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From The Editor
James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief

From The Editor: Trust - Supply Chain's Weakest Link

James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief

A s all sectors of the textile industry search for new ways to compete, new markets to enter and innovation to obtain a competitive edge, one parameter that rarely makes the paper is trust. Today, companies rely on speed, quality and delivery in ever tighter time frames across the supply chain. They share the growing need to work together in truly innovative product development. Each must develop relationships that go beyond a contract and embrace real partnership as a critical ingredient. Growing interdependence of companies isn't new, but collaboration is the buzzword for Western Hemisphere companies trying to establish a framework to counter increasing Asian competition.

For a US business person, this is a nice idea, but competition, the drive to win and no team structure in the linked businesses of the supply chain make trust seem naive. The stakes have never been higher, and the chain can easily break, damaging a customer relationship with one failed promise, missed delivery or misrepresented capability.

At the recent American Apparel Producers’ Network (AAPN) meeting in Savannah, Ga. — an event that gathered 75 companies from fiber to apparel brands and finance to logistics — it was amazing to see so many different companies searching for ways to establish new, trusting relationships. Old friends were apparent, but the new demands of the apparel supply chain can test even those relationships. Innovation and collaboration are a recipe for success for the Western Hemisphere in supplying apparel. Several AAPN members expressed interest in forming a cooperative, a partnership of companies to remove excess capacity from existing facilities and pool those resources to add capacity in Central America where there is a perceived need. As you can imagine, an interesting dialogue ensued — but that is the point. Those not willing to come together in the form of a cooperative are forced to develop a solution that can perform at the level of a cooperative — finding partners with common ideals, identifying a need in the market and developing a supply chain solution to solve it, gaining ground on foreign competition by leveraging every aspect of the chain. Use finance, use logistics, leverage core competencies and bring fresh product to the table — simple? No, but these steps are absolutely necessary.

Some companies are doing this. They have developed and continue to develop new products and processes. Some spinners have developed strong relationships with brands, and when they succeed, members of the chain with which they have shared success in the past are in line to share new-found success — they earn trust each time.

Jeff Streader, VF Imagewear, was clear at the AAPN meeting in his call for innovation, saying: “Bring it to me. If I can use it, and you don’t have a chain, I’ll plug you into my chain — but bring it to me.” Streader said he expects VF — now with roughly $6 billion in annual revenues — to continue to source 50 percent in the Western Hemisphere — that is the opportunity and also the challenge.

Building trusting partnerships that emphasize collaboration and innovation will establish a clear competitive framework for the Western Hemisphere — trust may just be the weakest link.

October 2005