Vol 7, No 3 (2012)


Cover Page
What went wrong for US textile and apparel industries in the 80’s and 90’s?

What could go wrong for the same industries in any country or region in the world today?

The answer may be framed within the context of “technology vs. management.” In the US, the productivity and cost driven management paradigms, along with quotas and tariffs, significantly suppressed the growths of R&D and product innovation in the 70’s and 80’s. In retrospect, it was an unintentional mistake. Many top executives with legitimate business degrees, but with little training in technology, were busy in performing the so-called “local optimizations” daily in all corporate functions. I remember the days when most major companies did a superb job in loom scheduling, inventory control, optimum transportation, and repair vs. replacement cost modeling of equipment when the annual interest rates hovered over 10 -15%. They were extremely proud of keeping textiles at the top beating all other industries in terms of the productivity growth when their profit margins were barely above 3% of the sales for a span of more than 20 years. In spite of the low profitability, their accomplishments were widely praised. When the roof fell one day, however, many were shocked and began blaming the “management” exclusively for the failure, only to realize soon that the “technologies” were also archaic and anemic. This phenomenon was not unique to textiles and apparel industries.

Companies with a foresight reconfigured their business map with formation of global supply chains and global sourcing, anticipating free trade under WTO. Relying heavily on decision tools imbedded on the emerging IT capabilities, still in an embryo stage at the time, was a bold and risky move some have taken, especially in downstream firms. Only a few clearly understood how this new branch of “technology” could be added to the “management” for success. It was a new hybrid called “technology management” nonexistent during the 60s and 70s.

In US academia, one prevailing school of thought for quick fix was to educate the MBA students in “technology.” Soon, such degrees as Engineering Management and Technology Management were born in MIT and other US institutions. This was a wakeup call for all MBA programs with no technology components. Crash courses were developed in an effort to repair the broken link. Not many will be convinced of the net benefit of all these efforts if we are to judge it based on the nation’s financial crisis since 1988.

For the textile and apparel programs in the US universities and around the world, the wakeup call was seemingly not loud enough. Some woke up and just fled the scene rather than trying to fix the problem. Many programs simply have disappeared. One exception has been College of Textiles, NC State University. In the mid 80’s, long before the recent crisis alarm and even before the LBO’s began to sweep Burlington and other major companies, the NC State College of Textiles officially established “Department of Textile and Apparel Technology and Management” in a strategic move to cope with the changing business dynamics. Even before 80’s, the college had strong management components. Such names as “Textile Management and Technology” and “Textile and Apparel Management” existed before mid 80’s. In addition, College of Textiles created a Ph.D. program in Textile Technology Management in early 90’s, the first such program in the world. I remember many open criticisms even within the college that adding management programs to the historically technology-intensive programs would weaken the core values of the college well kept from day one. In addition, there were some failure examples already at that time in other universities, mainly due to misguided efforts to completely isolate the new management programs from the traditional textile science and engineering programs.

Today, few dispute the success and synergy brought by the addition of management programs to the science and technology here at the College of Textiles. The Textile Science, Engineering and Chemistry programs have reached a new height while the new and revamped management and technology programs are thriving in; design, fashion, branding, quality, supply chain, product design, international trades, and entrepreneurship. Do we call these technology or management disciplines? It depends on how we teach them. As an example, the supply chain (or what I would call demand chain) and product development must be product-specific and IT-intensive to be truly effective. Without it, it just becomes a theory. That is, the management education in textiles and apparel should be strongly imbedded in science and technology. In principle, the generic management courses taught everywhere will not be the driving force for the textile management program. Thus, a success should depend on how well we fuse the management courses with the relevant technical foundations. The efficiency-focused management model has run its course. Neither technology alone can invent a product that can be sold, marketed, distributed for a profit. Management has become a necessary companion to technology, not an adversary.

Journal of Textile and Apparel Technology and Management was created under the same vision. How can we facilitate a fusion between technology and management? As the articles amply exhibit in this issue and all previous issues, it is a joy to witness that the researchers around the world can find a wide array of topics dealing with both textile and apparel management and technology. In this issue alone, the topics you will find are; neural network optimization in production of organic cotton fabrics, life cycle of a Piedmont cotton textile mill town, smart maternity wear, eco-friendly orange peel for absorption of effluents from textile finishing, nonwoven active wear, medicinal herb Glycyrrhiza Glabra for cotton fabrics, process optimization in reactive printing and finishing, morphology of chicken feather fibers, dimensional properties of regenerated cellulose single jersey, teaching business practice in retail classroom, dyeability and light fastness of onion ‎scale dye for conservation, microencapsulation of PCMs in textiles.

What other journals cover such a wide spectrum of subjects?

There cannot be a tug-of-war between management and technology anywhere in the world. While they may form a contrast as two different academic disciplines, the real world demands fusion and companionship under the prevailing global business environment.

On behalf this journal, I thank all the authors and readers around the world for making our efforts worthwhile by promoting this vision.

(Views expressed above are personal, and not of the college or university)


ISSN: 1533-0915