Clothworks is a Seattle textile company with five brands of fabrics, including a new one grown and manufactured completely in the United States. Since the launch of American Made Brand (AMB) fabrics a few weeks ago, the Clothworks shipping dock has been jammed with pallets for shipment of AMB products to independent quilt shops and fine fabric retailers across the country.
“What we’re doing with American Made Brand fabrics is making everyone at Clothworks happy,” the company’s owner, Ted Hoffman, said last week. “When we were developing the supply chain, we even kept it quiet from the employees, but once we explained what we were doing, we could see a certain pride in them, a kind of patriotism. And now, as word gets around about our new American-made fabrics, we’re seeing the same tremendous response from our customers.”
Clothworks and its AMB line is an example of the type of manufacturing innovation and consumer support needed to create a product that is truly American, from the cotton fields to finished product. Unfortunately, the current Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations could cause the whole effort to unravel.
According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, the TPP has the potential reduce U.S. textile exports at the early part of the supply chain, further eroding American textile infrastructure and capabilities. To expand American job growth in higher value sectors, the cotton grown here should not be exported as a raw material – but instead transformed into beautiful finished products like the textiles created by American innovators like Clothworks.
In Stealth Mode
After a successful career at Microsoft, Hoffman decided to buy Clothworks, which seemed like a perfect fit. “We looked at several businesses and this one struck a nerve with us, it really fit our skills,” said Hoffman, who heads up management and operations with the help of vice president Miryam Peterson, while his wife, Candice Hoffman, heads up the creative side.
The business they purchased was truly international, with partners based across the globe in Japan, Korea, China, Indonesia, India and Thailand. Five years into the business, after he had his bearings, he asked the question: “Why can’t we do this here? We started asking the question and the answer is that it has all disappeared and the remaining segments have an export focus.”
“As the cotton moves up the supply chain, the focus is getting it overseas,” he continued. “It took a while to figure out who the people were who could do something here.” Once Hoffman found the right people and asked them if they had thought about producing textiles in the US, they said that they hadn’t considered it in a while, because they hadn’t been asked.
Once he realized that reconstructing the supply chain would require substantial resources, he brought the idea back to his team. “How do we put some of this back together? How do we figure something out to create a product that is truly American Made,” he asked. “Everyone loved the idea.”
“We’ve been in stealth mode for two years,” Hoffman said of the time he spent assembling a U.S.-only supply chain for AMB fabrics. “We had to talk to a yarn spinner and get them to spin our particular size of yarn, and then talk to a weaver to have a particular combination of threads woven, then move on to a print plant for more discussions.”
“As far as I know, we’re the first company to assemble this type of supply chain in a long time,” he said.
According to the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), 565 textile plants were shuttered between 2000 and 2012. Despite this, several textile manufacturers have recently built new US manufacturing facilities. According to the NCTO, five new plants have opened here in the past 18 months.
Hoffman said he has witnessed a momentum building in the industry. Some of the previous advantages held by offshore manufacturers – especially low labor costs – are declining, which is helping US companies regain some competitiveness.
“We’re also seeing kind of a cultural movement occurring that’s really supporting American manufacturing,” he said. “There have been a number of positive signposts along the way.”
Learn more about American Made Brand here: http://www.clothworks.com/index.php/brands/index/profile/id/24/