Are textile manufacturers back in South Carolina for good?

Back in the 1990s, South Carolina suffered when the textile industry left the United States and headed to Mexico, China, and India or anywhere people would spool, spin and sew for a much cheaper cost a day. The forces of globalization had indeed stripped the state of its fabric trade.

U.S. Textile Manufacturing Industry Lost To Cheap Overseas Labor
In the 1990s and 2000s, textile manufacturing in the United States dropped abruptly caused by cheaper labor overseas. Also attributed to the decline of the textile manufacturing industry are increased productivity and automation.

In the last ten years, over 200,000 textile manufacturing jobs have been lost because of automation. Between the years 1997 and 2009, around 650 textile manufacturing plants have closed their operations which drained thousands of jobs and depressed numerous communities.
Parkdale Mills embraced automation and installed new machines that provide the capability to produce more fabric with fewer workers.

2012: US Industry Made A Comeback 
Fast forward to 2012 and what everyone thought was a dead industry, the US textile industry made an astonishing come back to the US shores. If you haven’t noticed, the mop that you waltz around the kitchen floor or your favorite towel may have been made by American workers. And that should not come as a surprise since the textile manufacturing industry has employed more than 230,000 people and generated some $54 billion in shipments in 2012.

2013: New Textile Plants In Various States
In 2013, textile manufacturing companies in Canada, Dubai, United Kingdom, Korea, Japan, Switzerland, China, Israel, India, Switzerland, Japan, and the United States announced plans to expand or open new textile plants in Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana.  Textile companies are offered tax breaks by these states’ efficient infrastructure – highly-modernized ports and airports, reliable utilities, and trained and non-union labor force.

Overseas Labor Costs: Setback
And with the continuously increasing labor cost in China and other countries in addition to rising transportation costs and taxes, foreign and domestic companies are somewhat compelled to consider U.S. manufacturing sites. And don’t forget about more and more consumers looking for products that bear the label “Made in the USA” which include giant retail chain Wal-Mart which made a pledge to buy American-made products to the tune of $50 billion over a period of ten years.

Challenges Faced By Textile Manufacturers In South Carolina  
And so South Carolina had landed some textile manufacturing companies such as American Giant and Parkdale Mills. But not without some challenges. While manufacturers found that the “Made in the U.S.A” label has really picked up because they are appealing and affordable, they also discovered that the business landscape has changed a lot from the way it was before. Twenty years of textile manufacturing being out of the country has resulted in:

  • Decimated factories
  • Difficulty in finding qualified workers for specialized jobs
  • Difficulty in finding American-made components for their products
  • New machines that have replaced human labor at almost every possible point in the manufacturing process

2012: Start Of Reshoring To The U.S.
Back in 2012, a joint survey of some 340 members of the MIT Forum for Supply Chain Innovation and the Supply Chain Digest wherein findings showed that one-third of American companies that have overseas manufacturing have considered moving their production back to the United States with about 15% who said that they have already decided to do so.  That means some companies have done some setting up on the ground such as installing some automation machines that help in the production and including radio frequency dryers that replace conventional mode of drying textiles.

Production Volume With fewer Workers
According to an MIT professor who conducted the survey, David Simchi-Levi, it is an entirely different manufacturing paradigm than what was a decade ago. In terms of production level, Parkdale Mills is able to produce 2.5 million pounds of yarn weekly with about 140 workers. Back in the 1980s, it would require over 2,000 workers to achieve the same production level.

Production Quality In Less Time
American Giant – a sweatshirt and clothing company has a different story. Its founder, Bayard Winthrop initially set up a mill in India to make the fabric needed for the sweatshirts he wanted his company to make – one that is like the thick sweatshirts from the Navy which his father used to wear. He insisted on having the sweatshirts cut and sewn in the United States as he felt it was something that couldn’t be done overseas.

Credit: McKay Savage

When his first fabric shipment came through in February 2012, after several months of back-and-forth process, Winthrop was frustrated with the quality and lengthy process that he decided to move his production to South Carolina. That proved a great difference as it only takes a month or so to get a sweatshirt to a customer – with everything done from start to finish in South Carolina. For Winthrop, outsourcing to India just didn’t make sense considering the barriers that make production lead time too long for the process.

Advantages Of Manufacturing In The US
For Bayard Winthrop manufacturing in the U.S. provides some important advantages over outsourcing including:

  • Lower transportation costs
  • Fast turnaround time
  • Reasonable and affordable wage

Do you know other textile manufacturing plants in South Carolina?

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2 thoughts on “Textile Manufacturing Industry Back To South Carolina”

  1. The renewed buoyancy in textile and apparel exports is helped by a sharp improvement in raw material supplies. It’s also a reflection of a combination of global factors a steady improvement in demand as the American economy picks up, a progressive decline in Chinese exports to major markets such as the US, currency appreciation in Indonesia, labor unrest in Asian competitor Cambodia and safety concerns after a major factory fire in Bangladesh last year.

  2. I happen to know that back in the 1990s, South Carolina suffered when the textile industry left the United States and headed to Mexico, China and India or anywhere people would spool, spin and sew for a much cheaper cost a day. The forces of globalization had indeed stripped the state of its fabric trade. Let’s hope that the United States as a whole prospers from this industry in the near future.

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