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Virtual Education and the Sewn Product Industry


With COVID-19 social distancing requirements, restrictions on travel, and prohibitions on large gatherings, it comes as no surprise that most in-person events, including conferences and trade shows, slated for 2020 have now been canceled or postponed to a later date. Even removing the basic health and safety concerns, companies are limiting travel as they brace for the possible financial fallout of the pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean we have to stop learning. Over the past few months, groups have chosen to either move their already planned events to a digital platform or to add additional virtual education through webinars. Not surprisingly, a large percentage of the content so far has related directly to helping the industry and individual companies deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. For example, the North Carolina State University Wilson College of Textiles partnered with the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), with sponsorship from IPC, SEAMS and SPESA, to create a series of webinars on the production and design of personal protective equipment (PPE). The next webinar in the series will be Tuesday, July 14th, and will focus on the equipment needed to pivot supply chains to PPE manufacturing.

The PPE series is one of several initiatives lauded in the industry that have seen competing companies and trade associations combine forces to tackle joint challenges. In a recent survey of SPESA members, 77% of respondents said they would be interested in attending more virtual meetings and webinars, specifically citing collaborative webinars with other groups, such as the joint SPESA/SEAMS webinar on supply chain dynamics. Beyond that, 81% of respondents said they would be interested in virtual content not focused on COVID-19.

Transferring to a digital platform is trickier when it comes to trade shows, but some groups are giving it a try. As the World Textile Information Network (WTiN) explained it “the logical conclusion is to create an online event where manufacturers can exhibit their innovations to an unrestricted global audience.” WTiN’s Innovate Textile & Apparel Trade Show takes place October 15-30. In June, the International Apparel Federation (IAF) announced its plans to launch the 1st Digital Global Apparel Sourcing Expo 2020 for the ready-made garment industry together with Sourcing Journal as media partner. The show will run July 15-August 14. Messe Frankfurt’s Texworld USA summer show, July 21-23, will go virtual this year as well, while others, like Sourcing at Magic, will be a combination of in-person and digital events.

Nevertheless, the inability to meet colleagues face-to-face continues to pose a significant challenge to those, like SPESA and other trade associations, that place a heavy emphasis on networking. As much as we like to think attendees come to our events solely to learn, we know that they are equally interested in the prospect of making new connections or closing a deal over an open bar. While virtual events are a promising alternative for the moment not to mention slightly less burdensome when it comes to the amount of time, money, and travel one has to put into them they are unlikely to become the norm for the sewn products industry.

Techtextil North America (October 1-3 in Atlanta) and the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) Expo (November 4-6 in Indianapolis) are still on track to be held in-person this year, with organizers for both events promising the utmost safety precautions for those in attendance. Many in the industry are looking to these events as the benchmark to determine whether and when live events will be successful once more.

Additional Reading:

Please visit the Behind the Seams Industry Calendar for more information about upcoming trade shows and events. If you have an event you would like us to add to the calendar, please email or

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