Supply chain issues breathe new life into domestic sewing industry

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From jeans to parachutes and baseballs, many things involve some amount of sewing. It’s an industry that has mostly moved overseas in recent decades, but pandemic-related supply chain issues are forcing companies to reconsider.

At DDI, a design incubator, students learn the basics of sewing.

“These guys learn the techniques. It’s not project-based; it’s knowledge-based,” said Peg Koerselman-Kohl, one of the sewing class instructors. “These are skills that until the generation before me, we took for granted.”

She has been teaching here since 2016 and has spent over 40 years of her life in the industry.

“It is no longer taught in public schools. Moms don’t teach their daughters it anymore,” she said of the art of sewing.

Still, it’s a skill used to craft many things you use on a daily basis.

“Everything in the world is sewn. People don’t realize that. They all think it’s pants or a shirt. I say no, everything. You are sitting in your car. This seat is sewn,” said Jack Makovsky, executive vice president of Ralph’s Industrial Sewing.

Makovsky is also Chairman of the Board of DDI, the design incubator where Koerselman-Kohl teaches.

“When I entered this business over 60 years ago, there was a small sewing factory in every town,” he said. In recent decades, that has changed.

“I grew up in an America where everything was made. Where we could do everything, and I just saw the jobs go overseas,” Makovsky said.

Currently, about 97% of all apparel is imported, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, an industry trade group that represents apparel, footwear and sewn goods companies.

In the 1960s, less than 10% was outsourced.

But experts say the pandemic supply chain disruption has caused many companies to reconsider and pivot.

“At every step of the process, you run into problems in the supply chain. And I’ll just, to be honest, this is not an isolated case. That won’t be fixed this year,” said Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I think what you have is different parts of the fashion supply chain saying listen, we want to bring production back, but we also want to make sure it’s not just something that will be in this pandemic. That there’s longevity in terms of the business model to put it in place so that we can pay a fair and competitive wage, but we’re also not going to shoot ourselves in the foot by fixing it too much high for customers to buy it. ”

Once a textile hub, she says the southern part of the United States could see new life. “There are opportunities, especially in the rural south, which was once the king of the textile economy,” Shawn Grain Carter said.

With this awakening of fashion companies and others in need of tailoring, Makovsky sees an opportunity to help train people here in the United States for job openings.

“If we can train people what you need, why you need it and how you need it, and we can train them for that, that will help them and get things done,” he said. .

The job still attracts young people, like Kellen Quadhamer.

“For the path I’m on, or if you want to become a young designer, it’s very important for you to start with the basics and learn the craft. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking to get involved in making clothes, you have to start with the basics,” Quadhamer said.

The interest gives Koerselman-Kohl hope for the industry that we might see more domestic production in the future.

“We have this knowledge, and if we don’t pass it on to the next generation, it will disappear,” she said.

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