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IFAI Expo 2016: specialty fabrics programming

Features | December 1, 2016 | By: , , , ,

A variety of educational choices drove the Specialty Fabrics Program schedule Oct. 18-21 at the IFAI 2016 Expo. Attendees enjoyed dozens of presentations and “campfire” sessions featuring experts on topics as diverse as training the next generation of skilled workers, understanding functional fabric design and beating offshore manufacturers. The exhibit hall showcased the latest in fabrics, equipment and processes and was thoroughly staffed with experienced industry professionals representing tried-and-true solutions.

Functional apparel: embrace technology

Maureen MacGillivray, Ph.D., tells her students to think of their fashion designs as “product development” and to get used wearing lots of metaphorical hats.

MacGillivray presented an overview of what a functional apparel designer does and her work at the Center for Merchandising and Design Technology, Central Michigan University. She takes a multidisciplinary approach, including the knowledge of biologists, chemists, engineers and social scientists. And she always emphasizes the importance of involving the end user in “getting it right.”

Her university department is fortunate to have access to lots of technology, including a thermal sweating manikin, an environmental chamber, a sweating guard hotplate, a 3-D printer and a 3-D body scanner. This equipment helps student understand that “technology is your friend,” says MacGillivray.

Building the workforce

Mary Hennessy, president of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), and Tatjana Hutnyak, board chair of The Makers Coalition (TMC), led a session to talk about IFAI’s Makers Division, which is working in partnership with TMC to address an acute industry problem—the shortage of trained, skilled workers in the specialty fabrics industry.

TMC is a coalition of businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits and service providers coming together to build a trained cut-and-sew industry for America. Currently, the two organizations are developing relationships with schools to implement the Makers Industrial Sewing Curriculum and establishing a National Standards of Apprenticeship program for sewing machine operators, which has been approved by U.S. Department of Labor. Although both groups’ scope of work is broad, the TMC is the creator of the curriculum content and manages the apprenticeship program, and the Makers Division handles the execution portion and the connection with the industry.

The apprenticeship is designed to take the program to the next level: on-the-job training. Federal funds are available to support the one-year, 2,000-hour training program. The Industrial Fabrics Foundation (IFF) has donated $120,000 over the next two years to support the program and will be implementing a job board.

Winning the manufacturing war

Michael McKeldon Woody, CEO at Trans-Tex LLC, says the manufacturing tide is beginning to turn favorably to the U.S., but companies have to be ready to embrace customers who expect to “have it their way.”

Trans-Tex sales increased six times between 2006 and 2015, according to Woody, because the company has exploited the weaknesses of Chinese manufacturing firms, including: an inability to handle short production runs, geographic distance, poor product safety standards and communication issues.

Woody’s principles of fewer, faster and finer translate into smaller customized production runs, quicker production times and better quality. He also emphasizes that, “One size fits all is obsolete.” To appeal to customers, Trans-Tex adopted several strategies, including slashing minimum order sizes, investing in digital production technology and investing in bar coding mechanisms to track orders.

Beating pink stain

What’s known as pink stain is a common problem on light-colored vinyl used in marine applications. Thomas Robitaille, global technical marketing lead at Lonza Inc., emphasizes that pink stain is not caused by fungi; pink stain is always caused by bacteria. He says, “Everything that lives eats, and everything that eats excretes.” The bacteria that causes pink staining—streptoverticillium reticulum—excretes dye that moves throughout the vinyl.

That dye cannot be cleaned from the vinyl once it’s there, explains Robitaille. The bacteria feeds on the plasticizers that impart flexibility to PVC. A good option to fight pink stain is Zink Pyrithione (ZPT), developed by Lonza as an effective antimicrobial in vinyl textiles.

On tour


Rick Berkey, owner of Rick’s Custom Marine and Sail Repair, welcomed tour participants to his new shop in Cornelius, N.C., showing off storage and shelving systems and an upper level sail loft with stairs that drop down from the ceiling.

Rick’s Custom Marine specializes in sails and sail repair, dodgers, cockpit covers, pontoon boats, travel covers, engine covers, bimini covers and seating. Lake Norman customers keep the shop extremely busy, and his mobile sewing unit allows travel to boats to do repairs and custom work.


A tour to Springs Creative in Rock Hill, S.C., left all participants wanting to know a lot more about what’s next for this innovative company that offers digitally printed textiles, product design, brand development and merchandising.

Springs Creative’s operations are located in a renovated cotton mill. Kathy Phillips, creative director, showed the group the files of thousands of fabric designs, including vintage fabrics from 1910. She explained how vintage designs can be reused and reinterpreted for contemporary customers—whether for quilts, upholstery, apparel or crafting applications.

Harold Mull, general manager of digital printing services, showed tour participants the digital printing facility where, among other things, custom textiles were being printed for the hospitality industry.

Optimistic sustainability

Cynthia Thompson, MFA, shared her thoughts on where the “built environment” is headed. Thompson
is the founder of Transformit, a company based in Gorham, Maine, that designs and creates artistic
and functional tensioned fabric structures and components.

Thompson says three threads are driving the development of sustainability, function and beauty:

1. Textile architecture is allowing interior and exterior environments to interact and merge in new ways.

2. New and improved materials are making environments more beautiful, practical and cost-effective.

3. New applications and technology are extending the reach and effectiveness of textile interior                   architecture.

Keep employees engaged

Lynn Dessert, MBA, DCC, an executive career advisor, says forming committed and valued teams and work groups can have a big impact on how employees view their jobs—and how they perform their duties.

Key success factors include: setting a mission and a vision; leadership; clearly defined roles and responsibilities; effective communication and a reward system. There are differences between work groups and teams: work groups have a more defined structure and leadership, and are more focused on individual jobs; teams have shared responsibilities and direction and are more collaborative.

Dessert advised attendees that if they feel that their employees are not engaged, two good methods to find out why not are: using an internal survey, and holding communication sessions/town hall meetings.

Embracing vibrant coaching

A session by Nicole Greer, a leadership and business coach, focused on the “four elements of success” in learning how to effectively approach and communicate with clients: Earth, Water, Wind and Fire. Your products and manufacturing processes are already excellent, she says, but you need to focus on the last ‘P’: people.

Each element has strengths and challenges. But, according to sales guru Don Carroll: “Uncommunicated expectations are a premeditated opportunity to be disappointed.”  Bring the elements of your personality into sync with the customer, and support future success.

Government bids: details matter

Teresa Bouchonnet, a retired U.S. Air Force major and former warranted contracting officer with the military, knows a lot about doing business with the government. Many people have the misconception that getting paid by the federal government is difficult, says Bouchonnet. In reality, payment delays are often caused by invoice mistakes, so it is extremely important to fill out the invoice correctly.

Bouchonnet has devised rules to follow when submitting a bid and doing work with the government: read the contract and all the amendments or changes, take direction only from the contracting officer, and never be late on delivering your product.

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