What Now?

Buckle Up. Covid-19 is Changing Us, Our Textile & Fashion Industries.

        Firstly, we hope you and your loved ones are safe and well during this crisis.    Our hearts and thoughts are with all those that have lost family, friends, and co-workers.     Our hearts are also with the millions of people who have lost their jobs, their businesses, their income, and been affected in so many different ways by this virus.  It's difficult to listen to the radio, TV or even general conversations without hearing about the virus.

       Daily news reports, social distancing, lines to get into grocery stores, all make us ask each other, what do we do now?  What's next?  Where do we go from here?

      So, much has changed, from how we see each other, to how we interact with people, even our loved ones.  And,so much is still changing, and will continue to change, over the  next weeks, months, and years.

Covid is Changing How We See Each Other

       Home isolation has us self-quarantining, walking our neighborhoods, seeing people we've known, and others we've never met before, all from behind face gear.   We're separated from coworkers, loved ones, communities, concerts, graduations, and family dinners. Meanwhile, with all the information being thrown at us on TV and on line, our family, friends, and on-line communities are divided.  Many want to protect the vulnerable by quarantining the 99% for as long as it takes, and others want to go back to to work, albeit with  testing and some changes in sanitation.    The media is telling us that there is an underlying stigma of those infected by Corona?   There is certainly a sentiment we've never had before, when seeing people outside without masks.  How many of us have walked down the street and it bothers us that we can't see the other person's smile, or if they are smiling at all?  We've taken that small gesture of kindness for granted for so long.  In some ways, we're becoming desensitized to seeing each other in person during this situation. How many of us have experienced antisocial behavior, people so wrapped up and stressed out about Covid-19 that they don't say hello?  They jump off the side walk into the street to pass each other.  Mask shaming is a thing.  The Mayor of Los Angeles asked private citizens to rat out anyone who might be violating stay at home orders, and threatened to shut off water and power to any business breaking Corona Virus rules.     

It’s honestly so expensive for anyone to live and work here in a city like Los Angeles, that many people are taking the risk to go to work, rather than face homelessness and financial ruin. This argument about who is essential and non-essential workers is one of contention. In a capitalistic society we are all essential or we’re out of business very quickly. According to the ing tot he Economic Development Administration, the role of small businesses from 1953 onward Every business is economically and socially connected to each other in a community for money  and good will to circulate.  What is interesting is that all the businesses our leaders state are non-essential are businesses such as hair dressers and manicurists,  the licensed people trained in hygiene and sanitation, but are mostly frequented by women. Though the shut down of  businesses deemed non-essential businesses is affecting everyone, none more so than Prime minister Justin Trudeau's shaggy hair, which has become a meme.  On a darker note, citizens in 19  countries like Australia, Singapore, Taiwan,  China, and several countries in Europe are being asked to download apps, so that Corona contacts and stay at home compliance can be GPS tracked.   This asks the question of  where are HIPPA laws and privacy laws, but because this is for now voluntary, the apps go around these.  Corona has changed how we see our leaders and the societies we live in.  

Covid-19 Is Changing How We See The Future

       I was talking to a colleague the other day about a conference we did together in San Diego, the first week of February.  February 2020 seems like ages ago.  How I wished to dial time back, take a leisurely train ride again, along the coast, arrive in Little Italy, walk into a dinner meeting at a restaurant, hug my friends, order food and just enjoy each other's company.  So, many other canceled conferences, seminars and previous talks in cities around the world come to mind, each one focused on new and advancing technology where we're all going in the future - electric vehicles, smart textiles, virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), 5 G, biomimicry, robotics, nanotechnology, and so much else that's newer, faster, and more convenient way to do things than what's come before.  

       A year ago every textile industry seminar was talking about Industry 4.0 and the connecting of all points of designing, making, selling and distributing every widget and service we human beings could possibly imagine.   Everything was rushing forward , forward toward the 'Singularity,' where everything is connected and never fogotten, by an artifical intelligence that is much more mentally agile than we are.  4.0 is a revolution, like the steam, electric, and computer revolutions that came before it.  4.0 is using new resources to build on top of our old fashioned ways of making things, as it digitally interconnects many technologies, data, and real time information, on a global scale.   The pursuit of 4.0, like each revolution before it, will solve many of our problems, while continuing the problems we still need to solve, like pollution, diminishing resources, gentirification.  The bigger challenges 4.0 is bringing on are as interconnected as 4.0 itself:  privacy, on line security, and who controls all our data.  Combining 4.0 with 5 G, a platform where your encrypted phone is not necessary, but the system itself is the device, makes those privacy and loss of control of our own data challenges exponential.  Will we sacrifice all privacy for convenience?

Covid-19 Is Changing How We Value our Resources

        In February, everything in our world was pushing and rushing forward.  What a blur the pace of life was, until, like a wrench falling in the gears, our every day lives were halted by something we can't even see.  

       Our world is on pause, waiting and bracing at the bit for someone to hit the play buttons so that we can resume our lives.  But will our days be the same?  Can we really go back to everything the way it was in February 2020?  In eight weeks of isolation, so much has happened, even though so much has not.   Many of us have spent time at home, our cars gathering dust.  Others have become home schooling instructors, developing new skills, like how to get paydough out of the carpet and sharpie off the walls.  

      As one writer put it, it seems we're all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.  For many, it's been a time of finding our priorities.  Some have been catching up on our lists of fixing our spaces, while reveling at how beautifully blue our sky is, and how bright the stars seem now.  In Los Angeles, where we usually have 7 lanes of bumper to bumper in either direction, we haven't had a traffic jam in 8 weeks, and are using 50% less gasoline to go twice as far, in half the time.  That's something to think about.  For others it has been a time of survival, not knowing where or when the next dollar is coming from; not knowing if the small business one works for will still be there in another month.  Still others stuggle mentally to find purpose for getting out of bed every day.

Covid-19 Is Changing Our Knowledge Pools

     For many in our industry we've seen a dichotomy.  As far as fashion in this crisis, fashion is almost forgotton as people dress from the waist up and haven't gotten a hair cut since early March.  Pajama sales surged 143%.  "Vogue’s new issue is unlike any other ever made in the magazine’s 128-year history. With the entire staff in quarantine, no photo shoots were possible; besides, this is a moment to focus on solidarity rather than celebrity. "  Fashion is on hold, but as perishable and fleeting as the flower of fashion is, can fashion really be held?  That is a question being asked by small designers and big brands alike.

       What we're seeing is that fashion has said, 'hold my beer.'  If anything, fashion is reminding us of it's stregth, adaptability.   Within days of the shut down, fashion sewing companies were converted to PPE manufacturers, each undergoing a crash course in technical textile terminology, fabric science, filtration, sterilization processes, testing parameters, and warp speed product development.  This transfiguraion is happening everywhere: the US, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, and Europe.

Covid-19 Is Changing Our Industry

       Every remnant of our rapidly disintegrating textile and materials industries in the US has been dusted out and put into gear from coast to coast.  An immediate need for educated answers to fabric and finish questions pulled evey textile professional into the frenzied quest to get immediate PPE into the hands of first responders.  

       So many people, who've been essentially the last standing in their textile and manufacturing businesses, and who in February were likely thinking more of where they might be retiring in the next few years, are now volunteering, working 16 hour days, and fielding technical questions they've not heard asked in the US for years.  Such a vast accumulated knowledge of manufacturing, materials, and textiles, which has been shelved, while manufacturing was dismantled and imports increased, is coming back to life as our industry is resusutated in this crisis.  It has been heart warming and stunning  to see everyone pitching in whatever they can from behind monitors and cutting tables to help others do what needs to be done.  The question is: is this the start of revitalization of our inductry, or  is Covid-19 a fair weather friend, and it will business as usual, reverting back to cheap foriegn-government-subsidised-imports once this crisis is over?

Covid-19 Is Changing How We Work

      Some companies are auditing the remote working situation of their employees - but will the current remote working situation last?  Many employees have been so over productive that companies are seriosly considering  keeping some employess on remote even after Covid-19.   For those of us having to return to the office and  facotires OSHA has issued guidelines on sanitizing work areas.  Frequent equipment sanitizing, social distancing and face coverings will be our new normal in the work place.  Right now, business want to be open.  The costs of these changes are expected to be the new cost of doing business.  Eventually, these costs will be passed on to the consumer. Many companies will see the addition of sanitizing stations, where employees can was their hands.   Face coverings in the work place will aslo be our new normal, which asks the questions of how long we should wear the same face mask, when, and how often should we wash them?   "You should launder the masks before and after each use to clean off any germs you may have picked up in public. Hand-wash the masks or put them in a mesh wash bag in the washing machine so they don't come apart, and use a high-heat setting."   From CNN

Covid-19 Is Changing Our Networking

     The shortage of PPE and the grass roots movements to make PPE here in the US has brought into focus how far our hospital buyers are detached from the actual making of PPE.  Most are used to buying SKUS at set prices, with barcodes, and that is about the extent of their knowledge and involvement with purchasing PPE.   There has been a huge disconnect between the people wanting to make PPE to fill the need, and purchasers of PPE.  They're  speaking two different languages, with a need for translation of specs and materials connecting the dots between them.  There is a vast knowledge gap in materials science, something many in our industry have known for years.  Speaking of materials, PPE requires specific types of materials for various end uses.  Some are FDA classified and regulated, and others that are general purpose are not, but still fall under the CPSC flammability regulations and FTC labeling care and content requirements.   

       This information used to be taught as standard information in textile programs around the country.  As programs have been eliminated, much of this information is new to start up manufacturers. Many wanting to pitch in making PPE, have been networking with larger companies, suppliers and acedemia to fill in the knowedge gaps in making PPE compliant.  It's true that our once thriving textile supply chains have been reduced to trickles.   Our travel wings are clipped, and our 'remote' working schedules are now filled with webinars, co-working meetings, educational seminars, and YouTube videos.   Still, we are all sourcing PPE materials here in the US by staying connected, but in different ways.  It's never been easier to shoot off an email to someone you've not seen in years, because you remembered his or her cousin worked for a company that had US warehoused materials.  This week I spoke with Deccofelt, a company that makes the laminated peal and stick foam for face splash guards, and we hadn't spoken in 18 years, since I left the automotive industry.  There are many stories like this one amongst our textile community.

Covid-19 Is Changing How We Buy

     The entire manufacturing industry is indeed headed to a new world of buying, making and selling.  "In China, domestic and international trade transactions suffered a week-on-week drop of 56% beginning mid-February. The United States, United Kingdom, and Europe followed suit, with a combined initial drop of 26% in the beginning of April, and a continuing decline of 17% in late April."

The shift to on-line sales has been accelerated, and with that the need for product information. Today, more people are reading labeles and product descriptions looking at where things are made, and from what materials they're made.  Covid-19 and the PPE shortage has been a wake up call to many, who are now concerned that 90% of our common drugs are made in China.  70% of shoes sold in the US are made in China.  The top 10 products China produces are:

  • Personal Computers
  • Mobile phones
  • Solar Cells
  • Air Conditioners
  •  Shoes
  • Cement
  • Enegy Saving Lamps
  • Ships
  • Clothing 
  • Coal

     Many brands are more than concerned that they have huge inventories of Spring 2020 merchandise that went unsold, orders on the water for summer, and currently in the works for fall and holiday 2020.  March is traditionally the month where holiday gifts and merchandise are ordered.  And, considering that in March, we were told this was a two-week stay at home order, many companies put in those holiday orders.   Companies that were on the edge could be pushed over the brink of ruin if the shut down continues for the duration of the summer as some states are overtly hinting.   J Crew filed for Chapter 11 banrutpcy protection this week due to Covid 19.  Many smaller businesses are not making the news.

Covid-19 Is Changing Where We Buy

    In the wake of JC Penny filing for bankruptcy this week, we need to ask the question, is this the end of the department store? What are brands going to do if the arteries of major distribution dry up?  

      Here in Los Angeles, our County is  opening retail, but only curb pick up. Who shops like that?  Shipping is an experience where we browse things we don't know we need and retilers count on that connection they make to close the sale, where they've convinced us we'e made a good purchase.  That has been retail's relationship since the first shop windows were created.

       Retailers seem to be stepping back from their full speed ahead production of their own labels and their own in house design teams.  It seems that house brands have run their course as few translate to on-line sales.  Perhaps the future of retail is retailers creating stores in stores, mini boutiques where the companies selling have the responsibility of maintaining the merchandise.   The assortments of mini areas might vary by store, not just by region. 

   The focus consumers want is product freshness. Retailers want to create a need for consumers to return to the store for instore deals only.  Shopping would then become more of a treasure hunt that way.  This also means changes for finance, with retailers acting a lot more like the Amazon model of consignment and fulfilled by the retailer. The automotive aftermarket went through a bit of this a while ago, where they started paying vendors on scan.  Might fashion be heading that way too?  This would seem an opportunity for unknowns like those from Not Just A Label and fresh ideas to make it into places that they might not normally be. Retail struggles are also challenging for larger brands who are used to shipping vast quantities of merchandise.

Covid-19 Is Changing How We Design

    For the last few years, it's no secret that retail has struggled, and more stores have closed in 2019 than in 2008.  In that time, there's been a movement away from seasonal merchandise development and a flocking of stores preparing for a new era of retail -seasonless products.    "Millennials are not only disrupters and innovators — they are now also the world’s most powerful consumers. The millennial effect is upturning retail." Covid-19 is acellerating  this consumer activism and demand for brand transparency on sustainability, humanitarian issues, gender representation, and closing the materials loop, amongst other wants from the prospective companies that'd like to sell them products and services.  There is significant increase in companies genuinely wanting to use recycled raw materials in order to close the loop.  Right now, the key is being able to make things that can be recycled again, so that all the effort in being ‘green’ and sustainable’ doesn’t get wasted on just one cycle round the loop.

Covid-19 Is Changing How We Make Things

     As stated previouosly, there is a strong sentiment in the US to buy made in USA products, though some people are finding sticker shock when wanting to ween off imports.  Keeping money circulating in the community is a viable incentive, as is buying something of high quality that is going to last a long while.  One of the top demands of  consumers is that the manufacturing process is being kind to the environment.   Only time will tell if the wake up call of Covid-19 to our communities to restart making things ourselves is around to stay.

Covid-19 Is Changing How We Think of The Manufacturing Process

      Speaking of specifically our knitting industry, brands, individuals and companies are still very interested in pursuing 3D textile products, firstly because they save almost all of the production waste that goes into landfills during the production process, and secondly because they're not warehousing literally tons of perishable fabrics.  Companies like Uniglo, Ministry of Supply, JS Shoes, Unmade and New Balance. have been finding traction for on-demand customized 3D knit manufacturing,   Companies like Vans and Zazzle have been doing well with their custom traditional cut and sew product selections.  

       With 3D textiles, the products are made at the same time as the fabrics they're made from, thereby lending themselve to on-demand manufacturing, which is making things when they’re ordered.  Although side tracked by Covid,  and even though Adidas has skuttled its Speed Factory,  the goal of many companies is still to make complete products closer to their consumers.

       This is a boost in the  sustainability arena in that 3D knitting allows makers to keep only yarns in inventory.  It is very much like 3D printing only with textile materials.  There are a lot more variables that go into it, but that’s the simplified answer.  There are challenges to 3D knitting as well as opportunities. On-demand programs in knitting have been used by manufacturers for more than 3 decades, thanks to the way the machines' operating systems are coded.  We, ourselves, have built an interface between a customer’s order and the textile equipment that allows the machinery to cue up orders like a robot, and feed it directly to the machines without human intervention.  The machines continue making each order individually, without stopping, unless a yarn breaks.  Then, humans are invaluable.

Covid-19 Is Changing Our Expectations

     We are quickly shifting to purchasing many things on line that we haven't in the past becuase  brick-and-mortars are closed. Therefore, we're comparing more and more information on just about every product we're purchsing, not just the price. On-line vendors need to be on their game and have as much information as we need: not too much or we skim through, not too little or we can't decide on a purchase.   Every purchase is a vote of trust.  We want that Goldielocks feeling - the right featrures, right price and of course free shipping - even if deep down we know its not really free. 

     With the pollution free blue skies, shifting priorities, and having to make value decisions at points of purchase with our limted funds, people are waking up to the waste and excess around us, especially of fashion and manufacturing industries.  We're looking for more durability and soul than fast fashion

Covid-19 Is Changing Our Desire for Fit

       Made to measure  has been on the radar for years.  Clothing companies like M Tailor and  Software companies like TukaTech  have been working on body scanning, to pattern, to cutting machinery, to end product for more than a decade.   Software for 3 D body scanning  for our own manufacturing businesses and public scan Pods  in upscale malls that send clients willing to be scanned details for our product fit, have shown up in around the world, measuring subjects in 3D. The issues challenging the online market place are indeed that of fit, since fit is subjective and each individual is finicky.   Many are unaccepting of their avatars raw data, which is one of the many hurdles of made to measure clothing.  There is no way to cheat a 3D scan, which is why many gyms have been using 3D body scanners to track physical progress. There are companies trying to make products to measure in virtual reality, but the challenges are vast in making sure that what the customer sees on the screen, matches not only their virtual expectations, but their fit expectations.  The biggest challenge by far is the customer's imagination to envision the choices, even with an Avatar displaying product. If returns are a problem now, they will likely increase  dramatically with made to measure, especially after the holidays.

How Covid-19 changes us, will be up to us all.  What we've learned from pulling together to make PPE is that  we all are very capable and generous people.  We're learning to do things with lateral thinking.   We're translating conversations and ideas into  some pretty cool tangible products and transcending this problem.  Ten years ago, without smart phones, Webex, and Zoom this synergy would not have been possible.   Our connections, integrity, and knowledge trusts from our in-person relationships are making the virtual networks function, even sitting on our couches in our pajamas.  This is something no robot. could do. However, to make this manufacturing burst become something more, self-reliance -  manufacturing eco-system, we're going to need to reinvest as a community, a country, a region, and an industry into our manufacturing infrastructure,  technical education, and of course automation.   None of us wants the same factories and 2.0 types of technological factories our grandparents came to, and 3.0 our parents worked.  The consumers of the present and the future want products  that are not only competitive, but close the loop. To accomplish that we may need all the knowledge that came before us, and find a bit of 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0, the tools that work for each product.  What we're truly learning from this situation, is that no one system or manufacturing process fits everything.  Thank you for being part of our reality, and our community.


       Like all of us, Fabdesigns has been doing more than a few things differently these days to make our textile part of the world a healthier place. Knitting work goes on as best as it can. and we're making some pretty cool  3D masks, but one of the most important part of our actions includes volunteering  many hours weekly with the IPC group's COVID-19 Response Team,  and answering textile engineering questions from individual companies and makers.  Our IPC Covid Response Team is a  terrific group of top textile professionals, academia, testing labs, material suppliers, Medical device manufacturers, sewing contractors, governement agency representatives, and other professionals, focused on manufacturing PPE,  supplying relevant materials, testing and standards for PPE.  We've been tapping our extensive networks, putting together resources and connecting sewing facilities, testing labs and raw materials to help build up our US response to this Covid-19 crisis. Conference calls discuss action items, available product standards, and PPE specifications, as well as forming support and supply chains to get accurate information to sewing groups, and the sewn goods to the local state and federal agencies that need them.  IPC has generously donated workspace on their site and Zoom meeting access to more than 100 participants and guests.
      The coordinator at IPC is Chris Jorgensen chrisjorgensen@ipc.org  If you'd like to attend.  It's been amazing seeing our textile community come together. 

Copyright 2020 Fabdesigns, Inc. All rights reserved

 Connie Huffa

 28714 Canwood Street, Agoura Hills, California 91301

818-852-7296  info@fadesigns.com