May 01, 2016

Industry Highlight: Textiles

The United States textile industry is often overlooked yet is one of the most important employers in the manufacturing sector, with 232,000 workers, representing 2 percent of the U.S. manufacturing workforce. The U.S. is a globally competitive manufacturer of textiles, including textile raw materials, fabrics, yarns, apparel and home furnishings, and other textile finished products. The industry ranks fourth in global export value, behind China, India, and Germany. Between 2009 and 2014, U.S. exports of textiles increased by 45 percent to $18.3 billion.

Textile sector workers tend to be highly skilled, and recently the industry is becoming highly technologically advanced, with investments of $1.6 billion in total capital expenditures in 2013. Recently, U.S. textile companies have been focusing on retooling their businesses, streamlining work processes, investing in niche products and markets, and cutting costs.

Employment in the Textile Industry

Employment in the Textile Industry

Source: BLS

According to the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), the U.S. textile sector has rebounded over the past six years, and is currently predicting explosive growth in the industry. Between 2009 and 2015, there’s been a 14 percent jump in the value of U.S. man-made fiber and filament, textile, and apparel shipments, reaching $76 billion last year.

Textile Employment, 2015

Textile Employment, 2015

Source: NCTO

Recently, new initiatives, programs, and public-private partnerships are poised to further drive employment and economic growth in this sector.

Textile Innovation and the newly formed Advanced Functional Fibers of America Institute

The U.S. Department of Defense has recently tapped a broad coalition of manufacturers, universities and nonprofits to lead a new project to fast-track textiles innovation in the country. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) leads this project. The newly formed Advanced Functional Fibers of America Institute to draw upon more than $250 million in public-private investment, plus $75 million in federal resources, over a five-year period. The partnership currently includes 72 manufacturing groups, 32 universities, 16 industry members, and 26 startup incubators across 27 states and Puerto Rico.

“The institute will bring together nontraditional partners to integrate fibers and yarns with integrated circuits, LEDs, solar cells, and other devices and advanced materials to create textiles and fabrics that can see, hear, sense, communicate, store energy, regulate temperature, monitor health, change color, and more.” ~The Office of the Press Secretary at the White House

According to Yoel Fink, director of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, the partnership has the potential to create a whole new industry based on technological breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing. Already, this initiative has brought in over $300 million in public-private investment from leading universities and manufacturers. Industry experts expect this project to generate over 50,000 jobs in multiple fields over the next 10 years.

“We believe that partnerships—with industry and government and across academia—are critical to our capacity to create positive change. Our nation has no shortage of smart, ambitious people with brilliant new ideas. But if we want a thriving economy, producing more and better jobs, we need more of those ideas to get to market faster.” ~ L. Rafael Reifs, President of MIT

Smart Fabric

Industry experts agree that we are about to witness a revival of textile manufacturing in the United States, which is primarily due to digital technology. Merging traditional textiles with cutting-edge technology is creating a new frontier for both industries.

Electrical engineers, software developers, manufacturers, material scientists, and fashion designers have been collaborating with a goal to merge the traditional textile materials industry with nano-technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). These new smart fabrics incorporate a variety of metals, fiberglass, and ceramics, and serve a much-needed and practical purpose of safety and protection.

Scientists are developing fabrics that allow them to react to signals our bodies emits and to the elements they face. And after collecting the data, these high-tech fabrics can actually process that information. Some articles of clothing currently in the works include safety gloves for industrial companies and body armor for the military.

“The fundamentals for our industry are sound. That does not mean, however, that we are free of challenges. Our sector has begun to see changes in demand as the global economy struggles to grow.” ~Jeff Price, President of the Specialty Fabrics Division at Milliken & Company