impact ’99

A report on HES Extension programs serving Missouri’s families and communities



and Publications

A Common Thread

MO-TAC Manufacturers Association brings together members of Missouri sewn-products industry

A single thread can snap with one tug, but many threads woven together create a sturdy fabric that holds up under the most severe strain.

That ancient maxim, as old as the weaver's trade itself, also applies to the manufacturers of apparel and sewn products in Missouri today.

In the MO-TAC Technology Center/Apparel
Production Lab, University of Missouri
textile and apparel management
faculty host MO-TAC Association
members during the association’s
Spring Event ’98.

Individually, they might not be able to survive the stresses brought on by global competition. When they band together as the MO-TAC Manufacturers Association, it vastly increases the strength and stability of one of the state's most long-lived industries.

Although more than 16,500 jobs remain in the sewn products industry in about 90 Missouri counties, some 5,800 jobs have been lost since NAFTA passed five years ago, mostly because of cheaper labor costs in other countries.

“It's amazing how having global competition helps promote local cooperation,” said Susan Henson, Coordinator of University Extension's Missouri Textile and Apparel Center (MO-TAC). "Domestically, these manufacturers realize they're all on the same playing field. They would look at non-domestic sourcing only as a last resort.

“Many Missouri sewn-products companies have roots in the state and want to continue to be Missouri based,” she said. With that goal in mind, dozens of Missouri manufacturers met at the second annual MO-TAC Manufacturers Association meeting in Columbia late last year, where they explored the theme: “Enhancing Your Business Opportunities.” Conference attendees heard about how to use computers in everything from fiber purchases to designing and cutting patterns. Several speakers gave practical advice on how to export sewn products.

Speaker Gus Whalen, president of the Warren Featherbone Co. and past president of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, showed the group a placard with two Chinese characters that translate roughly as “crisis” but literally mean “dangerous opportunity.”

“We tend to view every crisis as a problem,” Henson said. “He showed us we can view a crisis as an opportunity, and that's the way people should face the competitive challenges in the marketplace today.”

Whalen also stressed the interdependent nature of the industry. Henson said a primary function of association meetings is the opportunity for people from different parts of Missouri's sewn-products industry to develop close-knit ties for mutual benefit. From raw fiber to fine ladies' hats, “the chain goes all the way through,” said MO-TAC assistant coordinator Sharon Stevens. “It doesn't end until the consumer buys the product.”

The association benefits MO-TAC as well as the manufacturers. It is a means for MO-TAC to enhance programming through additional funding and an organized client base. Manufacturers can develop business contacts, discuss common difficulties and develop strategies to improve competitiveness and profitability.

The association’s annual meeting offers an opportunity for textile manufacturers across the state to make business contacts and discuss common problems and concerns.

The association also provides a vehicle for the industry to voice its concerns and viewpoints to policy makers and the citizens of Missouri.

“The association gives us the chance to gather with others in our own industry and to find that our problems and opportunities are not exclusive to us,” said Ron Pyle of Cerf Bros. Bag Company, New London, Mo.

Other Missouri manufacturing associations do not address the specific concerns of the sewn products industry. While there are several national textile and apparel manufacturers' organizations, most are based in the Eastern part of the country and are less responsive and accessible to Missouri manufacturers.

“The MO-TAC Manufacturers Association meets industry-specific and geographic needs that other associations just haven't been able to do,” said Tom James of Elder Manufacturing Co., Inc., St. Louis, Mo.

Henson is optimistic about the future of the industry. She pointed out that there continues to be a steady stream of start-up businesses in Missouri. A small sewn-products manufacturing business is attractive to entrepreneurs partly because it requires only a small capital investment.

In order to enhance their collective strength, MO-TAC members hope to see even more Missouri companies participating in the organization and its events.

For more information contact:
College of Human Environmental Sciences Extension
122 Stanley Hall
University of Missouri,
Columbia, MO 65211
phone: (573) 882-6430
Fax: (573) 884=5768

Coordinator; Susan K. Henson, (573) 882-6439

Assistant Coordinator; Sharon Stevens, (573) 882-3849

Administrative Assistant; Ruth Breedlove, (573) 882-6430


Impact Table of Contents                     Next Story



HES Extension Site Administrator
Jeanne Bintzer