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SPESA's State of the Union Address


Last week, our team sent out its annual State of the Union address. This member correspondence has become somewhat of a tradition over the past few years, and allows us to reflect on the past while also looking ahead to the future. You can find the full address below.

When we talk about the future, we often do so through the lens of improvement. What can we fix? How can we make the industry better than it is today? A big part of that conversation turns to efforts in sustainability. This month's Behind the Seams will aim to explore how the sewn products industry is working towards a more sustainable future. First we hear from's Cary Sherburne on systemic changes needed in the textile and apparel sector when it comes to sustainability. We'll also look to other industry publications on how they're covering sustainability this month.


This year’s SPESA State of the Union address is coming out a little later than we planned. We normally time it to coincide with the U.S. President’s annual address to the nation, but that hasn’t happened. And maybe that was our mistake, thinking that the words “planned” or “normal” would apply in 2021. While we wholeheartedly believe this year will be better than the last, it would be foolish not to expect additional changes and challenges as our industry continues to cope with the impact of Covid-19.

As is now our tradition, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on our past year and highlight some of the opportunities and challenges we expect to come.

Looking Back at 2020

We spent a lot of time waiting last year: waiting for news; waiting to see if our events would be possible; waiting for a vaccine; waiting for 2020 to be in our rearview mirror. But, somehow, in between all that waiting, we were extremely busy. In the beginning, we focused on helping our members find the resources they needed to keep their businesses up and running. We also highlighted the amazing efforts you all put in to support your communities and protect front-line workers.

With the help of our members and industry partners, we focused on virtual networking and education. We hosted town halls, webinars, happy hours, and even the first-ever Virtual SPESA Executive Conference. We hope to never again be in a situation in which virtual networking is our only option, however, there were some obvious benefits. The online format allowed us to try new things, engage members who don’t usually travel to events, partner with other organizations, and offer free registration.

We also supported the ongoing Texprocess Americas & Techtextil North America Virtual Symposium. The symposium sessions explored a wide range of topics from on-demand technology to factory automation to direct-to-consumer supply chains. These are all topics that will continue to grow in importance in the sewn products industry. Thank you to the SPESA members and industry leaders who participated in the symposium.

A significant chunk of our attention in 2020 went to revamping Behind the Seams, SPESA’s semi-monthly newsletter for the sewn products industry. Last year, we updated the newsletter format and website and introduced the Member Spotlight and Thought Leadership sections to highlight the news and activities of SPESA members and share exclusive content analyzing industry trends. In addition, we launched a separate, fully-operational Spanish Behind the Seams website, allowing our Spanish readers to enjoy the same features.

We encourage members to continue to share your news, updates, and opinions with us to allow us to help expand your reach within the industry. As a new benefit, we are also offering all SPESA members one month of complimentary advertising in Behind the Seams.

The Sewn Products Industry in 2021

This year hasn’t exactly had a smooth start. Supply chain issues — from factory shutdowns to port congestion to unbelievable weather phenomena — have caused shipping delays and logistical nightmares for international trade. The silver lining is that consumer demand is up for the sewn products sector, especially for home goods, as customers spend more time in their houses. As vaccines are distributed and people start to wander out once more, it is expected that retail sales will continue to rise, most likely translating to increased demand for manufacturing and equipment downstream.

We also expect to see a shift in where that manufacturing is taking place. Combined frustrations with current supply chains (see above) and concerns over economic impact of the pandemic have led to an increased appetite for re-shoring, near-shoring, and regionalized supply chains. In the United States, the many manufacturers who pivoted to personal protective equipment (PPE) not only helped mitigate the effects of the pandemic, they also lent credibility to the domestic manufacturing industry and reminded people of what can be accomplished here at home. The industry is receiving revitalized interest and support from both policymakers and consumers and, with the right investment, could become a powerhouse once again.

We are seeing similar activity around the world as governments look to support their local industries and brands and manufacturers look to shorten their supply chains. International trade isn’t going away, nor should it, but it likely isn’t going to look the same post-pandemic.

As the industry navigates these changes, we believe it is increasingly important to be aware of the policies and initiatives that could impact your business. We know that President Biden’s trade strategy will be different than President Trump’s but the U.S.-China trade war continues and we don’t expect to see any immediate changes related to import tariffs on that front. We also are keeping an eye on new restrictions related to human rights issues in China and Myanmar, as well as Europe’s growing affinity for supply chain due diligence laws. We encourage SPESA members to read our monthly Trade & Policy Update for a condensed overview of the issues.

SPESA Membership in 2021

It’s not just the industry that will see change in 2021, SPESA will as well. For starters, we may see some shifts in the make-up of our membership. Some of our members faced significant financial hardships in 2020, others planned impressive but delicate mergers and acquisitions, a few shifted their operations in a new direction. As always, our goal is to be a valuable resource for our members. If your needs have changed, we hope you will reach out to us and let us work together to improve our offerings.

One of our main goals for 2021 is to work with other associations and organizations for the overall benefit of the industry. We recently announced SPESA’s involvement with the XPRIZE competition to support workforce development in the United States, specifically in the realm of training technicians and mechanics and upskilling operators. We are very excited to be competing against programs designed to train programmers, coders, social media analysts, and other virtual jobs to show that mechanics, technicians, and the sewn products industry as a whole have a wide variety of advanced and exciting jobs here in the United States. We also joined a coalition supporting the U.S. PPE industry. We hope to continue SPESA’s involvement in bold industry initiatives that support our members in 2021. We encourage anyone who is interested in supporting either of these endeavors to reach out to us.

As soon as it is possible, we will continue to host excellent networking and education events for our members and the sewn products industry. But, based on what we learned last year, we will also look to increase our digital presence and offer virtual opportunities as well. We believe this will be a trend throughout the industry, and, even as in-person events resume, there will be an appetite for virtual or hybrid events moving forward.

SPESA’s first planned in-person event for 2021 will be our Advancements in Manufacturing Technologies Conference August 24th in our hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina (fingers crossed!). As we did in 2019, the conference will be held in conjunction with Techtextil North America and attendees will receive complimentary access to the show floor. This year’s trade show will also include the first-ever Texprocess Americas pavilion, supported by SPESA, featuring machinery, equipment, and technology suppliers for the sewn products industry. The pavilion is designed to foster new business opportunities and strategic partnerships across industries. Anyone interested in exhibiting, can reach out to or the SPESA team for more info.

Of course, we are most excited about SPESA’s signature event, our Executive Conference, which will be October 27-28 in Boston! We know it has been a tough year for everyone emotionally, physically, and financially. To help offset that, we are establishing a member-only rate for SPESA members to attend this year’s conference and exploring content that is specifically relevant to your business. However, we know that the opportunity to be in a room with your customers is just as important, so each SPESA member will also be given a discount code they can share with their customers.

An overview of all the member benefits available to you in 2021 is available here.

One final change we will see in 2021 is a change in SPESA’s leadership. Last year, our SPESA Board Chairwoman, Nina McCormack, and the other SPESA officers graciously volunteered to extend their positions for another year and help guide the association through the chaos of Covid. We are eternally grateful for their flexibility and patience, and, of course, for their leadership over the past year.

In October, we will resume our normal transition, and the SPESA Chairmanship will pass to Ed Gribbin, who will lead us the next two years. We are excited to work with Ed and continue to move our association forward.

If you have read this far, then we have no doubt you are a committed to SPESA and the sewn products industry. Thank you for your continued support and please know we are always happy to hear your opinions on how we can improve.

We look forward to seeing you all soon!

Your SPESA Team


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