Shifts in Manufacturing + Textiles

Founded last year as a non-profit, Project Threadways examines, documents, and records the history of textiles. In preparation for our next symposium, we have been researching textiles’ history over millennia and the broader arc of time (look for updates next week). As we think ahead to the future, we can’t help but question how COVID-19 will forever change textile manufacturing and the multitude of industries connected to it. 

The modern-day creation of textiles is a complex network involving millions of people to support in the design, production, and distribution of raw materials and finished goods. In a 2018 report from the UN, it was estimated that the fashion industry alone was valued at approximately 2.5 trillion dollars and employed over 75 million people worldwide. The textile and fashion industries have an impact that is scalable from a local to a global level, and they impact people in communities and cities all across the world.  

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been disruptions in the global supply chain. There are and will continue to be manufacturers who shutter their operations and mass layoffs of garment workers across the world; some manufacturers may even permanently shift their efforts to producing face masks and other PPE. 

As we see these changes we ask ourselves what the future of textile manufacturing will look like? How will the fashion industry be shaped? Will workers’ rights and policies change? How will retail experiences differ? Will designers and manufacturers value and rethink their supply chains differently? 

As Project Threadways utilizes Alabama Chanin’s industry experience and Natalie’s ethical and sustainable vision in its mission, we observe shifts that Alabama Chanin has made. As an American textile manufacturer, Alabama Chanin has been able to pivot to the manufacturing of face masks in their Building 14 facility, and we’ve learned about countless other US textile operations doing the same during this time of need. We are tracking the progress of Alabama Chanin’s face mask production here. 

There is a global elastic shortage, as manufacturers and even home sewers have seen in their efforts to produce face masks. We’ve spoken with other domestic manufacturers who are being asked by designers to produce apparel at the same cost as if it were being made overseas. Like the restaurant and other service industries, many apparel retail businesses–both small and large–are shuttering. These are just a few of the accounts that we are recording to tell the current story of textile culture.  

We encourage you to write about and record this time. The landscape is ever-changing., and we hold promise for a more ethical and sustainable future for the textile and fashion industry. 

Be well.  

Visit to learn more about COVID-19’s impact on the global fashion industry. 

1 Comment
  • Mia Kalish, Ph.D.
    Posted at 10:44h, 22 July Reply

    There is an upside here. It all sounds very sad to hear of businesses shuttering, but there are opportunities to do things differently. We have been sad and scared and not thinking, or thinking only of how our lives have changed. But we have known for decades that some kind of disaster was imminent and people chose to ignore it. Now, it’s in our faces, quite literally. So what will we do differently? How will we rise, like the Phoenix, from our own ashes? I am a quilter and I am thinking deeply about what stories my quilts will tell; this will be my quilts telling, not me. I notice that people always use the objects to try to penetrate their creators. I think the objects themselves tell the stories and by the time the object is resplendent on its own, the creator is passé. But the object remains a unique thing of beauty.

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