Five Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles students traveled with Dr. Karen Leonas to China May 14-June 4 to learn about textile, apparel, and soft goods manufacturing overseas. In Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Beijing, they visited apparel and textile companies, manufacturing plants, and corporate headquarters; listened to industry guest speakers; and toured major historical and cultural sites.
Leonas developed the inaugural China trip as a way for students to learn about the industry from “concept to consumer” and to understand two major influences in its transformation: geographic relocation of manufacturing and technological advancements.
Textile manufacturing has gone global, with roughly 97 percent of general apparel goods and 66 percent of high-performance textiles being imported into the United States. At the same time, web-based communication structures, computer-aided design, and product life cycle management have made the industry high tech, dynamic, and fast paced. With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook, it’s also consumer-driven.
“We now work in a supply chain, and China is a major factor in that. I really wanted students to see the supply chain in action,” Leonas said. “‘Concept to consumer’ is an intricate process, and most of this is implemented offshore. Students have to understand all aspects of this continuum. They also have to keep in mind the cultural and historical perspectives of China itself.”
Students Marsha Baerlocher, Sarah Baldridge, Kailey Counsell, Julie Gance, and Joelle Jalek previewed the new fall 2012 fabric line by Winnitex Limited, a fabric provider for Eddie Bauer, and visited its textile weaving/dyeing plant. They met with the head of sourcing and the lead bag designer for Hengfeng, which supplies outdoor gear to Costco and REI, and toured its headquarters and one manufacturing plant. The students also met designers and merchandisers from C&K Apparel, producers for Next, Marks & Spencer, Miss Selfridge, and Target, among others.
Leonas and the group learned about testing, an important part of the supply chain, by visiting STR, a third-party tester that randomly pulls clothing samples to ensure they meet clients’ requirements. Along with quality control, STR tests whether items pass flammability and lead paint requirements and monitors companies for compliance to human rights.
“It used to be that clothing companies did this kind of testing by sending their own staff to China, but the requirements are so numerous now that companies go through third-party companies like STR,” Leonas said.
In Beijing, the students visited the Snow Lotus Cashmere Factory, one of the largest cashmere producers in China whose clients include Macy’s, Ann Taylor, and Liz Claiborne. There, they saw the Macy’s winter scarves being manufactured, from raw fiber through dyeing, spinning, knitting, and packaging. This was followed by a trip to White Collar Apparel, a Chinese clothing brand targeted for businesswomen ages 35 to 45.
“China is coming out with its own designers,” Leonas said. “That’s the future of what we’re seeing. China is not only an offshore producer but also a great market for luxury brands.”
“The students who went on this trip were risk takers—future leaders in this business,” Leonas said. “We’re trying to train them to be independent, to explore, to have adventures. They need to see how these things are done in the world, and seeing the global and technological aspects of the industry is key.”
-By Nella Letizia