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A Textile Vet Looks Back on Covid

Remember 2020? That was quite the turning point for us. We came together to face an existential threat, and as we prevailed, so too did the textile industry. One way we were able to succeed was through focusing on the good of the whole. At the height of Covid, I found more collaboration, compassion and cooperation among us. In other words, we became stronger as we saw each other as one. However, just two years later, I feel that sense of camaraderie across our industry is now fading.

Before I elaborate, I want to be clear I am in no way trying to diminish the horrors of Covid. Nor is this by any means an admonishment of any apparel brands, fabric mills or any particular persons involved in textiles. It’s merely the observations of a guy who has experienced our industry’s many ebbs and flows, and there has been no bigger undulation than in the past two years.

Since Covid started, I’ve learned that business interests and human welfare aren’t strange bedfellows. The industry was unified against a common viral enemy, and that forced us to become more than just vendors and clients to each other, but a community of thoughtful, considerate people.

Once global travel ceased, face-to-face meetings turned into daily Zoom calls, and we pivoted to collaborate electronically. Business was different from what we were used to, yet new textile innovations were rolled out, orders were fulfilled and new products were launched—all on time.

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Better yet, as we were learning to adapt to the “new normal,” product designers I’d never met expressed sincere concern for my family; I expressed the same for theirs. Mill directors and I shared personal stories, laughed over jokes and, in turn, strengthened our partnerships. It didn’t matter if you were the CEO of a global apparel brand or a part-time loom operator—none of us felt a need to second guess each other. If anyone had a request, I would simply say, “I’ve got you. Leave it to me.” We knew we’d take care of each other. And we did.

But suddenly, as Covid began fading from the headlines, I found the community we’ve all built together slowly dissipating.

As we move into a post-Covid world this year and we all slowly return to the office, we’re still holding on to our old habits of remote conferencing—and I don’t have any problem with that. Yet somewhere down the line we’ve lost the spirit of collaboration that was once so prevalent. While we’ve all learned to be more efficient sharing electronic data, the tender tone is gone. We’re sharing rote, emotionless emails. I fear we’re sacrificing our relationships for a cold bureaucracy.

Quite simply, we used to care. We never knew what the person on the other end of the line was going through, and so we spoke with compassion, empathy and patience. I hate to say it, but I feel we’re now demonstrating less humanity. I’m sure I’m guilty of it myself. It’s as if we’ve become exhausted showing any interest in each other.

It’s all come down to getting the best product at the cheapest price at the fastest rate. But this is an industry built on partnerships, many cultivated over the years. Obviously, we want to develop, sell and acquire the most innovative fabrics at the most competitive prices, but we can’t all thrive in this industry if it’s all done on a simple calculus of, “Do X by Y.”  

Let’s not forget how this business operates. All of us need each other. In fact, many mills and brands have streamlined their value chains to meet each other’s exacting sustainability and functional demands. Their abilities to accommodate specific needs came about from relationships cultivated over years. Finetuning an operation for someone else doesn’t just happen overnight. It starts with real people, caring about each other, concerned for the other’s well-being.

As we begin to “move beyond” Covid, I’m getting nostalgic for the good that came out of those harder times. In the chaos, we created deeper social bonds, and I fear we’re losing this. I don’t want to wait for the next catastrophe to get it back.

Chris Parkes is managing partner at Concept III. For over 25 years, Parkes has worked with a “who’s who” list of outdoor, active sports, sportswear and major retail brands, helping them build textile-based products that sell. He prizes the personal relationships he has with his customers and has a unique ability to understand their needs from the product designer to the CEO.

Click here to learn more about Concept III.