It seems that the state of the economy is top of mind for just about everyone these days.  We hear a lot about how the economy has affected the auto industry, the housing industry, etc.  But the reality is that it is impacting just about every industry in the U.S., including the textile industry.

U.S. textile mills have been struggling against the influx of goods from textile mills in other countries, particularly India, Pakistan and China, for quite awhile now.   According to EconomyWatch, in 2007 production in U.S. textile mills fell by more than 12 percent.  ABC News reported that, from October 2007 through October 2008, about 100 textile mills in the U.S. closed, leading to the layoff of over 63,000 U.S. textile workers.  Now, with the downturn in the economy over the last six or eight months, things may be getting worse.

While the emphasis in these articles is on apparel textiles, the import of foreign textiles as well as the struggling U.S. economy has hit the U.S. textile industry as a whole, including those mills that specialized in theatrical fabrics.  We have certainly seen a trickle-down effect, but the most significant impact that I have seen over the last six to twelve months is on availability:

  • Longer lead times.  In the past, it might have taken two weeks for milling, while now it may take four or six weeks.  I cannot say definitively the reason for the longer lead time, but I would guess that it is due to a smaller workforce (layoffs).
  • Less In Stock.  Many of the large fabric suppliers are stocking fewer fabrics than they were a few years ago.  They just don’t want to tie up as much money in inventory, so they are waiting for firm orders before sourcing the fabric from the mill.  For suppliers with multiple stocking locations, they may stock some fabrics in one location only, rather than in several locations across the country. 

 So what does this all mean for the end-user – the school or church wanting new custom stage curtains or the rock band wanting a new custom backdrop?  In many cases, it may mean making a choice between waiting longer to get their drapery or choosing a different fabric that is readily available.  It may mean paying a higher price for a drapery due to the cost to bring the fabric in from a location out of state.  The best thing I can recommend is, be flexible and plan ahead!