Friday, February 10, 2012

Textile Friday: Made in America

         I've been thinking this spring about the US textile industry as a whole. A lot of people in the textile industry like to point out that manufacturing has been decimated the past decade. As a whole, the textile industry has lost over a million jobs or 60% of it's workforce. North Carolina is a textiles state traditionally and we have been very heavily hit. But this post is not a doom and gloom post, it is the opposite. We have almost 1,500 textile factories with close to 500 workers in them plus a host of smaller shops dotted all across our state who are doing great is this economic downturn and tough economy. Every designer out there has to keep this in mind as they seek to be successful. I have a lot of friends who have cut their losses and gotten out. NC State's design program is a shell of it's former glory in the 1980s. I wince every time I talk to a professor or teacher and they say, "Oh textiles? Really? I didn't think anyone was actually making a living at that."
         To which I privately think to myself, "You know that the textile industry has actually maintained a steady market share since 1978 and I've actually worked on a number of factory lines. There's plenty of people out making a living, a good living off the garment industry." I've worked for billion dollar companies that only had 7-9 seamstresses. What has changed drastically is that the work that used to take several thousand people, now only takes a handful. And they're doing quite well, thank you. After some specific machine investments.This spring I have decided to feature some of the local US textile companies making a living, a good living, putting out a product(s) worth buying. I would like to stress that all these companies have taken different approaches and are locally available for purchase in the Triangle area. I love reading and supporting men and women who have found a way to make their idea accessible to the masses such as myself. So, if you want to support your local fellow designers, share this story with a friend and maybe pick up one yourself. I don't have all the answers, but let's look at what some other companies are successfully doing.
       Today I would like to talk about the Darn Tough Vermont: Running Socks Company out of Vermont. These guys make awesome socks that are so tough they come with a lifetime guarantee. They also manage to pay their employees well with benefits and use superior quality wool that is incredibly durable. You can pick one up locally at Bull City Running Company in Durham, Tobacco Road Outdoors in Apex, and Townsend and Bertram in Carrboro. There's a number of sock manufacturers in the area, particularly out of the Burlington area, but I don't know of anyone else who's making socks of this quality. They're reasonably priced in the $7-20 range depending on type etc.
        Nash and I both do a fair amount of walking and these socks also make AWESOME Sock Monkeys. I mean like rockin' sock monkeys. Looking through the modern sock factory, you will notice something very important, a lot of machines to not a lot of people. Machines are much much faster than people at repetitive tasks which allow you not to wear out your employees. Good equipment can help with repetitive wear/injuries helping the people who work for you stay safer and healthier for longer. People like to be treated like people, not machines.You are responsible both to your customers and the people who work for you to make both their lives better. Darn Tough is answering this call in a modern age. For that they have my admiration and respect.
           Many of those machines will be computer driven. If you want to hand-knit socks, you can certainly do so and they look great. Nash has a pair of hand-knit wool socks he got as a Christmas present that rapid wolves could not pry out of his hands. You  generally make one sock per day if you're a knitter, putting a handmade item in the VERY rare gift category. About twice as slow as scarves for me. A professional knitter in the 1700s would produce 12 socks a week or 6 pairs which I find frighteningly fast. See the YarnHarlot's blog for more info if you want to learn about hand-knitting socks which is where this picture is reprinted from. She's also a fun fellow knitting addict. The first month I started Li Sashay I tried to...gasp....make a living hand-knitting scarves. Several stubborn weeks later (and cramped hands), I gave up that idea, but I still knit for fun. For me, I love designing, but I also struggle with how to affordably give it to friends and family while paying employees. Good tools seems to be the answer I've found and a number of other designers. So go check out the couple minute video and feel a little inspiration for your day. American made is still out there, doing just fine thank you, though perhaps not in the way you envisioned.

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