Textiles in North Carolina: the Economic Benefits of Supporting the USA’s Apparel and Textiles Industry

With help from our awesome Research Coordinator Nicole Kilgerman, Redress Raleigh is bringing you one of many more articles to come about the economic impact of the fashion and textiles industry in the United States. According to the National Council of Textile Organizations, today there are over 500,000 workers employed by the U.S. textile industry - cotton and man-made fiber producers, textile mills, apparel plants, and textile machinery producers. In 2011 the breakdown of jobs was 121,000 textile mills; 117,000 textile product mills; 152,000 apparel; and finally, 116,275 cotton producers.  

North Carolina specifically (Redress Raleigh’s home state) is “the second-largest textile state and the third-largest apparel state in the United States in terms of employment” (National Council of Textile Organizations). In 1992, “textiles production represented 16% of total manufacturing production” in North Carolina (The North Carolina Textiles Project at UNC).  Currently, North Carolina’s textile industry employs more than 59,000 workers and accounts for 10.7% of all manufacturing jobs, in comparison apparel jobs number a little over 20,000 (Duke University).

Unfortunately North Carolina has been hit the hardest in terms of job losses and plant closings in the last 50 years. Over a twelve month period ending in May 2006 the state lost nearly 7,000 jobs, a figure that is “more than double that of the next most comparable state in textiles, Alabama, with 2,800 job losses” (National Council of Textile Organizations). Yet while many apparel and textile manufacturers have moved production overseas, there are still a number of companies in North Carolina that continue to manufacture fibers, yarns, fabrics, apparel, and chemicals used in the fashion and textiles industry.

Jobs lost in North Carolina’s textile & apparel industry between 1996 and 2006.

An on-going study conducted by the College of Textiles at NC State University shows that in North Carolina alone there are 55 companies that produce fibers, 73 companies that produce yarn, 95 fabric manufacturers, 92 apparel companies, and 10 companies that manufacture chemicals (NC Textile Connect). While headquarters of larger companies such as VF Corporation and Hanesbrands Inc., are located in urban environments such as Greensboro and Winston Salem, the majority of smaller textile manufacturers are located in rural North Carolina.

To stay competitive in a global market these smaller apparel and textile companies make an effort to produce innovative textile products. As an example, Tuscarora Yarns, in Mount Pleasant, NC created a yarn that cannot be produced overseas, putting the manufacturer at an advantage.

The textile plants that are located in small rural communities “often times provide a major source of tax revenue and employment for small towns and cities surrounding the textile mill” (National Council of Textile Organizations). In 2011, textile mill workers earned an average of 151% more than retail workers ($575 a week vs. $229) with better benefits, including health care and retirement savings opportunities (National Council of Textile Organizations).

Our research also notes that in addition to the size and scale, manufacturers in North Carolina have contrasting levels of technological and social media advancement. Some companies have modern websites and even Twitter accounts, making it easy for potential employees or clients to contact them. On the other hand, some manufacturers do not even have an email address that can be found on the Internet. Therefore, Redress Raleigh is taking on the challenge to build relationships with as many North Carolina and USA based apparel and textile manufacturers to bridge the gap between them and potential clients or employees.

Redress Raleigh plans to make the case for supporting the apparel and textiles industry as a means to build and support social and economic growth in rural communities. Demand for Made-in-the-USA apparel and textile products is on the rise and our goal is to heal the disconnect that exists or rebuild the broken ties between all key players of the USA’s fashion and textiles industry. Each of us can make an impact by supporting the USA’s apparel and textile manufacturing.

“The future of the US textile industry lies in reinvention. Some of this reinvention may involve new products and processes, but much will be the development of new skills and business models in the  industry” (The North Carolina Textiles Project at UNC).

Until next time!