NCTO Celebrates American Independence, Innovation & Textiles

The 4th of July is an American holiday unlike any other, complete with backyard BBQs, parades, national concerts, and, of course, fireworks. At the height of summer, Americans across the country gather to celebrate our unique history and the values that define the American spirit of independence.

In that same spirit, the National Council of Textile Organizations celebrates Independence Day this year with a look at the history of the U.S. textile industry, which has played a remarkable role in America’s industrial and economic independence through a history of significant investment, employment, and technological development and innovation.

The birth of the textile industry in the U.S. coincides with our independence from England. Despite England’s best attempts to monopolize textile production by forbidding the exportation of textile technology and intellectual property, creative minds found their path to the States not long after the U.S. gained its independence in 1776 (2020, Frederic Magazine, Innovation or Bust! The Surprising Story of New England’s Textile Heyday).

In 1789, Samuel Slater, who would come to be known as the father of American Manufacturing, immigrated to the U.S. with the goal of establishing the country’s first textile mill. He did just that in 1791 by establishing the first yarn mill through his partnership with American entrepreneur and abolitionist Moses Brown. Shortly after, in 1793, American inventor Eli Whitney developed the cotton gin, rapidly increasing the efficiency of sorting cotton seed from cotton fiber. These two critical innovations paved the way for Francis Cabot Lowell, an American merchant, to build the first integrated textile factory in the United States, capable of converting raw cotton into finished cloth in one mill. The ingenuity and efforts of these pioneers in the textile sector marked the start of the Industrial Revolution in America, which allowed the U.S. to establish the economic freedom and security it needed to grow as a young nation. (ibid.)

Now, more than 200 years later, America still boasts a vibrant, multifaceted textile industry that employs 538,067 workers nationwide. From textile fibers to apparel and other sewn products, the industry excels at producing high-tech, innovative solutions for both the American and global market alike. In fact, the United States is the world leader in textile research and development, with the U.S. textile complex developing next generation textile materials such as conductive fabric with anti-static properties, electronic textiles that can monitor heart rate and other vital signs, antimicrobial fibers, and new fabrics capable of adapting to the climate to make the wearer warmer or cooler. These developments make the U.S. textile industry, along with its suppliers and customers, an important component of the U.S. economy. The industry also provides much needed jobs in rural areas and has functioned as a springboard for workers out of poverty into good paying jobs for generations.

Despite these successes, the industry has faced extreme competition from overseas producers for more than 40 years. While such competition helps to foster incredible innovation amongst American textile companies to remain viable, the U.S. textile industry has consistently dealt with an uneven global playing field due to rampant foreign subsidies, closed offshore markets, and substandard environmental and human labor conditions.  These varying standards result in a global sourcing entities seeking lowest-cost products often of poor quality and built on massive carbon emissions from distant supply chains and even forced labor (2023 Sourcing Journal, Forced Labor and the De Minimis Loophole: Two Sides of the Same Coin)

Further, the offshoring of such a critical industry, responsible for manufacturing products of key importance to our national health and defense, poses national security risks. This risk was made fully apparent at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when American citizens, hospitals and frontline workers found themselves unable to access critical personal protective equipment (PPE) due to the complete offshoring of supply chains to low-cost overseas’ competitors. In response, the American textile industry made heroic efforts to retool production and operations virtually overnight, producing millions of face masks, isolation gowns, testing swabs and other critical medical textiles when our country needed it most.

Despite these heroic actions and the coinciding investments that were made by American business owners, these critical supply chains are already at risk of being offshored again. To ensure that they do not, it is critical that the federal government expeditiously implement recently adopted legislation governing domestic procurement, such as the Make PPE in America Act. This legislation, which resulted from the harsh lessons learned during the supply chain crises of COVID-19, is designed to reshore and maintain a strategic PPE production chain in the United States by requiring that the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs procure only PPE that is wholly made (i.e., 100 percent made in the USA, from the production of the fiber to the yarn, fabric, and finished product) and assembled in the U.S. This important legislation also requires a contract duration for federally procured PPE of no less than two years. Such long-term commitments provide domestic manufacturers with a consistent demand signal that allows them to invest, plan, develop and deliver the medical protective goods our government and nation depend on for safety and security.

At the same time, the research and development needed to produce such innovations requires significant financial commitments. From 2012 to 2021, the U.S. textile industry invested $20.9 billion in new plants and equipment. During this time, U.S. manufacturers opened new facilities throughout the textile production chain, including recycling facilities to convert textile and other waste to new textile uses and resins. These advancements reveal the direct relationship between investment, innovation, and long-term competitiveness. To survive in the constantly evolving and increasingly competitive landscape that dictates textile and apparel production, companies must constantly develop new ways to manufacture inputs and goods more efficiently.

It does not take much to see why U.S. textiles are a quintessential story of American spirit and industry. So, as we take this holiday to pause and celebrate the individual and economic freedoms we enjoy daily, let us also celebrate the rich history of American textiles as a critical part of industrial importance. Thanks to manufacturing efforts such as theirs, American citizens can access everything from high-quality everyday textile items to sophisticated textile technologies. By keeping critical supply chains and their research close to home, Americans are guaranteed more sustainable and reliable access to essential products when we need them most.

As we celebrate the 4th of July and American independence, we recognize that many of our forefathers took sizable business and investment risks that has helped foster our modern economy from which we all benefit today. And a strong economy allows us to safeguard our independence.

American manufacturing needs Congress and the Administration’s continued support to help shape trade and economic policies that provide a level-playing field for the U.S. industry. Please contact the National Council of Textile Organizations to discuss how you can support the domestic textile and apparel industries in their efforts to reshore and regionalize supply chains and strengthen U.S. manufacturing.



Forced Labor and the De Minimis Loophole: Two Sides of the Same Coin

(Op-Ed by NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas featured in Sourcing Journal and found on its site here.)

In a classic example of the government’s left hand not working in concert with the right, two contrary policies are facilitating the importation of millions of products into the U.S. market each day to unknowing consumers likely purchasing items made with forced labor and counterfeit products.

And it continues to put American manufacturers, workers, and consumers at risk without a legislative fix.

The policies at the heart of the issue are the recently implemented Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) and a little-known legal trade mechanism dubbed “Section 321 de minimis,” in U.S. trade law that is in turn being exploited by Chinese e-commerce companies, online marketplaces and other mass marketers.

The de minimis mechanism allows a package of goods valued at $800 or less per person to come into the country duty-free every day. With the explosion of e-commerce shipments in recent years, it is now being aggressively used by Chinese e-commerce companies and other mass marketers that are shipping in millions of products directly to consumers that otherwise would be subject to tariffs, penalty tariffs, taxes, and customs inspection.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, there is a “big problem” with U.S. efforts to stop imports of Chinese products made with forced labor due to the de minimis loophole that allows millions of shipments duty-free that require little paperwork and are largely uninspected.

While Congress never intended for banned products made with forced labor in Xinjiang, China, to enter the U.S. market through the de minimis provision, every day, more than 2 million uninspected shipments enter the U.S. market exploiting this loophole.

In fact, the flood of de minimis shipments into the U.S. has turned into a virtual tsunami, soaring more than 350 percent over the past 6 years and overwhelming our ports and the government’s ability to adequately enforce bans on counterfeits, fentanyl and other illicit drugs, and goods made with forced labor.  De minimis shipments have undoubtedly spiked in recent years beyond the 2 million shipments U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) estimated were arriving per day in fiscal year 2021.  This compares to fiscal 2016—the year Congress increased the de minimis threshold from $200 to $800—when CBP data estimated 150 million shipments entered the U.S. annually.

So, an efficiency tool for the Customs service, originally intended to take the burden off the agency on low-value items such as souvenirs brought back by tourists, has now been reportedly exploited by e-commerce companies and mass marketers for business efficiencies to skirt tariffs and the UFLPA—a glaring contradiction that undermines the efficacy of laws and Customs regulations and a huge win for China.

In effect, U.S. textile producers and other manufacturers are not only competing with forced labor production, but an import duty scheme that rewards such behavior in the form of a tariff subsidy. All of this is occurring in clear violation of the UFLPA. The exploitation of de minimis translates into a “de maximis” impact on domestic textile companies and those in our Free Trade Agreement partner countries.

While Congress raised the duty-free limit for de minimis shipments from $200 to $800 seven years ago, the Chinese government keeps its own de minimis threshold to a meager $8.

Fortunately, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have recently sounded the alarm about the de minimis mechanism, how it is reportedly exploited by Chinese e-commerce companies such as Shein and other mass marketers, and the backdoor access it provides to products made with forced labor in Xinjiang.

In the latest congressional action, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Neal Dunn (R-FL), and Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), introduced bipartisan legislation on Thursday in their respective chambers that would effectively prohibit non-market economies, including China and Russia, from exploiting the Section 321 de minimis mechanism. “The de minimis loophole is a threat to American competitiveness, consumer safety, and basic human rights,” said Rep. Blumenauer, who is ranking member on the House Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee. “It is used by primarily Chinese companies to ship over two million packages a day into the United States. It puts American businesses at a competitive disadvantage while flooding American consumers with undoubtedly harmful products.”

Separately, a group of more than two dozen bipartisan House members sent a letter to the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, expressing concern that Shein and other companies with direct-to-consumer business models may be “actively skirting import restrictions and evading CBP enforcement, selling goods in the U.S. in violation of the UFLPA” by using the de minimis mechanism. The lawmakers pointed to a Bloomberg News investigative report,  in which lab testing conducted by the news outlet reportedly turned up cotton from Xinjiang in Shein’s apparel products.

House Ways & Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) recently agreed this is a major problem. “It appears that loophole is almost an $800 free trade agreement for China for any products underneath that,” Smith said at a recent hearing.

And the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recently opened a probe into companies and brands at the center of allegations over tainted apparel tied to forced labor in Xinjiang and the reported abuse of the de minimis loophole.

The stakes are high. It is time for Congress to take a stand and fully close the de minimis loophole. Failure to do so not only undermines the intention of the UFLPA, but also indirectly bolsters forced labor abroad.

Due to exploitative business practices, de minimis and forced labor have become two sides of the same coin. This coin should be taken out of circulation.

Kim Glas is the president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations and is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Textiles and Apparel at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Webinar: Bluecrew Staffing Solution – Save the Date!


At 1pm on Wednesday, July 12, NCTO will conduct a webinar to introduce Bluecrew, a W-2 staffing platform, designed to meet the challenge of labor demand across the light industrial, manufacturing, and transportation/distribution industries. During the webinar, representatives from Bluecrew will provide an overview of the platform and its services, with a tailored look at how the platform can help solve labor shortages across our industry.

To preview this event, please view the below Q&A NCTO conducted with Bluecrew:

What is Bluecrew?

Bluecrew’s workforce as a service helps businesses address the challenges of variable demand by combining an agile high-quality workforce, powerful management technology, and actionable data. Our platform gives workplaces instant access to 100k+ W-2 hourly workers who are prequalified, background checked, and e-verified.

What makes Bluecrew different from other staffing and labor recruitment services?

Traditional: It takes about 24 days to fill an open job when you stick to the traditional method of hiring: coordinating a post with the agency, waiting for it to fill… and then hoping the worker(s) shows up. Our app gives you 24/7 instant access to qualified, prescreened W-2 workers, and positions are often filled in hours. And if they’re not, we have the data to tell you why.

Gig: We’re W-2 only, because high quality workers—and you—shouldn’t settle for less. With our platform + app, you can also schedule our Crew Members without the additional burden of worrying about misclassifying employees, missing a legal requirement, or providing your own benefits and insurance (saving you about 20% in labor costs in the process).

What types of jobs does Bluecrew fill?

Full or part-time, short or long-term, Bluecrew specializes in positions across the supply chain (manufacturing, warehousing, freight and logistics) and hospitality industries (hotels and lodging, food and beverage, events) but we’re constantly expanding the areas we support.

What makes Bluecrew an optimal solution for the textile industry specifically?

Because Bluecrew builds pools of workers who have gone through a background check, e-verification check, as well as additional onboarding prerequisites, we’re able to supply the textile industry the people you need when you need them.  We can assist in long-term positions that could become permanent, or we could help out because you got an unexpected surge in business. Our platform is built to serve your needs.

To help tailor their presentation to the needs of NCTO members, we’ve developed a short, three-question survey. Please click here to complete the survey and provide your input.

Click here to REGISTER and mark your calendar for this special opportunity to gain hands-on insight into this workforce recruitment tool.

Main Takeaways from Key Textile Trade Negotiator’s Visit to the Carolinas and the Heart of the American Textile Industry

Dr. Laurie-Ann Agama, Acting Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles, who toured seven NCTO member companies’ state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities earlier this month, said she came away from the meetings with “a better and deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities U.S. manufacturers face in trade.”

Dr. Agama, who was accompanied by a U.S. textile trade team, experienced firsthand the industry’s innovation, resilience, and breadth of products in visits at the following NCTO member companies: Glen Raven, Parkdale Mills, Unifi, Gildan, Barnet, Standard Textile and Beverly Knits.

“We learned a lot about the trade issues affecting the textile industry and I come away from this trip with a better and deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities U.S. manufacturers face in trade – I have a number of specific case studies and stories to share which clearly illustrate how trade and commerce affect people and communities in the United States,” Dr. Agama said in an email to NCTO staff.

Her visit comes at a pivotal time for the U.S. textile industry, which produced $65.8 billion in output in 2022 and employed 538,000 workers. The broader textile supply chain in the U.S. is a critical manufacturing segment contributing to job growth, investments, and innovation. From 2012-2021, capital investment in U.S. yarn, fabric and apparel and sewn products manufacturing totals $20.9 billion.

In addition, U.S. textile companies have been strong partners with the administration’s “Call to Action” for Central America to address the root causes of outward migration, spurring $2 billion in textile and apparel investments in the region in the past 18 months and bolstering a vibrant co-production chain that supports more than 1 million workers in the U.S. and the region.

Washington policies matter now more than ever, particularly this year, in which the industry has seen weakening orders due to economic headwinds, a continuing glut of inventory at retail, and a production slowdown, which taken together, are creating a more challenging business environment for the industry. That is why an industry roundtable with industry executives at the end of Dr. Agama’s three-day tour hosted by Unifi in Greensboro, N.C. was imperative.

U.S. textile executives spanning the fiber, yarn, fabric, and finished product textile and apparel industries participated in the roundtable and outlined critical policies, such as: the importance of maintaining the yarn forward rule of origin in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) and other trade agreements; advancing the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) and its importance to domestic manufacturers; closing the de minimis loophole in U.S. trade law; addressing larger systemic trade issues, particularly the use of forced labor, with China; and upholding buy American and Berry Amendment government procurement policies.

“We gathered a lot of technical information and saw first-hand the innovation, automation, and investments that have been made to improve U.S. competitiveness and gathered insights on how trade and U.S. trade policy affect and could support the industry and their business decisions to increase jobs in the United States and Central America and could facilitate increased production and exports,” Dr. Agama said. “This tour further strengthened our already strong relationships and partnerships.”

NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas, who toured the facilities and participated in the industry roundtable, lauded the visit by Dr. Agama and the USTR textile team, noting “the substantive discussions provided critical insight into the importance of the  U.S. textile industry to local economies and the overall U.S. economy, while giving textile executives an opportunity to demonstrate their innovative prowess and explain how Washington policies translate into everyday impact on their business operations.”

“We look forward to working closely with Dr. Agama, the USTR textile team, and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai to advance policies that incentivize domestic and regional manufacturing, while enforcing legislation that addresses illegal trade practices, such as forced labor and transshipments, that undermine this industry,” Glas said.

Dr. Agama concluded, “I look forward to continuing to work with you [NCTO and the industry] to increase U.S. textile trade, support industry’s efforts to create new jobs, provide good wages and benefits to their workers, and commitments to generate overall positive impacts in surrounding communities, especially in rural areas similar to those we visited and passed through in N.C. and S.C.”


Acting Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles, Dr. Laurie-Ann Agama, Tours U.S. Textile Industry; Participates in Industry Roundtable

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dr. Laurie-Ann Agama, Acting Assistant U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for Textiles, wrapped up a three-day visit of state-of-the art U.S. textile manufacturing facilities in North and South Carolina today, highlighting the importance of trade policies that bolster the competitiveness of the vibrant domestic supply chain that contributes significantly to the U.S. economy and workforce.

Dr. Agama, who advises the nation’s top trade chief on textile and apparel trade policy matters and conducts and oversees negotiations affecting textiles and apparel products, was joined by USTR textile trade officials in touring seven textile manufacturers including: Glen Raven, Barnet, Standard Textile, Parkdale Mills, Beverly Knits, Gildan, and Unifi.

Her three-day tour culminated today in an industry roundtable discussion with key textile executives hosted by Unifi, in Greensboro, N.C.

U.S. textile executives spanning the fiber, yarn, fabric, and finished product textile and apparel industries participated in the roundtable and outlined critical policies, such as: the importance of maintaining the yarn forward rule of origin in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) and other trade agreements; advancing the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) and its importance to domestic manufacturers; closing the de minimis loophole in U.S. trade law; addressing larger systemic trade issues, particularly the use of forced labor, with China; and upholding buy American and Berry Amendment government procurement policies.

“We deeply appreciate Assistant USTR Agama’s visit to the heart of the U.S. textile industry in North and South Carolina this week to meet with U.S. textile executives and experience first-hand the breadth of the industry’s innovation, advanced sustainability practices, capital investments and critical contributions to local economies and the U.S. economy as a whole,” said Kim Glas, president and CEO of NCTO. “The three-day visit by Dr. Agama and the USTR textile team included facility tours of several NCTO member companies, all of which have made major investments in state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities that are part of a broader domestic industry supply chain that produced $65.8 billion in output in 2022 and employed 538,000 workers.”

Glas continued: “We are also grateful for Dr. Agama’s participation in the industry roundtable hosted by Unifi and substantive discussions around policy opportunities and challenges. We look forward to working closely with Dr. Agama, the USTR textile team and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai to advance policies that provide incentives for onshoring and nearshoring production and bolstering the industry’s competitiveness, while enforcing policies that address illegal trade practices that undermine this industry.”

“The U.S. textile industry has always been resilient, innovative, and a driving force of our nation’s competitiveness,” said Acting Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles Dr. Laurie-Ann Agama. “For USTR, this local engagement and conversations underscore our need to create trade policies that put workers first and promote inclusive economic growth. The spinning, knitting, and weaving operations of the textile industry are at the center of many communities across the Carolinas. This was another opportunity to hear first-hand how we trade can create jobs that allow workers, businesses, and communities to thrive”.



NCTO is a Washington, DC-based trade association that represents domestic textile manufacturers.

  • S. employment in the textile supply chain was 538,067 in 2022.
  • The value of shipments for U.S. textiles and apparel was $65.8 billion in 2022.
  • S. exports of fiber, textiles and apparel were $34 billion in 2022.
  • Capital expenditures for textiles and apparel production totaled $2.27 billion in 2021, the last year for which data is available.



Kristi Ellis

Vice President, Communications

National Council of Textile Organizations |  202.684.3091