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  • Jennifer Marks

Business As Usual

We have perhaps grown so used to the idea of U.S.-based manufacturing eroding away that last week's news from Springs was business as usual to all but the people who will be losing their jobs after the Elliott and Frances plants close.

But it's more informative to take a step back and consider that within the past 18 months, the country's top three bedding and/or bath mills have shuttered a total of 24 facilities between them.

Springs closed a spinning facility, a plant that wove greige goods, one finishing operation, two bedding plants, an accent rug plant, two towel plants and two fabric weaving plants for bedding.

WestPoint Stevens shuttered two towel plants, one bedding plant, one basic bedding plant, one bedding accessories plant, and four others, including a distribution center.

Dan River turned off the lights at a finishing and sheet sewing facility, a warehouse, a home fashions distribution center, a home fashions weaving plant, an apparel fabrics weaving plant and a comforter sewing plant.

Nor does it come as any surprise where all that capacity has gone. A look at this week's annual Market Basket report shows that goods from China topped the list by accounting for 36 percent of the items in the survey, followed by Made in the USA products at 29 percent and Indian-made textiles at 10 percent.

Five years ago (as of next week) when I joined HTT, the spring market was just getting under way and I visited the showrooms of a number of major mills that were among the larger players in the industry: Davidson, Guilford, Glenoit, Thomaston, Spartan and, of course, Pillowtex.

It was not readily apparent then that the U.S. industry was at its tipping point as a broad-based manufacturing concern. Within a few months, HTT would run small announcements about newcomers to Fifth Avenue, including Welspun and Zorlu.

Companies such as Divatex, Keeco, Sunham, PHI and Pem America were largely flying below the radar.

Within four months, Springs would strike a deal with Brazilian towel and sheet producer Coteminis. At that point, Springs was already importing nearly $450 million in product, mostly greige goods. When Springs acquired an Asian sourcing operation eight months later, HTT devoted little more than 200 words to the story.

Thus does change occur incrementally, and profoundly. Business as usual.

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