the right tools to get that content assured. In terms of raw materials, we felt like it was in line with our existing cost structure,” Almond notes.

Valdese Weaver’s goal is to expand development with SEAQUAL and bring awareness to the initiative and “challenge our industry to think about sustainable materials.”

“Just regular upcycled plastic is not enough,” Almond notes. “How do we move this journey forward? More needs to be done.”

One way to move the story forward is to partner with an award-winning artist and amplify the story to the public.

SEAQUAL and Valdese Featured in Museum Exhibit

That’s just what Valdese and SEAQUAL have done.

Valdese is collaborating with MacArthur Genius Award winning artist, Mel Chin, as part of an exhibit at the Hickory Museum of Art in Hickory, N.C. “to promote the power of design to fuel change in our industry.”

Chin, an ecologically and environmentally-minded artist, has been behind projects seeking to raise awareness on issues such as contaminated soil in New Orleans and abandoned homes in Detroit.

The Hickory Museum of Art has opened a new exhibit highlighting the problem of ocean pollution, in conjunction with an experiential exhibit, SEA to SEE, that has been created by Chin and is housed at the Mint Museum in Charlotte.

The Valdese exhibit at the Hickory Museum showcases the company’s partnership with the SEAQUAL INITIATIVE and explains how the company and the furniture industry is working together to help solve the problem of ocean pollution.

“We bring so many people through our facility to train them on the textile process, including salespeople with furniture manufacturers, furniture dealers, and large-scale retailers. These are big companies that are trying to help their sales team understand how to sell fabrics. I thought it would be great to connect our SEAQUAL story with what is happening at the museum and tell a bigger picture story about how the industry is using design to propel change,” Almond says.

“Textiles get a bad rap, not just in terms of manufacturing, especially if you’ve grown up in a textile town. You’ve seen and heard people lose jobs that go to China, or say that furniture is not a reliable career, or that furniture is not an innovative industry,” she adds.

“We wanted this exhibit to highlight technology and design and innovation and cool things happening in this community that are impacting not just Hickory but the United States.”

NCTO New Members: American Fashion Network

NCTO welcomes the American Fashion Network (AFN) as its newest member! AFN has served the apparel industry as a source for design and production expertise for over 17 years. Listen as CEO & Founder Jackie Ferrari discusses her reasons for joining NCTO.

Washington Update: Homecoming by Rana Foroohar

NCTO celebrates the release of “Homecoming” by Rana Foroohar, a global business columnist for the Financial Times. Her book outlines why globalization has not delivered on countless economic promises & examines the shift toward localization taking hold in industries like textiles.

NCTO New Members: Gherzi USA

NCTO welcomes its newest member, Gherzi USA. Gherzi USA is the U.S. branch of Gherzi Organization, a leading textile consulting firm that has provided strategic planning and brand management to the global textile industry for over 90 years. Hear from Gherzi USA Partner & Manager Robert Antoshak in the video above.

Washington Update: NC – Honduran Universities Memorandum of Understanding – August 24, 2022

NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas was at Gaston College earlier this week to voice support for a Memorandum of Understanding signed between North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles, Gaston College and Catawba Valley Community College and Honduran-based Central American Technological University (UNITEC).

“The intention of this MOU is to help develop the next generation workforce both here in the Unites States and in Honduras with the hope of expanding this to other parts of Central America with the necessary funding,” Glas says in this clip.

The groundbreaking initiative will launch a series of educational workforce development programs, ranging from training and certificate programs to undergraduate and graduate degrees in textile-related areas of study.

Notably, the MOU has the support of the U.S. Department of State, which issued a statement of support on Monday in conjunction with a visit by Jose W. Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment.

Jennifer Knight, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Textiles, Consumer Goods and Materials at the U.S. Department of Commerce and Hector Zelaya, private secretary to Honduran President Xiomara Castro also traveled to the event in support of the new initiative.

The partnership will benefit businesses and workers in North Carolina, Honduras and Central America, and enhance the industry’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.

A co-production chain has been forged between Central America and the U.S. Those links are due to the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which allows textiles and apparel from Central America to enter the U.S. duty free. It has generated $12.6 billion in two-way trade in the textile sector and now supports more than 1 million jobs in the U.S. and the region – and 36,000 in North Carolina alone.

North Carolina businesses and higher education institutions are partnering with their counterparts in Honduras and Central America and showing how to expand their reach. The next generation of textile workers – and the communities that prosper from a thriving textile industry – will be the beneficiaries.

Washington Update: 301 Tariffs – July 28, 2022

Watch the latest state of play on the China 301 tariffs from NCTO Senior Vice President Sara Beatty. NCTO has long supported tariffs on finished textile and apparel imports from China to hold the country accountable for illegal trade practices and help level the playing field for American companies and create good-paying jobs at home. The U.S. International Trade Commission is seeking written comments through August 24, 2022.

U.S. Textiles: American Made & Proud

The American textile and apparel industry has a history as old as our nation. From the crafting of the very first American flag, which is credited to American upholsterer Betsy Ross, to the development of endless high-tech and lifesaving technologies, U.S. textiles represent the spirit of resilience and innovation that is woven into the very fabric of what unites us all as Americans.

On the Fourth of July we are asked to remember that spirit. So, as we take pride in our past and work toward our future, it is also worth stopping to celebrate the things we’ve accomplished together. Specifically, let’s take pride in American ingenuity, and how domestically made products help us thrive as a nation. This Independence Day, let’s support the industries that have long supported us.

American textiles represent a manufacturing industry and supply chain that are inseparable from our everyday lives, from the clothes we wear to the 100% American-made textile technology that is used to develop protective gear for our frontline medical workers and troops in uniform. Each of these items is designed, developed, and built from an enormous domestic supply chain beginning with raw fibers that are converted into yarns and then fabrics and ultimately brought to life in the form of a finished product.

As a critical manufacturing base, supporting over 534,000 domestic jobs responsible for an annual output of over $65 billion, American textile production is bolstered by key legislation, such as the Kissell and Berry Amendments, which require domestic production of textiles procured by the Department of Defense, TSA and the Coast Guard, and critical trade relations strengthened by free trade agreements that spur the use of domestic content, such as CAFTA-DR. These mechanisms, combined with the industry’s history of research-based innovation, are the backbone of the more than 30,000 manufacturing facilities both big and small across the United States. Their combined efforts make the U.S. the second largest exporter of textile-related products globally.

It’s because we have a sophisticated, innovative industry that in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and our nation found itself in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE) for both the individual consumer and frontline medical worker, the U.S. textile industry was able to step up to convert its supply chain, literally overnight, to provide these products. This heroic effort alone was significant enough to inspire the Make PPE in America Act to reshore and maintain a strategic PPE production chain in the United States.

It does not take much to see why U.S. textiles are a quintessential story of American spirit and industry. So, as we take this holiday to pause and celebrate the values that bring us together, let us also celebrate the spirit of determination that drives key domestic industries like U.S. textiles. Thanks to manufacturing efforts such as theirs, Americans can rely on stable, well-paying jobs that fuel the economic activity needed to sustain communities across the nation. And by keeping critical supply chains close to home, Americans are guaranteed more sustainable and reliable access to essential products when we need them most.

This Fourth of July, let’s dedicate ourselves to preserving our independence and access to critical American-made products. As consumers, let’s prioritize American-made and, by doing so, support the American economy and jobs.

Washington Update: UFLPA & 301 Tariffs – June 24, 2022

Don’t miss NCTO’s new Washington Update, offering a snapshot into our advocacy on critical issues impacting the U.S. textile industry. In today’s report, NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas outlines two priority issues: 1) Urging strong enforcement of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and 2) Petitioning the administration to maintain the Section 301 China tariffs on finished apparel and textiles.

Visit NCTO.org and our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn pages to learn more about these pressing issues.

U.S. Textile Executives Discuss Substantive Policy Priorities with U.S. Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi at New England Roundtable

U.S. Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi made an inaugural trip to meet with U.S. textile manufacturers in the New England area in late February, where she toured Shawmut Corp.’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in West Bridgewater, Mass. and participated in a substantive textile industry roundtable discussion with NCTO member executives.

During her tour of Shawmut Corp., a fourth-generation, family-run global advanced materials and textile manufacturer, Ambassador Bianchi learned first-hand about a company that has contributed greatly to U.S. PPE efforts, investing $20 million in a new facility, which can produce up to 180 million NIOSH-approved N95 respirators and other PPE annually, creating hundreds of new local jobs.

Ambassador Bianchi’s visit marked a rare opportunity for executives to highlight the critical need for policies supporting a domestic supply chain that is a major contributor to: the overall U.S. economy with $64.4 billion in textile and apparel shipments in 2020; high-tech innovation, such as heart valves and stents, aircraft bodies and advanced body armor; and our national defense, supplying over 8,000 products a year to warfighters.

The roundtable also facilitated a discussion on key policy priorities, including the importance of policies and incentives aimed at maintaining a domestic personal protective equipment (PPE) production base, the importance of the Berry Amendment, the commitment by the industry to sustainability, and the critical nature of the Western Hemisphere co-production relationship, which supports 1 million U.S. and regional textile and apparel workers.

“We look forward to working closely with Ambassador Bianchi and the U.S. Trade Representative’s [USTR] office to advance policies that bolster domestic production by expanding buy American policies and providing incentives for onshoring and nearshoring production, while addressing illegal trade practices that undermine our industry’s competitiveness head on,” said NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas, who led the roundtable discussion, in a news release.

Werner International Report Highlights Benefits of U.S.-CAFTA-DR Agreement and Devastating Impact of Weakening Agreement’s Rules

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) commissioned a critical report by Werner International examining the valuable economic and societal impact of the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR, which has spawned an integrated co-production chain in the apparel, textile and cotton industries supporting more than 1 million jobs and facilitating $12.5 billion in two-way trade.

The report was released as part of a public relations and Hill and administration advocacy campaign on January 26,  supported by the co-chairs of the House Textile Caucus—Congressmen Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ).

In addition to the Werner report’s highlights of the resilient supply chain between the U.S. and CAFTA-DR region, the study also provides data-driven evidence of the adverse impact of proposals aimed at weakening the agreement’s carefully negotiated and longstanding textile rules of origin. Proposals by certain retailers and apparel brands to dismantle CAFTA-DR’s rules would have a devastating effect on the collective industries in the region and U.S. and result in massive job, investment and export losses, the report finds.

The Werner report comes at a pivotal time, as Xinjiang’s illegal use of forced labor is tainting imported consumer products and the global shipping crisis is diverting supply chains away from China.

NCTO will continue to do substantial outreach to ensure key stakeholders understand the severe impacts this would have across the whole industry.  Staff will also engage with efforts on the Hill to create incentives to help onshore and nearshore more textile and apparel production.

Lastly, the study provides recommendations to the Biden administration, which is currently conducting a comprehensive review of root causes of migration issues associated with three Northern Triangle countries within the CAFTA-DR region.

Key Findings from Werner report:

Adverse consequences to adding flexibilities to/weakening the yarn forward rule:

  • Destroys U.S. and Western Hemisphere textile employment, with a total projected loss of more than 307,000 U.S. textile and cotton farming jobs and a loss of 250,000 jobs in Central America’s primary textile industry.
  • Devastates U.S. cotton farmers, currently employing 115,000 people in 18 states. Projected sales drop of 30% for U.S. and Western Hemisphere cotton growers.
  • Provides direct and indirect backdoor access to Chinese textile inputs, further perpetuating Xinjiang forced labor.
  • Chills future investment and destabilizes current investment in region. Over $1 billion in capital investments have been made in CAFTA-DR countries since 2005, which have helped create a vertical regional production chain. Weakened rules place major future and long-term U.S. investments at risk.
  • Severely undermines defense procurement under the Berry Amendment and the domestic warm industrial base supplying mission critical items to U.S. armed forces. More than two-thirds of the U.S. textile and apparel industry would be wiped out, destabilizing the domestic textile military industrial base and its ability to meet surge production in times of military mobilization.
  • Cripples efforts to construct a viable domestic/nearshoring supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Exacerbates the flow of immigration, undermining the administration’s intended goal of spurring economic development in the region to address the root causes of outward migration.
  • Exponentially increases greenhouse carbon emissions through transpacific shipping and Asian coal-fired energy.

Proactive steps to help improve the competitive position of CAFTA-DR region:

  • Better coordination among lending agencies of the federal government, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, Inter-American Development Bank, and Export-Import Bank, to ensure targeted, strategic investment in this sector and competitive low or zero interest financing and loan guarantees.
  • Support for a comprehensive infrastructure plan with targeted, high-impact investments and competitive loans to upgrade regional power grids, roads, and local ports would pay immediate dividends.
  • Provide incentives to the Western Hemisphere co-production chain for carbon emission reductions and sustainable products.
  • Ensure trade stability in the region by maintaining maximum pressure on China, including enforcing the U.S. ban on cotton and cotton products made with forced labor in Xinjiang.
  • Refrain from changing cumulation and short supply process, which would lead to a surge of third-country yarns and fabrics and displace hundreds of thousands of jobs in the region and U.S.
  • Oppose granting duty-free access and other benefits through an expansion of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program to apparel and textiles and negotiating free trade agreements with major Asian suppliers.
  • Close the de minimis loophole for imports from China that allow goods valued at $800 or less to enter duty free if imported by one person on one day.