U.S. Textile Plants Return, With Floors Largely Empty of People

This is a strongly recommended New York Times article which focuses on the current status of the U.S. textile industry.The article reflects many things we’ve discussed in the class.

First, we still live in a world of “specialization”, in which each country produces something but not everything based on their respective comparative advantage. It is important to realize that the reason why textile manufacturing is coming back to the United States is because the manufacturing process has become more “capital and technology intensive” in nature.  Therefore, it makes senses for the United States as a capital and technology abundant country to focus on producing “capital and technology” intensive products. At the same time, with the fast rising labor cost in recent years, some developing countries are gradually losing “comparative advantage” in making labor intensive apparel products. This factor further affects T&A companies’ decision making on where to produce.

Second, textile and apparel industry is NOT disappearing in the U.S., but it evolves constantly in response to globalization and technology advancement.  “Made in America” is starting to mean something again, but not the same as what it used to mean. As the business function of the textile and apparel industry in the US becomes more capital, knowledge and technology intensive, it provides even more promising career options and opportunities for our TMD/TM graduates than in the past.  That’s also why in the classroom, we emphasize creativity, critical thinking, analysis skills, playing with technology, leadership skills and having a big landscape of the industry in mind.

Third, as we discussed in the class, the “made in ___” label can no longer reflect the whole supply chain of finished textile/apparel products in the 21st century.   Instead, we live in a “made in the world” era in which different countries share responsibilities in T&A product development, manufacturing and distribution. Neither is it the case that the U.S. textile and apparel industry is all about “manufacturing” today. Those non-manufacturing functions such as retailing, merchandising, branding and marketing actually contribute much higher added values and result in a U-shape global apparel value chain called “smiling curve”.