It’s not every day you get a chance to pick the brain of one of the most influential movers and…sewers in the textile industry, so when Steve Warner agreed to sit down and share some knowledge with us we were only too thrilled to listen to what he had to say. Getting his start with a canvas and awning association in 1976, Steve helped the organization transition to what is now known as the Industrial Fabrics Association International — the IFAI — which during his leadership tenure became the largest trade organization representing the non-apparel textile industry. In 1986, Steve was promoted to its President / CEO and stayed in the position for 25 years until retiring in 2011. In 2012, he started the informative BeaverLake 6 Report, an online news outlet dedicated to covering stories on the current state of the textile industry.
CF - So you decided to enjoy your retirement from the textile industry by running a media outlet dedicated to covering it?
STEVE - Haha, well after stepping away from the IFAI for a bit a lot of people told me it would be a waste of all the information I had accumulated over the years to not do something with it. At first, I started consulting and developed the BeaverLake6 Report as a marketing tool for the company. I always had liked the format of the Kiplinger business newsletter which offered very concise observations on industry and investment news. I thought the industry in this busy world of information could use something that was quick to read and concise in the information. After a while the website started getting a lot of traction from big industry players so I just kept with it because I find the information fascinating, it was something I enjoyed and was a good way to keep busy.
CF - Well no doubt you have a good pulse on the industry. In your opinion what are some major factors that are shaping it today?
STEVE - There’s a lot of moving parts but if I had to narrow things down, I’d say three major market drivers are 1) Regulation and trade issues 2) Availability of product, and 3) Energy consumption and prices. It is likely with this administration that there will be less regulation by the EPA. This will lead to a greater increase in certain things like rare earth materials being used, which could lead to a greater production of goods involving them.
CF - How about market trends for 2018?
STEVE - While there’s been some general growth, currently I don’t see any big market disruptors on the horizon. We are an industry that is more evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Some things, however, like the recent climate-related hurricanes in Texas and Florida can cause brief sudden product demands like the increase we saw in automotive fabric production and housing materials to replace the damaged or destroyed cars and buildings. Additional items like survival tents and shelters associated with reconstruction have had an uptick too. Another market I think we’ll see bouncing back this year will be the military. With America’s increased commitments around the world, we can probably expect to see a 5% increase in such applications. One exciting possible market disruptor is the proposed trillion dollar infrastructure plan being proposed by Congress. If it does come to fruit, we will see a huge surge in products used in the construction industry including geosynthetics and construction tarps. And then, well this one is kinda left field, but because of the aging demographic of America’s population, healthcare products associated with that industry like adult diapers too are on the rise, even outpacing infant diapers because people are living longer.
CF - And on the manufacturing side?
STEVE - Well our industry is known for a slower pace of change, but now with some of the newer fibers being developed, new machines are required to process them. One material I’ve seen a huge growth pattern with is carbon fiber, which is now being used in more fields than aerospace.
CF - So still not the year for smart textiles?
STEVE - Despite the media hype for all these smart gadgets, there’s actually been a lull in product introduction of smart fabric products to the consumer. But this is a usual pattern before a new trend can find its footing and begin a more manageable growth. Smart textiles have been the big talk for the last few years, like fabric products to monitor your heart and body temperature, but this year Google actually came out with a real use application for it the form of a jacket. Still, I’d say it will be a while until consumer demand increases for such products since they’re expensive and need to solve issues with sensors and washing. You will see the biggest growth for smart textile products in the military, sports and health care/ medical industries.
CF - What’s the outlook for domestic trade?
STEVE - It’s up in the air. America is seeking drastic changes to NAFTA and we’ve pulled out of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). For the textile industry those changes make it a bit chaotic as far as where products will be sourced and where we will see an increase in opportunities for domestic producers to export. A look at things now, though, show that in 2017 we increased our global exports in the Specialty and Industrial Fabrics group by about 4%. Mexico accounts for 50% of it. This group by no means covers all the technical textiles materials exported but it’s a good indication of trends. What’s unknown right now is what is happening with NAFTA and possible actions the Trump Administration will take with Mexico. It might result in products coming back across from Mexico with significantly higher duty rates. If we get into a trade war, it could be a huge boon for companies like CustomFab USA that make its products here in America.
CF - What are some challenges the textile and manufacturing industries will face?
STEVE - Having a trained workforce. Today’s textile mills and manufacturing plants require more educated and skilled laborers than they did half a century ago. Workers need to use computers and be more educated. Combine this with the fact that both the material suppliers and their end-product customers lost a significant number employees a few years back when jobs went overseas and you’ve got a problem. Now that a lot of jobs have begun to return to America there's not as many companies that have the skilled workforce to handle the workload. This has left domestic companies that invested in their employees [Editor’s note: see our blog celebrating 21 employees for 20 year’s+ of service] and their technology in a great position.
CF - So what are some solutions to this challenge?
STEVE - When it comes to getting stuff made, the solution is companies like CustomFab USA and other contractors. Such companies can help a business can scale up its production as it needs to, saving the cost of having to hire, train and maintain a large in-house workforce. Contract sewers cut down on overhead since big contracts are often spaced out, have better machines, and oftentimes superior quality control since they’re consistently doing fast turnarounds of large orders and are keeping pace of industry standards.
CF - Couldn’t agree more Steve! Thanks for all your time and knowledge
STEVE - You bet!
You can check out Steve’s news website at Beverlake6Report.com