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.

Aurora Specialty Textiles Group in Expansion Mode in Industrial Textiles

Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., a global leader in coating, dyeing and finishing of woven, non-woven and knit fabrics, has proven that resilience and an innovative spirit can propel a company to new heights, even during one of the most challenging times in the industry’s history.

Aurora was originally founded as a cloth prep facility in Aurora, Illinois in 1883. The company has since evolved and flourished as a domestic manufacturer, transitioning first into textile dyeing and finishing in the 1920s, then into textile coating capabilities in the 1950s.

In 1977, Aurora was purchased by Meridian Industries, Inc., a privately owned manufacturing holding company comprised of five operating entities, including Majilite, Meridian Specialty Yarn Group, Inc., Kleen Test Products Corporation, and Kent Elastomer Products Inc.

The company continued to expand through the following decades and in 2015 invested in a new state-of-the-art, wide-width coating and finishing line and a new facility in Yorkville, Illinois that dramatically expanded their ability to serve customers and new markets.

Today, Aurora offers a complete portfolio of products, including digitally-printable textiles, specialty home products, tape-backing products and technical textiles for a wide variety of industries.

Aurora President Marcia Ayala, who joined Aurora in 2006 and was named president in 2019, is leading the company on a rebranding drive, while also navigating myriad challenges, from rising raw material prices and transportation costs to a global supply chain crisis.

“The company has rebranded itself and really expanded and grown from the point of view of its manufacturing capabilities,” Ayala said.

As part of the rebranding effort, Aurora has engaged heavily on social media channel LinkedIn, posting company news and updates weekly. In addition, Aurora is currently in the process of upgrading its website.

“It has made a difference,” Ayala noted.  “We do see that we are getting more inquiries as a result of our presence and engagement on LinkedIn.”

These initiatives have helped Aurora maintain and grow business in an uneven economy roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted the entire U.S. manufacturing and retail sectors.

Aurora’s product offerings and services are extensive.

The company’s products cover a wide range of applications, from pressure sensitive tapes with a fabric backing, like gaffer’s and athletic tapes, to digitally printable textile applications such as canvases, banners and window displays and wall coverings. Other applications include power transmission belting, military, abrasives, healthcare and safety, and protective outdoor coverings.

In addition, Aurora has a range of textile finishing capabilities including fabric preparations such as bleaching, scouring, singeing and brushing/vacuuming; dyeing capabilities; pad applications to apply treatments such as fire retardant, water-repellent and anti-microbial; coating capabilities for a range of water-based coatings; and calendering, sanding and converting services.

 

Navigating the Pandemic, Rising Raw Material Costs and a Global Supply Chain Crisis

“Like many businesses, when the pandemic first hit, our business slowed considerably and was down in 2020,” Ayala said. “While we hunkered down, we continued to manufacture throughout the pandemic. We never shut down.”

Ayala said Aurora had some businesses that were resilient and remained consistent throughout the pandemic, though areas such as athletic tape and gaffer’s tape were impacted as sporting events and entertainment shut down at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Demand and business rebounded in 2021, but with it came a whole new set of challenges triggered by a global supply chain crisis that has resulted in skyrocketing costs for freight, cargo, raw materials and chemicals.

“Transportation costs alone have doubled and tripled depending on where you are shipping it from,” Ayala said. “The challenge now is mitigating price increases as much as we can and meeting customer demand.”

“We have had to change the way we do business because of rising prices and longer lead times for raw materials. We implemented a longer time frame for forecasting and customer product demands, we are qualifying secondary suppliers, and we are requoting prices frequently due to the volatile and increasing prices of raw materials,” she added. “In some cases, we have been told from our suppliers that prices are only good for 24 hours. It has been going on for the past year and I don’t see any end in sight in the near future.”

But one challenge Aurora has managed to dodge is the labor shortage crisis that has plagued broad swaths of the manufacturing and retail sectors. Aurora employs 73 people and operates in a 120,000 square-foot facility.

“We have had very little turnover, across the board. Most of the turnover has been retirements.  I think people enjoy working here and we have a very good culture focused on employee engagement, continuous improvement and input on ideas,” Ayala noted.

 

Emerging Markets

Looking ahead, Aurora hopes to expand its offerings to the military market: “We are looking at how we can act as a subcontractor to companies that need fabric finishing or coatings, like durable water repellants or anti-microbial finishes. This is a business that we have already grown, and we are looking to expand it,” she said.

She said government procurement business under the Berry amendment is extremely important and is a topic that will be highlighted on Aurora’s newly designed website.

“Our sweet spot is Berry compliant business where we offer our coatings, bleaching, and finishing services to companies that already have fabric procured, and we can add value,” Ayala said.

“Another area Aurora is exploring, one that would fit well with its core competencies, is outdoor protective fabrics for end products like boat covers and canopies, where it can offer a wide range of polyurethane coatings or water resistance coatings,” she added.

 

Sustainability

Aurora, a Meridian Industries, Inc. company, is ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified, and an industry leader in sustainable manufacturing practices.

The company moved into its state-of-the-art facility in 2015 and has made a significant investment on sustainability upgrades at its plant in Yorkville.

Among the upgrades to Aurora’s new facility, the natural gas and electricity components were designed to significantly reduce its manufacturing carbon footprint.

The move from its original plant in Aurora to the new plant in Yorkville led to a reduction in natural gas and electricity consumption of 4,134 metric tons of CO2. That is the equivalent of 465,178 gallons of gasoline per year or 4,523,015 pounds of coal burned, according to the company.

Over $1 million was invested in new equipment alone, including Variable Speed Drives to adjust motor speed to match demand (to prevent operating equipment running at constant full speeds), new higher efficiency boilers powered by gas, and a Building Automation System (BAS) that allows the company to schedule equipment to turn on and off automatically through a central computer, which helps reduce energy consumption.

As members of the Valley Industrial Association (VIA), which serves manufacturers throughout Northern Illinois, Aurora said it has begun sharing its sustainability management ideas with other manufacturing operations in the region and is helping them to identify ways to save energy and water resources and also reduce waste.

Aurora is a finalist in all six VIA benchmark categories, including innovation, culture, operations, safety, social responsibility and workforce development. The VIA’s “Spark Awards” will be held on April 27.

 

Onshoring/Nearshoring

 Ayala said she is very supportive of onshoring more weaving and manufacturing.

“It has been an advantage for us to be a domestic manufacturer, because of the global supply chain crisis and the issues with imported products over the past two years,” she noted. “People are starting to see more value in having domestic suppliers because of reliability, a shorter supply chain and lower costs from a transportation perspective.”

Ayala said her customers also find value in promoting products that they can label as manufactured in the U.S.

She said free trade agreements, such as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) have been beneficial and led to new exports to Canada, though over 90 percent of Aurora’s products and services are consumed domestically.

“Free trade agreements spur more domestic production of fabrics and yarns,” Ayala said.

Aurora hosted U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) on a tour of its facility and a roundtable discussion featuring women-led manufacturing firms and union representatives in late August last year. The event was hosted by Ayala and Bruce Pindyck, chairman and CEO of Meridian Industries, Aurora’s parent company.

The visit came at a critical time as Congress was debating the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill, which Congress ultimately passed, includes support across Illinois communities for public transit, improvements to roads and bridges, and improved passenger and freight rail and programs.

“The fact that Ambassador Tai was willing to visit small manufacturing companies like ours and talk to us about what is important to us was impressive,” Ayala said.

“When we went on the plant tour, she was interested in our manufacturing capabilities and asked questions about what was impacting our business and how trade policy impacts our business.”

“I asked her if it was typical for a U.S. trade representative to come on a tour of a small company and talk trade policy and she said it was her own innovation and practice—to meet with manufacturers and workers around the country—instead of putting out trade policies without asking industry first how it would impact us,” Ayala said. “That made such an impression.”