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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Sidney Smith, January 25, 1999. Interview I-0081. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Increased focus on marketing changes hosiery industry

Smith notes that the most significant change the hosiery industry has undergone is an increased focus on marketing. Despite the strain this additional demand places on the industry, Smith thinks hosiery will endure in the United States.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Sidney Smith, January 25, 1999. Interview I-0081. 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.

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The biggest change that we're finding in the Association itself, is that our industry wants us to do more in marketing -- something that we've not done before and we've never been asked to do. We've always done [work] in the plant, in the factory. [We've had a] human resources, technology, production, [and] manufacturing based orientation, now they want us to do marketing or help them do their marketing. That's a big shift. The reason is that the retailer is pushing that back on the apparel manufacturer. Used to be we would ship goods to a retailer and wipe our hands. The deal was up. Then, the retailer started saying, “Well, I want you to tell me what you think I ought to be carrying in my hosiery department.” Then it was, “Okay, I want you to advise me even on which styles I ought to be carrying, and you make sure they're there. In fact, you come in and hang them on the hanger.” It's down now to where a retailer looks at you and says, “If you're going to be my supplier, you're in charge of the hosiery department. You do the planogram. You do the layout. You stock it. You put the right styles there, price them in the right range, and don't be wrong because it doesn't sell, I'll fire you and I'll get somebody else. You're going to handle the department.” The hosiery manufacturer's going, “I'm not up to speed in this. I'm not staffed for this. I've got to hire marketing people, retail planogram people. I can't do this.” The Association helps [manufacturers], so they're pushing us to get more involved in “here's what's involved in those areas.” That's a real transition for this Association. Of course, the one thing everyone is concerned about is the future: “Can we survive or are all textiles, all hosiery [businesses] going to leave America?” No, it won't. It's always going to be hosiery manufacturing here. There will always be [hosiery production] right here in the United States. We can still make it cost competitively, pricewise, quality wise. We're going to be global. We're going to be bigger. We're going to be more sophisticated. We're going to be stronger. The total sales in hosiery is going to keep going up in both units and in dollars. The other thing that we keep thinking about is technology changing. The day is coming when we will perfect closing the toe on the knitting machine rather than doing is as a separate operation. That is already here for socks. It is right around the corner for sheers, when a sheer is going to sew the two pants legs together -- two legs together into a single garment that works. It's been tried before, but never perfected really. What are the technological things that are coming down the pipe[line]? We'll gravitate to them as they come, but the unknown is: What is the next product? What is the next product like the pantyhose that just revolutionizes [the industry]? Is it not yarn based? Is it an extruded fabric? I mean, you can step into a booth right now and have a camera take a digital picture of you, transfer that data back to a manufacturing entity and produce your suits and shirts. It's manufactured and shipped by UPS. It arrives at your home in forty-eight hours. We're doing that now. It's going on right now. We can also step right in there and instead of cutting fabric, we could extrude a solid piece of material that is to your size. Where does hosiery fit into that? What are the next products that are coming? We just don't know.