In The Market

The Trust Factor

Chris Parkes, president, Concept III Textiles, left.

We welcome 2022 with supply chain disruption, pricing challenges, travel bans, remote work, and changing business models, not to mention the lingering Covid situation. Chris Parkes deals with all of this, and sometimes much more, on a daily basis as president of Concept III Textiles. The company specializes in performance fabrics for the outdoor industry and has established strong, longtime partnerships with the industry’s top mills and leading brands during the past 25+ years. Parkes believes now is a transitional time for his business as well as for industry at large. “I think in 100 years, history will look back at this time from January 1, 2020 through January 1, 2024, as an opportunity for change, and people will remark on those who survived with no script to go on, as well as those who stayed with the status quo, and got left behind.”  

We caught up with Parkes on the phone recently to get his thoughts on the state of the supply chain and its impact on innovation, business relationships and sourcing decision-making. Here’s what he had to say:

How big a challenge is pricing?  

“Throughout the year, and throughout your career there is always a conversation you have to have with a brand about a price increase, and you fret about those calls and stress out about those calls, because as we build relationships with customers and put things together, the last thing anyone wants to do is discuss a price increase on a specific product. But with the current price increases going on, though the conversation is difficult, it’s less stressful because everyone is in the same boat.

“The supply chain needs to be blown up. It’s disrupted; let’s work on fixing it.”

The situation taking place in China, (forced reduction of electricity at certain mills) is putting stress on the supply chain. The price of polyester is not going down, but isn’t going up as much as when restrictions first hit in October. And there are concerns about when mills will shut down for Chinese New Year, and whether or not they shut down earlier because of the power issue.

In terms of pricing brands are saying ‘we know what’s going on, this is where we’d like to be (with pricing).’ We’re having an open discussion with people on a daily basis about what will work for both sides. It’s a better conversation to be honest, and comes down to relationships.”

Describe your relationship with brand partners:

“During the pandemic relationships actually got stronger. Whereas in the past when a brand could sit in a room together and work through issues – which is not happening with brands working remotely– we are now fitting in a lot of  places because of our sourcing knowledge and proactiveness. Also, we have great long term relationships with our mills – 23 years with Kingwhale and 12 years with Dry-Tex – and our brand partners, too.  We’ve been able to work through a lot of issues together, and we really try to solve problems to get ahead of things. The pandemic is going to change things as we go deeper in our relationships, and we are trusted more and more. And we don’t take that for granted.”

How has selling textiles changed?

“At Concept III instead of running around trying to sell, we’re focused on the business. We’re thinking differently. It’s not about, ‘hey, do you like this fabric,’ it’s about efficient communication, working harder and faster. I keep calling us BUMS – Business Unit Managers; We’re not salespersons anymore. I’ve been saying this for three years. I can walk in with my sample bag and put a Dry-Tex fabric on the table and go get a coffee. Not because I’m not needed to sell, but because I’m there for the hard work making sure mills perform and things are done properly. Our relationships have come a long way, and our business is good.”

“With the current price increases going on, though the conversation is difficult, it’s less stressful because everyone is in the same boat.”
Was the supply chain ripe for disruption prior to Covid?  

“The supply chain needs to be blown up. It’s disrupted; let’s work on fixing it. This is an opportunity now, I hope, for people to see how to do things differently in the workplace. We will look back in history 100 years as an opportunity for things to change. What that looks like, I don’t have the answer, but we know things need to change – in the way we’re moving freight, moving trucks and moving containers in and out of port.”

Looking ahead, Is nearshoring a viable strategy?

“It’s not going to happen. We have a $15 minimum wage. We can’t get landscapers and dishwashers, how are you going to get people who sew? When Jordan opened up in a trade deal 20 years ago, and Jordanians thought they would do this, they ended up having to bring in sewers from Bangladesh and China. You can sit here and say nearshoring, but who is going to cut and sew the goods? This is the reality. You can have a really cool idea and do it domestically until it blows up and you can’t find sewers to produce 5,000 pieces or 10,000 pieces because you made this commitment.”

Are supply chain challenges suppressing product innovation?

“We have gotten caught in a business where we think we have to develop, develop, develop. But we are realizing that consumers are buying from brands based on relationships not dependent on buying something new. Innovation will happen, but I think it will be more structured. Recycling, traceability, and circularity are all about making a good product that actually sells and is needed, with a story and plan in place versus just making stuff. Brands are thinking like that and that’s where we need to go.”

Footnote: On October 1, 2021, China extended power restrictions to at least 20 provinces and regions amid a power shortage in its north-eastern region. The areas affected by the restrictions together accounted for more than 66 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The situation has, as expected, further inflated global supply chains, with factories shutting down operations.

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Jan 24, 2022


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