In the first feature of 2023, addressing “where we’ve been and where we’re going,” our writer Marie O’Mahony pointed to supply chain issues, the increased use of automation and robotics in manufacturing, the growth of 3D printing technologies, and biotechnology advances. For our next feature, I asked the Advanced Textiles Association (ATA) board chair Amy Bircher, and the ATA 1st vice chair Roy Chism to respond to the same topic.
Then there is my take.
The following thoughts are not the result of any sort of survey, either random or properly conducted. They are based on the materials I read routinely, my own curiosity about the industry and my completely unscientific inklings about what is going to be in the news (or should be) in 2023 and beyond.
Super-thin ones that don’t look or feel like a battery, but they’re capable of powering e-textile end products, particularly wearables. Because that’s the problem, isn’t it? Wearables need to be washed. Often. Removing a clunky battery pack is not cool. Wearing a clunky battery pack is worse (although many don’t seem to mind “wearing” a smart phone in the pocket of their skin-tight running pants).
The breakthroughs in battery development are legion. Which ones will make it out of the lab, past the prototype stage and ultimately onto retail shelves is another matter, but there is no question that something out there, which is already well on its development way, will. Smart fabrics, once we are accustomed to wearing them, will become familiar, be everywhere and, therefore, cheaper. But something better than what we now identify as a “battery” has to power them, and it will.
Smart drapes and blinds, canopies, tents, boat covers, etc. … besides the shirts, jackets, purses, backpacks and other personal items and wearables. It’s coming. … Just watch.
The issue of creating a more sustainable industry is here to stay, but we will increasingly see sustainability for what it is: a highly complex system of behaviors, materials and processes without a one-size-fits-all solution. Nope, there is no “how every business should be sustainable” list. I don’t go in for lists, generally. (“The five things you should do if _______.” “Three things everyone should never eat.” That sort of thing.)
We may agree that operating more sustainably is a good thing, but can you find two people who would agree on the best way to do it? I’m guessing … maybe not. But that’s ok. How to be more sustainable requires an individualized examination and response. Think of it as progressive growth toward a stated goal, which lives on a continuum: consider what is possible now and how far along that continuum you can move. Just get started—wherever you are—and then keep going.
More of this sort of talk is going to be out there.
The nature of the workforce
Younger, different goals. And possibly a softer commitment. That’s understandable, as workers are entering and moving about in a workers’ market that offers them some pretty nice options, often with better pay, bonuses and a wider range of opportunities. We have known for some time that there are not enough candidates to replace older employees—ones who are very experienced with valuable skills—that have left or will soon leave.
The industry is working on this, I know, but we haven’t fixed it yet. Additionally, how we view immigrants now figures into the picture, as immigrants may be able to provide the skillset many manufacturers need and can’t find or train fast enough. For businesses, connecting with potential employees is a critical need, and attracting just the right ones is a persistent challenge, so yeah, we’ll be talking about this for a while.
We could have long discussions adding to the list, maybe deleting others, prioritizing differently. That’s ok, too. But keep talking, and I’ll keep listening and writing about it. Please feel free to share your thoughts. I’m always available here: firstname.lastname@example.org.