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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gordon Berkstresser III, April 29, 1986. Interview H-0263. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The textile industry: technologically and methodologically dynamic

Berkstresser describes the textile industry's diversity and adaptability both in technology and in an increasing embrace of marketing.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gordon Berkstresser III, April 29, 1986. Interview H-0263. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PATRICIA RAUB:
I've read that one of the major trends in the last 30 or 40 years in the textile industry has been a much more integration of marketing into the whole factory process and that that has helped the industry to survive and to do better, that there aren't as many overruns as there used to be.
GORDON BERKSTRESSER, III:
It's continuing to happen. If you pick up any of the standard marketing textbooks, particularly Phil Copper, () who's the best—and always has been—you see that that was about the time too of the generalized change from the sales ethic to the marketing ethic. Prior to WWII a mill made what it could make because of its equipment and then somebody in New York that had a market for it sold it—New York, Philadelphia, Boston. Now, of course, it's moved to the point where basically you have a market-driven industry. One of the big problems for people trying to understand the industry is when you talk about the textile, or the apparel and textile and fiber industry, as one unit, you're talking about something that even the federal government divides into about 68 different SIC codes. Right off the bat, it's not an industry, it's a convenient thing to call this agglomeration. But the differences between the various segments of the industry are really quite large. For many, many years, even the educational institutions—for many years, our school here—talked about fiber and textiles. That's where we stopped. In my lifetime we have added—during the past decade—a real, ongoing program in apparel. Cut and sew. Take it one step closer to the consumer. Right now we're trying to add more, through the distribution, we're adding marketing courses, marketing research courses, getting even into the retailing. We're going to have to get into the consumer behavior end of it. There is no question. Because that's part of our business. But, the industry has been in a revolution of not only new technology—and the new technologies are what Drucker called the discontinuities—you go from two thousand years of throwing a shuttle across a loom with the yarn inside of the shuttle, reeling off, either by hand or by water power, by belt power or by electric power, you go from that to no shuttle but either a projectile like a bullet or a drop of water—a spit—or just blowing the yarn across today. That's a complete discontinuity in technology. And all of a sudden you're talking about speeds of a magnitude four, five, six times of what was achieved before. You're talking then about needing a labor force of one quarter of the number of people that you used to use. This type of thing. But also of having to have more highly-trained technicians to fix the bloody machines. Tremendous change that way. Coupled with a tremendous change from a sales outlook to a marketing outlook.