Textile business members say industry not coming apart by the seams

A national conference for the textile and sewing industry started Friday in Myrtle Beach, and those attending say their industry is not dying out. In fact, they are working to bring jobs back to the U.S.

"I am not sure I would have said that 3-4 years ago, but no, this is not a dying industry," Ron Roach, an attendee said.

Since 2000, about 5.4 million manufacturing jobs have been cut in America, 12 percent of those in textiles, the National Council of Textile Organizations says. The Labor Department says in 1976, there were 3.8 million people employed by the textile and sewing industry. Today, there's about 500 thousand.

"This industry has shrank, but at the same time it's now coming back. We're hiring people right now," said Dan Pittman, Integrated Textile Solutions.

Roach is with Contempora Fabrics, and he's optimistic about the future. "We got a really good chance the next 1-2 years, to try to grab back some of the market that we lost.

Even Frank Henderson, with Henderson Sewing Machine Company, says they're building on their staff.

In the past decade, textile employers have spent about $16 billion collectively on new fibers, equipment, and plants in an effort to survive.

"Probably some of them, the only thing they haven't changed over the years basically would be the name of their company," said Sarah Freidman, of SEAMS. "That would be why they are in existance, they are very diversified they are able to meet what the needs are."

Friedman works for SEAMS, the non-profit group putting on the conference. It used to stand for Southeast Apparel Manufacturers. They used to only represent business owners in the southeast, but now they're expanding nationally and are known as The National Association for the Sewn Products Industry.

One company being highlighted at the conference is American Apparel, for serving as an inspiration in diversity. The LA-based company started off in wholesale, and now employs more than 3,000 Americans, sewing for retail stores.

"We opened our first retail store in 2003. Currently we have more than 250 stores around the world," said American Apparel owner Marty Bailey.

There are roughly 70 companies represented at the conference, coming from 16 states.

And while the message being shared was mostly positive, those in the textile industry are aware there are still challenges they face.

"The challenge-finding the people to fill the workforce. We're not teaching it in school anymore. You know everyone wants to be the next Google or whatever it is, instead of a technician that can fix machines," said Pittman.

But, those attending believe with every fiber of their being, they can meet those challenges.

The SEAMS conference is being held at the Grand Dunes Marriott and wraps up Saturday.