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  • Jennifer Marks

Cliff's Notes for the New Millenium

There's no future in this business.”

I can't count the number of times I've heard it said by American textiles executives.

And yet, during a celebration at the Fashion Institute of Technology last week to honor the outgoing chair of the Home Fashions Department, FIT President Joyce Brown noted the department receives twice as many applicants as it can accommodate.

Apparently, the kids don't realize there's no future in the business.

That said, another recent encounter at FIT pointedly demonstrates that the future is not as narrowly defined as the institute's students may envision it to be.

During the Executive Women in Home Textiles' breakfast held at the college last month, a panel of industry executives was asked by an adjunct faculty member how the program could find more internships for its students — particularly its international students, who have no way of remaining in the country after graduation unless they receive employment.

The answer was provided by Carlos Samper, director of the global sourcing group at Kmart Management Corp.

The new reality, he said, is that the students' best opportunities for fast-track experience may not be located in a New York showroom, but in working for a supplier's product development office in Mumbai, Karachi or Shanghai.

Samper pointed out that his own career has required multiple relocations, and noted that fellow panelist Bill Walker — WestPoint Stevens' head of Asian sourcing—probably didn't think he would wind up posted in China when he went to work for an American mill.

The encounter also brings to mind a conversation with a product development executive from a prominent retail company.

Her department was flooded with applications from young designers, she said, but what she really needs is designers with the technical expertise to understand what's feasible and the know-how to work with people on the factory floor.

I guess the lesson here is that as the new global supply chain sorts itself out, we're all getting an education.

Class dismissed.

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