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Workforce Development and the Sewn Products Industry

Updated: Nov 19, 2020


New York Times

Next Monday is Labor Day in the U.S. It’s something we celebrate every year, representing the unofficial end of summer and one last time to gather with friends and family for a much-deserved three-day weekend. Oh, and don’t forget about the great sales.

The federal holiday — a day which now pays tribute to the American worker — has a deep-rooted and somewhat complex history. Its founding can be tied, in part, to the Industrial Revolution when the U.S. and Europe saw a shift in how goods were produced, and how people worked. Low wages, long hours, and poor working conditions led to years of unrest as American workers rallied for change in the late 1800s.

Several contentious milestones — including the Haymarket Affair and Pullman Strike — contributed to both the official and unofficial recognition of Labor Day. The first Labor Day parade was more strike than celebration, organized by two prominent labor unions in New York City in 1882. Over the next twelve years, many states individually passed Labor Day laws, with the eventual culmination of a federal law enacted by President Grover Cleveland in 1894. His intention was to quickly mend relationships with American workers amid the Pullman Strike, and hopefully keep the support of working-class voters.

New York Times

More than a century has now passed since the official induction of Labor Day, and with it has come continued change to how the U.S. and its workforce operate from dealing with offshoring to navigating technological integrations on the manufacturing floor (although politicians pandering for votes remains eternal). These changes have created ripple effects across many industries, including sewn products manufacturing.

As an organization, SPESA has continued to keep a steady pulse on workforce development in the sewn products industry. We’ve seen the highs, the lows, and the opportunities to see an industry reemerge domestically. What we’ve learned is that the changes we’re seeing today are important to understand where the industry is heading tomorrow. And this moment, in particular, is especially important.

We’re two months away from a historical and critical presidential election, as a global pandemic still looms. In just the first half of the year, we watched as the sewn products industry shifted production to focus on PPE, reassessed domestic supply chains, and looked at ways to support its workforce at a time when job loss across the country reached record highs. Not to mention the political stronghold on trade policy. And these complex dynamics will continue through the election and beyond.

This month’s Behind the Seams will dive into some of these complexities examining how the last six months have reshaped the future of workforce development domestically, while also looking at trends in workforce development beyond the impact of Covid-19. We’ve featured an interview with Tea Yang, Program Coordinator from the Industrial Commons and Work in Burke, on the importance of workforce development in the industry, and workforce trends both past and present. We’re also excited to share a video conversation between SPESA President Michael McDonald and Jen Guarino, CEO and Chairman at ISAIC, the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center. The video highlights some of the work ISAIC is doing in Detroit and beyond to create a “sustainable community-empowered ecosystem for apparel manufacturing.”

We will also keep readers updated on the latest industry news related to workforce, supply chains, technology, and government policies affecting the sewn products industry.

Whether you are planning to celebrate Labor Day this weekend like we are (looking at you, Canada), or you think Americans are nuts and Labor Day is actually in May (like most of the rest of the world), we can all agree that workers the people responsible for building our economy are worthy of accolades every month of the year.

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