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MArch / April 2018

The Make: Manufacturing Tailored for Factories of the Future

Why Work Lines Built Lean & Green are the New Norm
A new manufacturing mindset is emerging that bodes well for domestic production. Invest, collaborate, ideate, communicate, and educate are fast becoming modern fundamentals for success in today’s marketplace defined by speed and specialization.

Work lines built on efficiency and flexibility are the new norm. Solving production problems by teaming digital resources with physical components is leading edge. Maker spaces, incubators and alliances with academia are taking shape to engage next gen thinkers and build community.

Nowadays thinking “niche” is big and customization key. An entrepreneurial spirit is energizing manufacturing models and lending fresh perspective to how goods get made. Conventional business models and hulking textile plants are phasing out and fast being replaced by micro factories streamlined to transform ideas into commercial product in no time.

“We get orders Monday morning and can ship Monday afternoon. If a customer needs fabric tomorrow we can put it on a plane and get it there. That’s our model.” Jeff Bruner, Quantum

Textile suppliers, brands and individuals are investing in innovation with gusto. Companies are doubling down on technology and equipment to out-pace market forces and accept the needed rise in digitalization, automation and robotics. 

“Over the past five years, we made significant investment with our infrastructure. It’s about speed, particularly with knitting. It was invest or die.” Steve Perry, Darlington Fabrics

Education is central to this mission. As of 2015, U.S. government basic research funding had dropped to only 44 percent, from a high of 70 percent in the 1970s.  Corporations are stepping up, realizing that tapping into student talent will pay off down the road.

“We will gain talent from the university. This will help us train the next generation of chemists and engineers.” Zeru Tekie, Chemours

For an industry once content to compete within their separate silos, collaboration has taken hold. Company execs now describe the importance of listening, connecting, researching and developing with customers. This is happening all along the supply chain, from large players to small.

“The goal is to streamline communication from molecule level to the mill partner.” Cindy McNaull, Cordura

Companies also find value in hiring from outside the industry to bring innovation in. Be it from automotive, high-tech or consumer products, manufacturing going forward will consist of designers sitting next to engineers and software gurus sharing lunch tables with yarn experts. 

“After leaving IBM and beginning my new career at DTV I saw opportunity to bring Lean concepts to this enterprise.” Kirk Smith, Darn Tough Vermont

Thinking differently is the new attitude. Execs believe we are on the forefront of a new made in America. Indeed, these days automated machinery complete with high tech computer systems goes hand in hand with personalized innovation. Young entrepreneurs especially don’t want to adopt models they view as what pushed production overseas.

“People have been frustrated long enough and want to do things differently. They do not want to continue on that same path.” Kim Ortengren, Wallace James Clothing Company

Investing in Innovation
Investment has allowed Westerly, RI-based Darlington Fabrics to compete with Asia mills that have brand new everything, explains Steve Perry, president. It was a gutsy financial decision because while there was lots of discussion about bringing manufacturing back, Perry estimates there was maybe 25 percent commitment at the time. “We felt we had to take the plunge. We’ve had some wins along the way and since 2013 we’ve had a significant uptick in business.”

New hardware also brought a new collaborative outlook at Darlington. A good example is a partnership with Nitific, a third party color certifier that has boosted efficiencies. “At least two weeks are shaved off the lead time,” states Darlington’s Carol Gross. “It’s all done digitally. We don’t lose time submitting color lots; we are pre-approved to ship.” Working together with other domestic vendors to fill gaps in the U.S. supply chain has also proved beneficial. “We don’t live in our respective silos anymore,” says Perry who values membership in the American Apparel Producers Network (AAPN) and also gives a shout out to a fledgling local Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network (RITIN). “The textile community has figured out that being in individual silos is not beneficial.”

These days the firm is experiencing growth in niche businesses. While activewear remains a sales driver for Darlington, success in non-apparel applications like post surgical wraps, braces and industrial end use is on the rise. Perry states, “I’m more optimistic about the textile industry than ever before.’  Investment is part of the DNA of Quantum, a North Carolina company that has been ahead of the curve in its innovation model. “Everything we do is custom,” states Jeff Bruner, company founder and chief  technology officer. “Because of this we don’t have a manufacturing facility that has standing looms or machines waiting for the next order. Each and every loom is dedicated to a specific customer or project.”

Bruner’s problem solving approach dates back decades when he saw an opportunity to invent a new fabric technology – synthetic elastomeric suspension fabric – that helped launch his business, and continues to fuel sales today in new applications. He states, “To be a leader and on the forefront of innovation, you have to be fast, willing to take risks and collaborate with customers to understand their challenges. Our customers are the key to our success – we see them as partners and because the way our manufacturing platform is set up, at times, can be considered an extension to their operations.”

To that end Quantum has invested in R&D, acquired new technologies and even made custom machine modifications to streamline production as part of the collaborative process with a customer. This effort resulted in reducing a four-step process into one machine at Quantum’s facility.

With Quantum’s ability to create cutting edge performance knits and wovens that feature attributes like breathability, durability and stretch, the company is finding traction in the active/outdoor market. Quantum has a joint patent with adidas, and has recently applied for patents of its own regarding a new technology for woven constructions  and one for 3D knitting, both incorporate features including “zoned support,” suitable for a range of different sport applications.

Like textile suppliers, brands, too, are embracing manufacturing methods to meet market needs. Kirk Smith, director of manufacturing, has been leading the way with LEAN training at Darn Tough Vermont, in Northfield, VT. Smith came to Darn Tough after a 33-year tenure with IBM holding a number of positions within engineering and manufacturing both as an individual contributor and management positions. “My last seven years at IBM were spent working on the Lean Transformation Team as IBM realized to remain competitive we needed to do something different,” Smith explains.

Lean 101 training kicked off in May 2016 with VMEC (Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center) providing the training facilitation. Over the course of the next 12 months 100-150 employees trained in Lean 101. Additional training in problem solving and value stream mapping also occurred and taking place while Darn Tough doubled employee population.

“To expand depth of understanding we also started book
clubs where groups of employees would have weekly reading assignments and then come together to discuss the material,” says Smith, adding, “It really must be a cultural system running through every department and touching every employee. It is the way the organization does its work.”

Last fall the company formally launched the DTPS (Darn Tough Performance System) and are moving forward to construct “pillars” which support how work gets done. To this point this effort has been achieved in Safety, 5S, Continuous Skills Development, Continuous Improvement, and Supply Chain Optimization.

Educational Endeavors
Industry partnership with academia is a long-standing tradition. According to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) industry introduced roughly 900 new products to the market in 2015 based university innovations. And over the past 20 years, research institutions have earned more than 80,000 US patents, states the organization.

Creating strong relationships with local universities continues as a recent announcement from Chemours confirms. The chemical company is launching The Chemours Discovery Hub, a state-of-the-art research facility at the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus of the University of Delaware.

The $150 million, 29,000- square-foot facility is slated for completion by 2020 and the long-term partnership looks to help Chemours meet emerging customer needs, satisfy new market demands and deliver high-value chemistry.

Chemours’ primary STAR focus will be chemistry and chemical engineering research, Zeru Tekie, Chemours’ global technical director, Fluoroproducts, says. Beyond that, “We are looking to collaborate with the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences for physics, material science, and mechanical engineering. Many of our programs are going to need expertise in these fields, so we’ll need this key collaboration. We cannot overstate the value and importance of collaboration to innovation. Diverse groups of people bring different perspectives and ideas to solve the same problem.”

The STAR Campus will also give Chemours a site for collective entrepreneurship. Everyone will be in one place working together in a more collective approach to advancing innovation.

Cordura, in addition to its affiliation with North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles, is now expanding its collaborative platform with a newly created, dedicated “maker space” at the company’s Kennesaw, GA headquarters. Currently known as the Cordura Innovation Center, the hub will tie directly to Cordura’s corporate Destination Durability storytelling and its theme.

The Innovation Center will showcase a fabric library, a product library, numerous displays, trend boards, and basically everything needed to ideate, says Cindy McNaull, Cordura’s global brand marketing director. “This all has to do with the evolution of Cordura. We have so many fabrics now and so many more applications that we needed a dedicated space. The carpet bag was just so big.” Indeed, there are more than 1800 Cordura fabrics and the library list is growing every day.

Solving problems, identifying unmet needs, and then creating product to meet those needs is the contemporary philosophy that spurs innovation. “This kind of connectivity has been happening virtually, but now we’ll be able to do it in person at the Cordura Innovation Center,” explains McNaull, who outlines these fabric development trends Cordura believes drives innovation today: Light yet Strength; Sustainability Innovation; Natural Empowerment; Extreme Resistance; Denims Durability; and Active Soft Strength. The new Cordura Innovation Center will push these elements by working with designers, mill partners, brand partners.

Acting as a solution provider also relates to Kim Ortengren’s incubator/factory in Portland, ME. Although on a much smaller scale than big textile players like Cordura and Chemours, Ortengren’s company, Wallace James, serves as a launching pad for innovation.

Wallace James is one of roughly 50 founding members of Maine Outdoor Brands, a newly formed alliance composed of an assortment of companies united in a mission to promote local entrepreneurship and inspire growth in Maine’s $8.2B outdoor recreation economy. Maine Outdoor Brands made a successful debut at the recent Denver show where its busy booth throughout trade event proved a good indicator of today’s strong “localization” trend and brand community connection.

Ortengren’s business is about many things, though providing infrastructure, solving production problems and creating new ways to make goods are central. The year-old company can facility everything from initial sizing and pattern grading to small run production, complete with fully automated machinery that feature high-tech computer systems.

Education plays a big role. “Its not just cut and sew,” says Ortengren, who returned to her home state after a stint in 7th Avenue fashion followed by work at Cloudveil, Spyder, and Crane & Lion in Boston. “A client has an idea, but no idea how to make it. For us it’s 50/50 thinking/making. We set clients up with a foundation,” states Ortengren. “Primary for us is not faster to market but the education component so its done correctly the first time around. Communication and clarity go a long way.”

Her business model is paying off. Wallace James has established a steady client base and has tallied successes in its first year, with highlight achievements including helping expedite fabric sourcing and streamline production for local designers as well as on-the-mark fabric development for established brands in a timely manner.  “I don’t believe I could I have been doing this five years ago,” says Ortengren. “We are on the forefront of the new thinking about made in America. People have the capital now. People have been frustrated just long enough to want to things differently.”

View the full issue here.
STRATEGIES | Family-Owned Firms

Family Value

Relationships Matter in Business; These Ventures Take That Notion to Heart. By Suzanne Blecher
John, Hugh and Joe Gaither of Feetures!, Mel and Meg Sinclair of Muttonhead, and Donna and Mike Sheehan.
We’ve all heard the saying  “it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.” Yet when family members are involved, the tide can quickly change. Textile Insight asks members of family companies what makes them rewarding and fruitful. Ultimately, the goal in this industry is to promote great products. Here are four firms with tight family units at the helm.

Hugh Gaither heads up hosiery brand Feetures! as president, while son John is VP of product and Joe is VP of marketing. Both sons joined the family business (launched in 2002) after college, with Joe being responsible for coming up with the Feetures! company name at age 15.  “As a father, it creates a strong sense of pride to be working with my sons. The fact that we can work together in a successful and growing business is a real sense of accomplishment,” explained Hugh. While the three are “pretty competitive,” working toward the same goal helps keep the peace. “We are all really pleased to come to work every day and we know that’s not the case for many people,” added the exec.  Admittedly, it can be sometimes hard to know when to stop talking about business. Currently the team is working toward becoming “the most recognized performance sock brand in the world,” with options for running, lifestyle, golf, hike and bike. “We represent three different generations. We have different personalities and perspectives, which contributes to better decision making,” noted Hugh. Being a close-knit family business keeps the brand nimble and agile. Above all, “we treat others the way we would want to be treated,” Hugh said.

Marc Joseph New York
Marc Joseph is Marc Antebi’s second fiddle, first making it big in the household products business. Marc and his friends founded USA Detergents, creator of XTRA laundry detergent. After taking the business public (the company was sold in 2001 to household products firm Church & Dwight), he started Brooklyn-based footwear brand Marc Joseph NY with sons Asher (now CFO) and Joseph (COO and creative director) in 2006. Marc is now president and son Jacob is director of sales. All three boys joined the brand right after college. “As a privately-owned family business, I feel that one of our biggest advantage is our ability to adapt really quickly to an industry change or situation as well as being able to create unique strategic partnerships,” commented Jacob. The Marc Joseph NY brand is known for its mocs and loafers that are designed in New York and handcrafted in Brazil. “I love the fact that I get to work with my father and be with him day in and day out, there’s so much to learn and I don’t take it for granted,” Jacob said. The goal of the family is to build a brand and company that their children and grandchildren can be part of for years to come.

Twin sisters Mel and Meg Sinclair sowed the seeds for what is now unisex apparel collection Muttonhead while in the fashion design program at Ryerson University in Toronto in 2008. In the beginning, both had part time jobs but eventually started working on the line full-time in about 2012. “Operating a family business is great because it allows us to grow on so many levels that perhaps you could not do working for a large corporation. We get to decide what styles we move forward with and always get to test new product categories which is always fun!” said Meg. Textiles play a “HUGE” part in the design process, she added. “We do go sourcing numerous times a year, when you find an amazing textile, it can totally create a new style on its own.” Textile development has allowed the duo to create more product categories while also staying true to its Made in Canada roots. Popular products include a Waterproof 3-Way Pant that can be worn cinched, cuffed or straight; and a cozy fleece Camping Hoodie, both manufactured in a sweatshop-free factory in Toronto.

Sheehan Associates
Donna and Jim Sheehan started Sheehan Associates 26 years ago, both having spent their entire careers in the industry (Jim in leather, Donna in textiles). Jim currently is CEO of the firm, while Donna is president and son Mike is VP of sales. Mike is one of seven children in the Sheehan family. Sheehan Associates has carved out a niche providing performance textiles that give customers an edge in their respective markets. “It’s an evolutionary marketplace with constantly shifting manufacturing locations, advances in material, quicker lead times from our customers – all of which require you to operate smarter and be nimbler to be successful,” said Donna. Constant communication and stellar customer service are hallmark to the firm. “Most important to me is the ability to make rapid decisions as well as to make changes that respond to our customers’ needs without going through bureaucratic machinations that seem to hamper large companies,” the exec said. “I’m old school here, if we have to stay late to wait for a delayed trucker or personally deliver a sample to UPS because our customer needs it out, we always go the extra measure,” explained Donna. One of her biggest challenges is staying small enough to know customers, but large enough to serve them, she noted.

View the full issue here.
Supply Chain | Higg Index

The Higg Turns Ten

Evaluating Industry Progress in Sustainability Improvement
Higg Index Status Report: 126 OIA members, 72 Brand modules, 850 Facilities.
Since its introduction in 2007, the Higg Index has continued to evolve and broaden it reach beyond the outdoor community and softgoods focus. Long gone is the description of the Higg as “that nasty Excel spreadsheet,” as execs now view the web-based tool as a valuable driver of corporate sustainability.

“I see long term value of the Higg and believe it is the responsibility of the brand to push sustainability forward,” said Ali Kenny, VP global strategy & insights at Burton. “I believe it should be the nutritional label for customers as well as a way retailers can judge brands and brands can judge facilities. That’s the main reason we use it and continue to drive it forward.”

In 2012 Kenny was tapped for developing Burton’s sustainability strategy; company initiatives have expanded over the last five years to the point that now Kenny has a staff of four full-time people in her department. While initially softgoods oriented, the Higg has proved to be useful when applied to hardgoods. Kenny explained that working with the HIgg Index prompted a new snowboard construction that resulted in significant waste reduction.

Danielle Cresswell, sustainability manager, Klean Kanteen also vouched for Higg’s usefulness in ushering in a broader, more knowledgeable eco-minded approach to their business practices. “Despite being more weighted to hardgoods, we used it to evaluate how do we weigh materials, processing and transportation in an equipment sort of way."

Cresswell and Kenny served as panelists at a presentation titled, “The Higg Index: Assessing, Measuring, and Communicating Sustainability in the Supply Chain,” hosted by Nikki Hodgson, sustainable business innovation manager, OIA, as part of SIA’s Industry + Intelligence seminar series prior to Day 1 of the OR + Snow Show in Denver.

Hodgson gave a quick recap of Higg history noting the original motivation was to create a means for all levels of the supply chain to track progress, connect with partners and see benchmarks with peers. The industry has been strong when it comes to public lands policy and climate advocacy, explained Hodgson, however, issues associated with manufacturing products needed to be addressed. The Higg is a call to action to “to pay attention to what is in your supply chain,” Hodgson added.

She also highlighted forward direction. An effort to reach the hardgoods audience is already underway. For example, the Higg Index Brand Module currently under revision is being designed to be “product agnostic,” and as such will appeal to gear makers as well as apparel manufacturers, said Hodgson. 

Charting Action
True to its mission that “assessment drives action,” data continues to show improvements in supply chain sustainability. For example, in a year over year survey from 2015 to 2016, the Materials sector showed significant improvement in the Brand Environmental Module. “Benchmarking not only provides data concerning what to focus on in the short term, but also provides spotlights opportunity for improvement,” said Hodgson.

She also noted that currently the topic of creating a consumer-facing label is under discussion. “There’s a lot of conversation around what that might look like,” said Hodgson. Additionally, OIA is currently updating the Higg Index Brand and Retail Module and will be piloting the beta version at a time yet to be confirmed.

Another point made was that the Higg is a self-assessment tool and meant for in-house use. “We don’t know of any companies sharing their Higg scores,” said Hodgson in response to an audience question on the subject.

Kenny mentioned how the Higg has been useful in connecting Burton with bluesign-approved mills. “We’re finding bluesign mills to be far ahead of non-bluesign facilities,” commented Kenny, who added that Burton has a goal that by 2020, 100 percent of Burton softgoods will be bluesign-approved.

That’s a lot of progress aided by what Kenny initially viewed as “a nasty Excel spreadsheet” when she first turned to Higg Index five years ago.

View the full issue here.

Getting Personal

The Ability to Tune Shoes to an Individual’s Foot & Gait Is Happening Fast. By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry
Brooks is utilizing Superfeet’s FitStation technology to personalize and customize running shoes.
The real story about why Superfeet has launched an entirely new manufacturing cycle — one that includes an attention-grabbing partnership with Brooks Running to create fully custom running shoes here in the U.S. and a brand new factory model, Flowbuilt, to do it in — isn’t about technology, the brand says.

The real driver, according to Superfeet FitStation project manager James Wnorowski, is the deep consumer desire for custom, personalized footwear. And all the innovations that the brand and its partners have launched are just a way to get there.

“We recognize that customization is happening — it’s not longer a ‘when it happens,’ it’s happening now,” he said. “We want to be a part of that evolution, and they want to lead their categories.”

It’s what drove Superfeet to launch FitStation, the first consumer-facing step in the process, last year. The in-store scanning technology captures the size and shape of a person’s foot, as well as their individual gait, using a scanner and force plate to create a digital profile. Developed in partnership with HP Inc., and RSscan International, FitStation records and converts a person’s stroll through a FitStation kiosk into the data it can use to create fully tuned, totally customized 3-D printed insoles. The first stations rolled out to specialty run shops last summer — early adopters included Naperville Running Co. in Naperville, IL; Oklahoma City, OK’s Red Coyote; and Grand Rapids, MI-based Gazelle Sports — with more slated in 2018.

The potential FitStation has unlocked has been attracting attention.

At The Running Event trade show in Austin last December, Seattle-based Brooks announced it would be licensing the technology. Using FitStation and incorporating the science from Brooks’ own Run Signature biometrics program will let the brand select the right last and build a midsole that’s adapted in multiple zones specifically for the runner in its neutral Levitate shoe.

“This is the manifestation of our 30-year effort in biomechanics,” said Carson Caprara, director of global footwear product line management at Brooks. “It’s runner-focused and it’s about personalization, not just about customization. It’s how we can bring Run Signature to life, because of access to this sort of platform. It’s been an incredible catalyst for our thinking.”

The first FitStation Levitates will begin production this summer, and Caprara said the brand is “moving fast” to explore the different paths that the partnership opens.

“What we’re trying to be the vanguard in is personalization,” he said. “Other people might be focused on automation in a vacuum. But we want to [use this as a tool to] solve for personalization.”

Superfeet is leveraging the insights, too. Launching this year, the Superfeet ME3D Recovery slides will take the FitStation data and turn it into personalized sandals for after runs. Other brands may be in the mix in future seasons, too.

But making the footwear possible required another innovation. “As we got further down the road with FitStation we realized there was just wasn’t a manufacturing facility that could accomplish what we wanted to accomplish,” Superfeet marketing manager Amy Olive said. And that’s why the brand decided to make its own.

Dubbed Flowbuilt, the manufacturing facility is set to have a ribbon cutting before the end of Q1, with a grand opening scheduled for May. The space, located near Superfeet’s Ferndale, WA, offices, houses two multi-section injection molding machines from DESMA (the German PU injection machine company is the fourth partner in the endeavor) and will employ 20 to 25 people (nine have been hired already) to work on development and design, prototyping and producing custom insoles, slides and shoes.

When fully ramped up, Flowbuilt will be able to create 350,000 pairs of footwear in a year. Other changes to speed will be immediate: After the facility opens, the brand projects that the current two-week wait to receive custom footbeds ordered through in-store FitStations will drop to two to three days.  Opening Flowbuilt, Olive said, is a research opportunity as much as it is a manufacturing tool. “We’ll gain insight into different people’s movement patterns, and even their preferences in terms of shape and other factors, she said. “And it lets us advance development and design, with faster turnaround times and prototyping.”

The brand says its in talks now to expand its FitStation base not just in specialty run but into the outdoor specialty and even comfort and casual world. And it continues to talk to footwear brands about ways the data and the manufacturing process might be able to create something new.

“We really believe the future of consumer products is personalization. If you look around today, it’s everywhere: Coffee, our newsfeeds, grocery delivery,” Olive said. “And the more and more that it’s happening, the more consumers are expecting that from brands. We knew we could be on the forefront of that movement, or somebody else would.”

View the full issue here.