Five Questions With: Michael Woody

The University of Rhode Island is sponsoring a Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network event on Nov. 1 that will look at the feasibility of localizing textile supply chains. All textile industry leaders are welcome to the free event, “Localizing the Textile Supply Chain.” It will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the URI Welcome Center at 45 Upper College Road at the Kingston campus in South Kingstown.

Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network President Michael Woody said considerations of the supply chain, technology, sustainability, and the role of government and education will be discussed during the session.

PBN: What are some current barriers to localizing Rhode Island’s textile supply chain?

WOODY: Decades of offshoring has left us with some elements of the chain no longer here in Rhode Island or even in New England. Currently we are better positioned, I think, to localize the industrial textiles supply chain rather than the apparel supply chain because our textile companies tend to be more advanced, while the apparel supply chain tends to focus on low-cost commodity products.

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Another pressing issue is energy costs. At Trans-Tex, one of our primary vendors is based in North Carolina even though the product the vendor makes is also produced by a couple of Rhode Island manufacturers. So, why are we buying from North Carolina? Many of the costs of manufacturing here, particularly energy costs, are higher in Rhode Island, so the local vendors cannot match the price, even though we are paying additional freight costs to ship the goods up from North Carolina. I expect other Rhode Island textile companies are making similar purchasing decisions for the same reason.

I would also cite three major advantages that would help us to localize the supply chain. The first is the geographic proximity of textile companies here in Rhode Island. Typically, geographically tighter supply chains lower costs and enable speed to market.

The second is the innovative nature of our textile companies, which is proven by the variety of markets they serve, including aerospace, automotive, military and technical textiles.

The third is the willingness of RITIN partners [such as] Polaris MEP, the governor and the leadership, the R.I. Commerce Corp., the [R.I.] Department of Labor and Training, [Rhode Island Manufacturers Association], URI and [Rhode Island School of Design], who all want us to succeed. Having the U.S. congressional delegation unanimously supports manufacturing in general, and textile and material manufacturing, in particular, is a great help.

PBN: Marketing materials for the November event indicate it’s more than a discussion, but also a session to agree on an action plan. Will this result in follow-up sessions for accountability?

WOODY: It’s too early to tell. This is the first time that a group [such as] this has come together in our state to tackle such a complex issue from many sides – looking at questions such as: What needs to change in industry, in government and in education? How will changes impact the environment and the economy? At the very least, we are hoping to identify as many barriers – and advantages – to localizing the supply chain as we possibly can, draft a white paper and enlist support of the attendees to act and begin addressing the barriers.

PBN: Education is highlighted as an area of discussion. What more needs to be done in this area for a healthy textile manufacturing sector here?

WOODY: When it comes to textiles, education means more than schooling. As textile manufacturers, we need to do a better job of showing both students and adults that jobs in today’s Rhode Island textile manufacturing companies are good-paying, secure jobs – in design, engineering and production – in far better environments than most people imagine.

As we change people’s hearts and minds, smart young people will be drawn to textile manufacturing, and their parents will encourage that. To see how RITIN is beginning to change perceptions and to see profiles of people working in the industry in Rhode Island, go to our website at www.ritin.org.

PBN: How did the idea/collaboration for this event develop?

WOODY: This project is the brainchild of Karl Aspelund from the University of Rhode Island College of Business, Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, following his participation in an earlier RITIN event. Aspelund is a futurist, and when he thinks about making textile production sustainable, whether locally, worldwide or in space, he’s usually thinking 30 or more years ahead. We are grateful at RITIN that he is so invested in our success.

PBN: Does RITIN plan to make this a yearly event?

WOODY: We can’t be certain at this point. What I can assure your readers is that our partnership with URI and the other stakeholders on innovative projects [such as] this one will continue.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.

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