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North Carolina’s Textile Industry Rides the Comeback Trail

The North Carolina textile sector has made a slow climb back from near extinction roughly a decade ago, to a growing, vibrant center of the U.S. textile industry.

According to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), the state’s diverse textile workforce encompasses more than 42,000 skilled professionals, including some 28,000 workers that comprise the largest textile mill industry in the U.S. That represents more than 10 percent of the 222,000 working in the textile apparel and home goods sector across the country in May. North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles serves as a hub for textile research and development, a supplier to the talent pipeline and an asset for industry partnerships throughout the state.

North Carolina  also has a strong business environment. At 3 percent, North Carolina has the lowest corporate income tax rate in the U.S., while its average industrial electricity rates run more than 8 percent less than the U.S. average. Large apparel and textile companies, such as Gildan Activewear and Unifi Inc. and VF Corp. have already established their headquarters in Greensboro.

In June, Delta Apparel Inc., a maker of basic and branded apparel, headwear and accessories, said DTG2Go, its digital print subsidiary and a provider of on-demand, direct-to-garment printed apparel, opened its fourth manufacturing and fulfillment location in Fayetteville, N.C. That’s also where the campus of Delta Apparel’s Soffe subsidiary is located.

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Delta Apparel said the expansion further extends DTG2Go’s reach and service levels in the important Eastern U.S. market. DTG2Go’s expanded national footprint, includes the new North Carolina location, as well as existing operations in Miami and Clearwater, Fla., and Reno, Nev. The new location, in particular, enhances DTG2Go’s manufacturing capacity and capabilities through significant investments in state-of-the-art equipment. In addition, its integration with Soffe’s screenprint and retail packaging operations gives DTG2Go market-differentiating flexibility in its print and fulfillment offerings to customers.

“We continue to be excited about the digital print and fulfillment model and the new North Carolina facility further solidifies our leadership position in this high-growth market,” said Deborah Merrill, president of Delta Basics, a division of Delta Apparel.

Keer America Corp., the first textile production facility in North America from China-based Keer Group, recently had an official grand opening of its second plant in Indian Land, S.C., just over the North Carolina border. The state-of-the-art ring-spinning plant has started production on two spinning frames, and by the end of the year is expected to be running 40 new Rieter ring-spinning frames and five Saurer Zinser frames for coarse yarns, according to U.S. textile industry veteran Richard Miller, sales manager at Keer America. In total, the facility will operate 75,000 spindles.

“Our industry has seen many challenges in my 35 years in the business,” Miller said. “With the onset of NAFTA and CAFTA, we all have had challenges to adjust to. We have seen the loss of domestic mills and many jobs were lost. What makes me proud, though, is that some of these mills are coming back. Keer America is unbelievably proud to be part of this revival. We want nothing more than to take full advantage of American-grown cotton and partner with the American workforce in order to produce the highest quality of spinning yarn.”

Keer America was established in February 2013 and began production of its first plant, an open-end spinning mill, in February 2015. That plant generates 60 million pounds of yarn annually and is equipped with 32 spinning frames with 10,392 places, producing yarn with 100 percent U.S. upland cotton.

As part of an ambitious growth plan, Keer America intends to open two more production facilities on this campus, which covers 165 acres, Miller said. Eventually, the company plans to operate 1.61 million square feet of production facilities, creating 500 jobs and investing $218 million, he added.

“Markets will predict where we direct our attention,” he said. “We want to keep increasing production and creating jobs for the American people. The current plan is to break ground on the third plant for blended yarns in the first quarter of 2019.”

Before the second plant opened, Keer America employed 263 people, including office personnel and some temporary trainers from China, he said. The second plant will add about another 125 people, he added.

Built on the textile heritage of its home state, Recover Brands, a sustainable apparel manufacturer based in Charlotte, N.C., has launched its Made-In-The-Carolinas line of clothing and accessories. The collection, which features shirts, socks and a beanie, is entirely made within a 150-mile radius of the company’s headquarters.

The collection is made from 100 percent recycled and sustainable clothing and accessories. The company said by sourcing everything from recycled plastic and upcycled cotton, and to have cut and sew and distribution so close to Charlotte will also help reduce their carbon emissions.

“We’re based in North Carolina and so NC textiles are in our DNA,” Recover co-founder Bill Johnston said. “Supporting our textile heritage and local communities is so important to us, so we want to do everything we can to support our local economy.”

RK Industries, a large apparel manufacturer based in India, opened its first U.S. factory, in Fairmont, N.C., last year. The company has had long-term relationships with U.S. brands and saw a chance to better serve them by opening a facility in the U.S. amid the Made in USA movement and increased demand for faster order turnarounds taking shape in recent years, said Sanjay Israni, executive vice president of RK Industries subsidiary MTC USA/Apparel USA.

The facility has been doing well, with capacity of 700 to 800 woven shirts a week and plans to grow to 1,200 pieces per week, and Israni said the company has invested more than $1 million in getting the facility up and running.