The global apparel supply chain, like many economic sectors, has been irrevocably shaken by the coronavirus pandemic. As the industry searches for a longstanding solution, the Motor City could become a new fashion manufacturing capital.
“Local is becoming a much more important conversation,” said Christine Liedtke, founder and CEO of ASTOURI, a clothing and accessories brand that produces in Flint. “In terms of where to get things made, whether it’s made in America or, hopefully, made in Detroit.”
“This used to be the industrial capital of the world,” said Mashruf Habib, CEO of Geste Designs, an apparel manufacturer in Bangladesh. “This could be the birthplace of something new, it could be a disruption in customized, on demand clothing … (and) fabric innovation.”
Within the textile industry, environmental sustainability is an ongoing concern for both clothing makers and consumers alike. At a Detroit Homecoming webcast on Wednesday, industry leaders discussed how fashion brands and apparel manufacturers are invested in making Detroit a hub for producing clothing more responsibly through technology, a highly skilled workforce and collaboration among companies.
“The complexity of how we reduce waste, but in the same time maintain the skill set, is to reskill that into advanced training,” Habib said.
The Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, a nonprofit based in Midtown, was already committed to training a workforce of garment makers in Detroit when the organization pivoted to making PPE for medical facilities during the height of the pandemic. Now, Jen Guarino, ISAIC’s CEO, said the company is focusing on its contributions in reconfiguring the apparel industry.
“Why (continue to) build something that is broken and in desperate need of disruption?” Guarino said. “We can create training programs aligned with where the industry needs to go … making domestic manufacturing competitive again.”
She said ISAIC is working toward this goal by partnering with equipment providers, like Autodesk, a software company in California, which is providing funding, along with other entities that are innovating the production process to ensure more responsible manufacturing practices.
And Guarino believes the firm’s efforts will give “people real livable wages (and) real career paths within the industry that feels more like high tech. And we believe Detroit is the place to do it,” she said.
Tracy Reese, a Detroit native and board member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and creative director of Hope for Flowers, a sustainable clothing brand based in Detroit, wants to take that a step further. Through her partnership with NEST, a nonprofit in New York that is launching a program called “Makers United” in Detroit, Reese wants to help create an ecosystem where clothing makers, specifically black women, can receive business and marketing support.
“It’s an opportunity for makers and crafters here in Detroit, who wish to develop a business out of their talent and out of their craft, to have access to services to get them along their pathway,” Reese said.
Guarino said making Detroit an epicenter for building a more sustainable fashion industry is a collaborative effort.
“There is an energy here of can do,” Guarino said. “What I’ve seen happen in Detroit … brands and large companies that normally don’t work together, that are technically competitors, come together and say, ‘you know what, if we all did this, if we decided Detroit was going to be the place that we made this different, collectively it is way more doable.’ “