History of the AAPN

AACA/AAPN "Firsts" That Changed the Industry

The Association was first organized in 1981 by a group of contractors in Georgia. That small group of factory owners soon grew beyond Georgia's borders to become a Southeast and then a National organization focused on Made in the USA. Today the AAPN is the only international trade association connecting the entire textile/apparel supply chain of the Western Hemisphere.

1981: The Association was organized in 1981 by Don Strickland in Atlanta. He started with a group of cut/sew contractors in South Georgia.  The oldest original member, the third to join, is Riverside Manufacturing and it remains a member today. AAPN was then called the American Apparel Contractors Association.

The AACA printed the first industry 'Guide to Sourcing.' Don Strickland had experience with other organizations. He saw the potential for this network of people. He decided to find out more about their business. He asked them questions about their factories

  • What garments can you make?
  • How many?
  • What is your lead time?
  • Do you have open production?
  • What kind of machinery do you have?

He very quickly had created a list of sewing factories and their capabilities in Georgia and decided to expand into neighboring states. As the association grew, vendors started to join. The thread companies, the companies that sold sewing machines and cutting tables all wanted to be a part of this network.

This in turn got the attention of the brands who began to call and ask for help finding factories. They wanted to get a list of factories that could make a particular garment. A computer seemed to be the solution. The list of factories was turned into a computer database and the people at these companies had become a network of like-minded individuals who were creating Social Capital. ‘Social Capital’ occurs when there is trust and reciprocity. These factory owners trusted each other and wanted to help each other.

1985: Membership had grown to 400 companies

1987: Sue Strickland writes of that time, "When I joined the association in 1987 there was a personal computer in the office without a hard drive but we did have a really big floppy disk --- about 8 inches square. When someone called needing to know if we could give them the names of factories that made t-shirts, we fired up the computer, put the floppy disk into the A drive, typed in a lot of undecipherable characters in code form and we had a list! It wasn’t too long before we could use another monumental break thru in technology – and actually fax this list to the caller."

1990: AACA Founder Don Strickland passes away suddenly. His wife, Sue C. Strickland, takes over as the sole staff.

1991: Ten years after starting, the AACA had signed its 1,000th organization of whom some 350 were active members that year. 

1992: First Fax Sourcing Broadcasts. Fax machines were becoming pervasive in small plants. The broadcast gave AACA a better responsiveness to industry and eliminated phoning members for hours every time someone needed a factory.

125 people attended the annual meeting at Opryland and 160 participated in the Destin event. 113 companies joined AACA that year from 32 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. 

1993: Major coverage that year of NAFTA.  Roger Milliken very strongly opposed it.

The Spring Meeting was on St. Simons Island, GA. AACA also exhibited at a trade show in Los Angeles, the WAM Show, which was the Western Apparel Manufacturing show sponsored by Apparel magazine.

One of the monthly newsletter editorials was, “NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN AND WOMEN TO COME TO THE AID OF THEIR INDUSTRY!!” In fact, every month’s newsletter headlined an ‘against NAFTA’ article.

July of that year was when a young entrepreneur with a degree from Southern Polytech, Mickie Dunn, joined with his company Major League in Jasper, GA. He recently hired his 6,000th employee at his operation in Mexico. 

1994: AACA Members were listed on a dial-up Clemson Database. This industry technology first increased the exposure of members to increasingly automated and technology-savvy sourcing managers. Also NAFTA passed that same year.

Mike Todaro attended his first AACA meeting in Perdido Beach, AL. At the time, he worked for Manhattan Associates. Speakers were from Target, JCP and Jon Fee. AACA's other meeting that year was at Opryland in TN. Virtually all of the speakers at our meetings back then were vendor members giving sales pitches.

AACA ran an article in their newsletter describing the World Trade Organization. Little did we know at the time how they would open China.

Sue was also canvassing members to fill out data forms for loading into her online database, built in cooperation with Clemson University.
Sue explains fax broadcasts to members in the June 1994 newsletter. She had announced her FAX ON DEMAND SOURCING HOTLINE the month before.

At the annual meetings there were committees for Membership, Social, Wages/Benefits, Sourcing, Education, Technology, and Government. There were a number of guest editorials in the newsletter urging members to fight GATT legislation. 

1995: Mike Todaro joins the AACA staff, in charge of marketing and technology. At this time, the AACA had 350 member companies. The Spring meeting was at Williamsburg Resort, VA and the Fall meeting was in Savannah, GA.

Don Strickland Memorial Scholarships given to students at Southern Polytechnic University.

Ron Olweean of Sara Lee says, “The AACA online sourcing database is a wonderful way to advertise your company and your capabilities. We’ve looked at this database and said this is the answer, this is the Yellow Pages in living color."

A member wrote, “Alan Dabbiere of Manhattan Associates and Reed Clevinger of NIKE approached the subject of doing business in today’s market in a positive way. They acknowledged problems but gave us ways to do business anyway. I learned a lot".

Yet another wrote, “Before I saw the internet at our meeting, I said I’ll look at it sometime. But face-to-face it is not so intimidating. As for computerized sourcing, we’re getting activity from it.”

Alan Dabbiere said, “I see I am the last speaker before golf. It makes me feel like Elizabeth Taylor's eighth husband – I know what I have to do, I just hope I can make it interesting.”

We ran an article on how to buy a computer for the internet: 16Mb memory; 1Gb drive; 28.8 Baud modem; 14” monitor; 4X CD-ROM; mouse. Gee whiz.

Private Label Development magazine, AIM magazine and Bobbin magazine all wrote articles about the AACA Online Contractors Sourcing System. Sue Strickland featured it in the association's booth at the 1995 Bobbin Show. Sixteen foreign countries visited the AACA in the booth to learn about the “US System.”

Mike Todaro stated these goals at his first AACA annual meeting:

  • capitalize on the explosion of the internet to collaborate with others
  • replace the good ‘ol boy network with the fast new baud network
  • teach contractors to specialize: “early to bed, early to rise, sell like hell and advertise”
  • put AACA in the bull’s eye of the internet spider web
  • enter into learning relationships with members
  • make it easy for members to be found, seen, understood, and reached directly
  • change the world of apparel production

He shared this saying, “Action without vision is just activity. Vision without action is just a dream. But vision with action can change the world.”

AAPN anchored the Made in USA Pavilion at Bobbin Americas in Atlanta. 

1996: All AACA Members were listed on an Internet-based network; an industry first. It gave customers immediate access. The Internet was becoming as pervasive as the fax machine, at a much lower cost. Also, those using the list didn't have to buy special software or call a special number. AACA was first on the Internet.

Later that same year, AACA developed the first e-mail Sourcing Broadcast. More and more members were getting access to the Internet. It was cheaper to broadcast than by fax, and much more responsive to the needs of those sourcing. The one annual meeting that year was held at the Hotel Monteleon in New Orleans.

Sue Strickland writes, "By 1996 we were a national network of sewing factories and their suppliers that held meetings twice a year and published a monthly newsletter. That same year, 1996, technology rolled out simple programs that allowed us to design and publish our own web content so we began creating rich-content websites for our members. At about this same time, email began to gain acceptance. It was awhile before we could communicate with the entire membership using email but we made it clear that technology was a part of the AAPN. You snooze --- you lose."

We changed the name of our website to usawear.org

Robin Lewis predicted in the July WWD, “the big will get bigger and there will be fewer of them. The small will get smaller and there will more of them. The middle is no man’s land.”

AACA announces the American Apparel Industry Online Marketing Starter Kit. It included a unique web address for each member; a home page; links to email; search engine registration; hotlinks to one another.

In April, Roger Milliken accepted the Warren Featherbone Foundation ‘Manufacturer of the Year’ Award. Mike Todaro was there and in his speech, Mr. Milliken said, “The US Government is a bunch of suckers. You can’t win with only an offensive game plan that promotes giving business away. You also need a defensive game plan that promotes the business you have.”

In October 1996, Sara Lee’s Ron Olwean said, “you need to consider blending your production with a Mexican partner in order to be competitive with your domestic-based products”.

Alan Dabbiere of Manhattan Associates told our members, “You need to promote your differentiation. What is it that makes it better than your competitor in Mexico or across town - speed, quality, proximity, turn times, short runs, automation, whatever – and PROMOTE it.”

AAPN went to the first ever Private Label Conference and Sourcing Network in New York. There was this interesting comment, “by making attendance expensive, $700 for 3 days, and limiting invitations to decision makers, they’re targeting 400 to 500 attendees.”

1997: AAPN (name change to American Apparel Producers Network) introduces Member Websites. Membership has dropped from 350 to 150 in 2 years because of the passage of NAFTA. U.S. sewing factories were closing and U.S. suppliers were selling to offshore factories. We learned to create websites using html code and sold them to make up for the lost revenue.  Many members in small towns had no-one to make their websites, or to get them high volume traffic. By bringing web authoring in-house, AAPN gave members an exclusive member benefit. We had two meetings that year, one in May at the Tradewinds, in St. Pete, FL and a second in November at Charleston Place. NOTE: Our benefactor funding the expense of our name change was Alan Brooks of NGC Software.

Why the name change? Two reasons. First, marketing is a battle for the ownership of a word or two. In our industry, there was the AAMA  (American Apparel Manufacturers Association) and the AACA (American Apparel Contractors Association). We decided to let AAMA own the word 'association' in the apparel industry. And since we were committing to the internet, we took hold of the word 'network.'

Secondly, we learned that contractors, as a whole, did not feel the need to 'market' or 'sell.' They were passive. They opened, got a large order and felt it would last forever. NAFTA changed all that. We felt the word 'producer' was stronger, MUCH stronger. It meant factory, mills, spinning, trim and much more, including both brands and private label. 

We dropped 'contractors association' replacing it with the much more accurate and exclusive phrase 'producers' network'. At the same time, we kept American Apparel making our initials, AAPN, shown at the top of the alphabetical list everywhere. 

Two quotes from back then:
"When you look at the talent in this room, you realize that in addition to contractors, many of us are also producers. We all do something well. By forming this network, we’re going to depend upon one another," Tom Mason, Virginia Apparel.

"AACA has changed its name as the world has changed. This group is productive, not victims like some trade associations in this industry," George Shuster, Cranston Print Works.

What were the new mission catch words back then?

  • Authentic American Apparel
  • Speed as an ‘online pipeline’
  • Commit to the Internet
  • Network the entire apparel supply chain
  • Support – be the big place for small firms

AAPN formed the American Apparel Alliance with Seth Bodner of the National Knitwear and Sportswear Association. 

The Tradewinds was where Mike Todaro started the AAPN meeting tradition of slowly and carefully introducing everyone in the meeting while others matched faces to names on their list. This assured that networking would start by design at the beginning of the meeting rather than by accident if at all at the end of it. This method of introductions became the signature of AAPN meetings and  often took two hours to complete.  

1998: With two meetings, one in April at the Woodlands in Williamsburg, VA and a large meeting in October at Perdido Resort in Orange Beach, AL,
1998 was a very busy year. AACA hosted a 1,000 sq. ft. MADE IN USA Pavilion in Leipzig, in the former East Germany. We hosted our first ever regional meeting in Hershey, PA that November. And, after writing a letter to David Glass about Made in USA, Mike Todaro was invited to visit Walmart where he met with their GMM Don Connolly. It became clear in that meeting that the entire concept of “Made in ____” no longer mattered to Walmart. AAPN also became the first apparel organization to endorse the NY-based Private Label/Product Development Expo.

Robin Lewis with Women's Wear Daily was our speaker in Williamsburg and a panel of brands including the US Post Office, Habitat for Humanity, B.U.M. Equipment and the QVC Shopping Channel were also speakers. Several members of the AACA had formed the ‘usawear’ brand and Habitat for Humanity placed a order for a range of garments. We also created an online ‘T-Shirt Configurator.” The ‘home run’ brand Cavewear hit large volumes. It had been created the year before when someone attended our meeting, went out into Charleston and bought 3 shirts then sat with our members to create the brand from scratch.

This was the first year we began hearing of reports of travel to China and of their growing threat to the market share of the Americas.

1999: By this time, we had helped over 95% of Members get e-mail. Technology brought those sourcing to AAPN first, and got business for members. As a result, the membership 'plugged in.'  No other trade group was yet online. Our April meeting was at Callaway Gardens, GA and a second in November was on Amelia Island in Florida.

We had 90 people at our Amelia Island meeting. Bill Sills said then what remains true now, “If you learn one new thing or meet one new person who can help your business, you pay for the trip. On this one trip, we all learned so much we can use now.”

Another wrote, “Thanks for a great meeting. It was an energizing experience. The networking potential is phenomenal and it is truly one-stop-shopping of the entire chain. I was especially impressed with the chemistry of the group as a whole."

Mike Todaro said, “As an industry organization, we are entering the fifth stage of our five year technology plan. We have the best apparel website in the industry; all of our members have been detailed online since 1994; every member can purchase low cost websites from us; every member can sell their products direct through our online Yahoo-based AAPN NETWORK OF STORES. Now we’re ready for the next stage, accelerated online-based short run technology.”

Our speaker from the National Retail Federation said, “What AAPN is doing online with its store is really amazing. What makes internet retailing unique is communications and community. You have both and the world is learning about AAPN by word of mouse.”

Wall Street Journal writes, “What the Southeast was to US companies, Mexico is becoming.”

This was the year we attended the PGA Show for golfers and, two weeks later, the SHOT Show for hunters. Each show had maybe 100,000 attend, mostly men. There did not seem to be a single person who went to both shows. THAT is two demographics right there. 

2000: AAPN introduced Product Management Worksheets. Members work long hours, make too many samples, send too many FedEx's, lose too many faxes. One standard, Internet-based collaborative product and trim worksheet eliminated this expense and finger-pointing. The April meeting was at the Marriott in Point Clear, AL and in October we met with IFAI’s trade show in Orlando.

US textile mills who went to Mexico began to see a payoff.

AAPN started it’s own online message board.

Mike Todaro took a one year Leave of Absence to help Walter Wilhelm at Applied Internet Technologies, a dot com company based in Camden, Maine.

At our joint meeting with IFAI in Orlando, Sen. Bob Dole was the speaker. 

Much press was  telling about massive jobs losses and there was outrage at trade legislation with China.

2001: AAPN expands membership to include NAFTA, CBI, and Americas’ Producers. We went Regional. AAPN changed its mission from primarily 'sourcing' to 'networking' and extended full membership throughout the Americas to reshape the sourcing infrastructure of the hemisphere. Speakers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico were the ones who convinced our members to approve this change.

We created extensive and detailed Online Member Profiles including Company information; mission; history; business; specialty; quality; customers; industry involvement; technology; and marketing.

We made game changing trips to Guatemala and El Salvador.  We also were the first industry organization to endorse the new apparel trade show in Miami called Material World. Tragically, our first show there was September 11, 2001. Our annual meeting in April was back in New Orleans and it was there that Timberland’s decision to join changed the breadth of our membership. With factories in the Americas, not only did brands joined but so did yarn and textile producers.

By the end of 2001, our ratio of producers to service members was 2:1. Our annual meeting was in October on Jekyll Island and because of September 11 was very lightly attended by 35 hardy souls. It is quite likely the most intimate meeting we have ever held and a ton of great ideas came out of it. Watching the sun set west over the marshes with a massive bar of brand name liquor led to an evening around the fire telling industry stories. It changed the way we held meetings.

2002: AAPN Approves Membership for Global Apparel Producers. AAPN drops all reference to geography opening membership to the global apparel industry and, by year's end, has members in 28 nations all around the world. We took a delegation to Haiti and in the Spring Mike Todaro attended the International Apparel Federation meeting in Belgium.

This was also the year when Sue had one of her incredible “I’ve been thinking” ideas to form a Sourcing Executive Roundtable the evening before Material World. This idea came our of our annual meeting that year at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS.

That October, at Material World, we held our annual meeting at the same time as Material World at the Roney Palace in Miami Beach. But the night before the trade show, we rented the entire Wolfsonian Museum for a sold out Sourcing Executive Reception and a tradition was born. The two members who funded this event were Unifi and Lion Brothers.

2003: AAPN created the Central American Regional Coalition with Walter Wilhelm. In early 2003 AAPN creates and hosts the first ever Central American "AAPN CAFTA SUMMIT" of all members from all nations in the region to begin working as one region, one "Near South." At this first event, held at the Radisson in San Salvador, over 350 people attended.

Mike Todaro was on the agenda as a speaker at the IAF annual meeting in Turkey and met with IAF in Belgium to prepare. In March of that year, the second annual Material World Sourcing Executive Reception/Roundtable was hosted at the Shore Club in Miami Beach.

At the annual meeting in Montreal in May, the format changed forever. When someone asked about China, Keith Crisco of Asheboro Elastics, who was in the audience, stood and said he just got back from there. He went up front and ran a two hour interactive discussion. From that point on, AAPN meetings became interactive.

The challenge of organizing the region industrially became clear when Carlos Arias, then of Koramsa, said in his supply chain meeting of over 250 people in Guatemala, “Just because we have a room full of world class suppliers does not mean we have a world class supply chain in the room.” That one statement clarified the challenge to competing with Asia. 

Believing that textiles were really important, we held our annual meeting in Raleigh, NC visiting TC2, Cotton Incorporated, and NC State.

2004: AAPN Takes Collaboration "Best Practices" to Print.  AAPN publishes its first magazine ever, the AAPN eJournal in partnership with Textile World, featuring articles written and compiled from member meetings.

We held our second CAFTA SUMMIT in El Salvador, again with 350 people. In fact, we made 16 trips to the region that year, including our first to Colombia. Also that year, Mike Todaro made three trips to Asia, including Sue and Mike taking a delegation to Hong Kong where we met with TAL Apparel, WingTai’s Steven Walton and Li & Fung.

The Hong Kong delegation was when we first met Jeannamarie Cox Peifer, then of Lion Uniform Group. Others on this trip included Suzy Ganz of Lion Brothers; Juan Zighelboim of TexOps; Keith Crisco of Asheboro Elastics; Alfonso Hernandez and Roberto Bequillard of Argus Group; Freddie Frech of Grupo Merlet; Fred Annunziata of MIFS among others.

Our Sourcing Executive Reception was at the Ritz Plaza in Miami and in October we had a very large crowd attend our annual meeting in Cancun. It was in one of these meetings that Jeff Streader, then of Kellwood, said about AAPN’s networking, “I like to think of the AAPN as being eHarmony for the industry.”

2005: AAPN Becomes First True Global Supply Chain Network. AAPN reaches critical mass with one or more global players in every step and stage in the apparel supply chain "from the dirt to the shirt."

We held our third SUMMIT in El Salvador. Mike Todaro was a speaker at the IAF meeting in Barcelona, Spain. Mike went back to an event in China and Sue and Mike were invited to an industry meeting in Romania.   

We had two meetings that year, the first in March at the Park Central in Miami and another in September at the Mansion at Forsyth Park in Savannah.

2006: AAPN Delivers the US Industry to CAFTA  by hosting the 4th 'Summit' in Nicaragua with NCTO, CCAA, TC2, AAFA and Spesa to show the region that if we could work as one, they should also. The Managua meeting was the best in the series.

This was also the year we began hosting our Sourcing Executive Reception at Material World at Versace’s Mansion on Miami Beach. Over 350 attended each of the three years we were there. Our annual meeting that year was in San Antonio.

2007: AAPN Develops First Industry 'Wiki' using Web 2.0 technology. By leveraging a range of free Web 2.0 resources, AAPN developed 'apparelpedia', 'sourcelist', on-line surveys, Linkedin groups, blogs, podcasts and other direct-to-the-industry channels of communications.
At our annual meeting at Loews Santa Monica, CA, Dov Charney of American Apparel was our keynote. We also attended Outdoor Retailer; ColombiaTex; MAGIC; the new Material World New York. Mike was a speaker at the Spesa annual meeting in Charleston, SC. We were at the grand opening of the Asheboro Elastics factory in El Salvador. We also hosted a handpicked group of seven execs in Miami to discuss 'Speed to Margin' concepts. 

Our final CAFTA SUMMIT was held in Antigua, Guatemala and was attended by 200 people. This is where Barbara Zeins of Gerson & Gerson introduced her 9 Big Fat Garment Lies which knocked the industry for a loop.  By now, this ‘summit’ had run its course. The region was known and all the key players were in the AAPN. In Nicaragua the year before, the President of Nicaragua, then Enrique Bolaños, had shaken the hand of every one of the over 350 of us. This year, the Vice President of Guatemala, Roberto Stein, did the same.

2008: That May, our Sourcing Executive Reception moved to the Delano in Miami Beach. Made in USA was strong then and FesslerUSA was featured on FOX News. AAPN was quoted in TIME magazine. We made the cover of the Fashion Manuscript. Our annual meeting was in Newport Beach, CA.
Mike Todaro was retained for a project by the government of the Dominican Republic to revive their apparel industry. At the end of this one month project, he presented his recommendations to the President of the country in the President’s Mansion.

Also that year, we hosted the AAPN Apparel Economic Forum in Atlanta anchored by Kurt Cavano of TradeCard and Paula Rosenblum. Needless to say, 2008 was when all economic hell broke out worldwide.

Three years after this, Jack Mathews of American Denimatrix wrote, “I came to the  ECONOMIC FORUM you held 3 years ago. I took the notes and Powerpoints back and shared them with my staff. We made decisions based on what we learned and looking back with hindsight, they were the right ones to make. It is incredible how this network keeps tying things together. And it does it by bringing the top leaders in every link into the chain – people you would seldom otherwise meet – into one room for a couple of days to come at each issue from every possible angle and perspective. No other group I know of does that for us."

It was clear that the Western Hemisphere was gaining steam. David Sasso of Buhler Yarns wrote, “Why this hemisphere.....the biggest problem? People have not focused on this region and they don’t know who the players are....I would challenge every retailer to re-engineer their products and look at their true costs.”

2009: The ‘economy’ hit and this was a bad year. Mike Todaro was kept captive in the San Pedro Sula Honduras Intercontinental when Martial Law was declared. Mike gave perspective to the legality of this crisis which the US press and government had incorrectly labeled a 'coup.' In fact, Honduras followed their own laws perfectly. This is where Mike had the chance to get to know AAPN member Calvin Coy, then of Under Armor, now of Oakley. 2009 was also the year Material World closed.

There were three bright spots. The first was our new online eJournal. The second was Mike hosting a Returning to America at the Outdoor Retailer trade show that reignited interest in this hemisphere. And finally, Carlos Arias, then of Koramsa, became our most game-changing president. He wrote, “Actually, for me the attraction (of Material World) was the AAPN Reception.........let's go back to basics, to the roots of AAPN, an annual meeting of the core members of AAPN plus special guests. Those initial meetings of the AAPN created lasting friendships that continue to this day.”

That was when we decided to replace the May date with the closing of Material World with annual meetings based in Miami, the same date people had set aside for years.

2010: We knew we were meeting at the Loews Miami Beach, but after the previous year’s meeting, what would we talk about there? We asked for help. The answer came from John Strasburger who invited Walter Wilhelm, Eric Joo and Alfonso Hernandez to join us in Ft. Lauderdale. He told us one word - Sustainability.

This was a game changing meeting, our largest in years and included 120 people from 90 companies, (17 brands/retailers, 14 factories, 24 textile companies, 8 logistics, 6 technology, 11 industry organizations, 10 trim producers) from 9 countries.

This meeting is where Scott Vaughn of Rocedes in Nicaragua showed a 10 minute film on social responsibility that told us how far ahead this hemisphere was of the rest of the world. It is also where Juan Zighelboim and David Ha of TexOps got the idea to create their own factory-direct line of eco-correct yoga apparel.

When the earthquake hit Haiti, we activated the AAPN Network to find Joe Stephenson and others who were there then. It worked.

It was also the year that Plains Cotton Cooperative Association’s (PCCA) subsidiary Denimatrix was awarded the U.S. State Department’s prestigious 2010 Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) in the small-to-medium enterprise category.  The award was presented by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Late that year, we took a delegation to Munich where a number of us made presentations to their apparel industry. It was also the year we accepted an invitation from Sri Lanka to attend their Design Festival. Sue and Mike took a delegation including Fernando and Anibal Capellan of Grupo M in the DR and Juan Zighelboim and David Ha from TexOps in El Salvador.

This was also the year Carlos Arias ‘got tough’ with the AAPN Board of Directors implementing monthly conference calls that continue to this day. He held them accountable and assigned actions.

Our action plan came from a retailer who said, “If a retailer wants to work with a factory, they need to make sure they have created a channel for this or it will fail. It has to be a well though out, deliberate, formal channel everyone can count on and by definition it will be more complex than delegating to an agent or middleman.”

Late in the year, in Nicaragua, Mike Todaro gave a presentation to prospects for production there, invited to do so by ProNicaragua. Without notes or slides, Mike used 24 empty styrofoam coffee cups to explain every link in the supply chain ‘from the dirt to the shirt.’

Also, in New York City, at a special brand meeting, AAPN created its 20 item Risk Assessment Checklist in use by the industry today. 

Key testimonials that came out of this annual meeting included:

  • ...unlike any other industry meeting I’ve been to....I love AAPN’s unique camaraderie....it’s a true supply chain support group for vendors like us...
  • ...a wide cross section of stakeholders..an environment brimming with anticipation...an incredible pool of open minded intellect ready to share...great event!
  • ...unique & collective supply chain event ..AAPN defines our impact on society..It has enormous value to the industry.                                     
  • ...Unquestionably the best meeting I have ever attended....It truly struck a nerve with all of the supply chain.  .......Outstanding!
  • ...a fantastic meeting. It was the best meeting I have attended.. GREAT networking and dialogs between the attendees.  OUTSTANDING!!      
  • ...I can't tell you how great the meeting was ... a "game changing" event. Now the real work begins. Bravo Everyone!
  • ...no hidden agenda...whole supply chain there... ..no spectators only players...
  • ...Wow, people in the industry (from all sides) are actually taking sustainability seriously!...
  • ...It was well run with interesting presenters and awesome group participation....
  • ...some vendors have a remarkable history of sustainability but have not shared it
  • ...before, I didn’t distinguish between sustainability and social responsibility. Now I know the difference
  • I was very moved by the meeting....Rocedes efforts rank up there with the best in the world.
  • ...Let’s don’t wait for the retailers to tell us what to do. We can and must do this ourselves.

2011: On the strength of the previous year's event our Annual Meeting drew 140 people. The central message was “The world economy has transitioned from loosely knit but mainly stand-alone industrialized countries through the 1970s to a tightly wound digital ecosystem today.” We were that ecosystem.

In this meeting, we focused on price increases in yarn and had as speakers, Bill Jasper, CEO of Unifi, and Wally Darneille of Plains Cotton Co-op. Mary O’Rourke spoke on labor rates and Barbara Zeins on Full Costing.

Mike Todaro attended an invitation only meeting with US Secretary of Labor Solis. The 40 people in the room represented over 60% of all apparel sold in this country. Later that year, the government of Ireland invited us to speak on the US apparel industry.

Interestingly, Sri Lanka fired their British moderator from the previous year and ‘hired’ Mike Todaro to run their first ever Apparel Executive Conference. Despite being warned they do NOT interact in Sri Lanka, we got the 140 people attending to open up for a fabulous meeting.

"This is a people business, you’re not in the apparel business, you’re in the people business," – Kurt Cavano, TradeCard

“What I like about the AAPN is that even though you do not ‘certify’ your members, just being a member of AAPN is a form of certification. Your factory members show us everything about them. They’re not afraid. They’re up front. It’s though they are advertising they have nothing to hide.”

"Networking is one of those things that some people naturally 'get' and others don’t ... What I feel is that most people treat networking like hunting - they're out there trying to bag the big one - but it's really a lot more like farming. You have to cultivate relationships over time."

2012: We moved our annual meeting to the Eden Roc on Miami Beach and had 160 people attend, our largest meeting ever. It was in this meeting that we organized, on the spot, a series of panel discussions. One of them was about production coming back from Asia. During this talk. John Strasburger of Dickies stood up and offered to take on a project to score the difference between Asia and the Americas.

The result was the AAPN ASIA/AMERICAS REPORT CARD, a series of 31 questions under 8 categories. John sent this questionnaire to several dozen sourcing executives asking them to answer each question, give a score of 1 to 5 to each region, and say why. He presented the results to 60 of us in Panama in November. We picked Panama because VF had relocated there. Ten of their staff came to the meeting with the entire range of garments they produce in the Americas. We also toured the Panama Canal.

This questionnaire is the most important output of the network ever. It is a way of keeping score; it is a way of talking about the industry; it is the table of contents to the book of the story of our industry; and it is a checklist to make the partnerships between companies more successful.

At this meeting, 8 of our members in El Salvador rolled out their Environmental Valley video which is on youtube. It shows the collaborations between Unifi, CSAmericas, Pettenati, Darlington, GCMoore, ProDept, APS, and TexOps.

In late 2012, Mike Todaro moderated his 2nd Sri Lanka Apparel Executive Forum. It was his 3rd and last trip there as the local association has taken control of this meeting. During this trip, Mike and Nikhil Hirdaramani appeared for 45 minutes on Sri Lanka’s live version of the TV show TODAY.

Also, in early 2012 Mike Todaro was on the agenda of PrimeSource in Hong Kong. The highlight of the trip was a visit with Tom Nelson at VF Hong Kong and a private view into their growth plan. The final event at PrimeSource was a debate in which Mike Todaro and Carlos Botero of Inexmoda in Colombia defended sourcing in the Americas against two veteran Washington lobbyists. Mike and Carlos, by a show of hands, won by over 2:1.

Of note was our preparation for the annual meeting. Mike sent an email to Central American members asking if he could meet with them to prepare for this meeting. 25 people from 3 countries met for a full day in El Salvador. One outcome of this was the decision by 8 members in El Salvador to document what Mike calls ‘Environmental Valley’, a supply chain city for production of activewear. They did so and this video runs today on YouTube.

After our meeting, one veteran global sourcing executive wrote, “...one of the benefits of AAPN is you can walk away from their meetings with 30-40 new contacts. And, by working and meeting as one demand chain, AAPN works the way Asia does......”

2013 – As 2013 began, nearly 1,700 companies had been members of the AAPN. We changed our name to the Americas Apparel Producers’ Network, changing 'American' to 'Americas', a much less costly change than that in 1997, and changed our logo into a weave pattern with at least one color from the flag of every member nation.

In January, we took the 8 category, 31 questions AAPN ASIA/AMERICAS REPORT CARD on a trip to El Salvador. The  purpose was to see if we could literally use this as the Table of Contents to write the story of a factory. We did so using two each one week visits to TexOps. We published this story and sent it to all members.

In April, we took a 1,000 mile drive through the Carolinas visiting 10 members, getting tours, closing the door and drilling into strategies. At every stop, near the end of every visit, we got the “and there’s one more thing" insight that comes from trust in this network between all of us.

Our annual meeting at the Eden Roc in May was the largest and only meeting of the apparel supply chain in the Americas. It was our largest ever, with 180 people. In fact, it was too big and so work is in progress to create ‘break out’ sessions for 2014 that will better engage every attendee. Carlos Arias closed this meeting by saying, “AAPN is the only industry organization I know of that allows its members to learn from themselves....”

The ‘keynote’ speaker was Tom Nelson, Managing Director/VP Global Product Procurement for VF Corp. Tom used our conference to present a project he had worked on personally for years – how to calculate a living wage for an apparel factory worker. The country he chose to apply this to was Bangladesh. While many wished he had picked a country in the Americas, it was the first time any of us had seen anyone truly TRY to tackle this challenge.

AAPN and Walter Wilhelm Associates were retained to run four hours of seminars at the Guatemala Apparel Sourcing Show in May.
Mike was also a speaker at the July ColombiaModa and was accompanied on this important trip by Jeannamarie Cox Peifer. After this trip, AAPN made the decision to offer Jeannamarie a position on staff as our Director of Strategy and she accepted. This is the beginning of a new chapter in the evolution of the network from a network waiting to be used to one that will be activated by Jeannamarie for members, directly and confidentially, one at a time to develop actionable industry strategies.

Also in July we went to Los Angeles to visit members including Patagonia, Oakley and others. In September of 2013 Mike Todaro was a speaker on the agenda of the annual meeting of the Synthetic Yarn and Fibers Association.

The second annual AAPN LEADERSHIP FORUM was held at the Paradisus Hotel on the Mayan Riviera in the Yucatan.

2014 – Once again, Mike Todaro was a speaker on the opening agenda for Colombiatex in Medellin, Colombia.

In February, AAPN took a delegation of several dozen members to Haiti with an extremely aggressive agenda of plant visits. We also returned to El Salvador to continue working on the ‘TexOps Story’. Later that same month, Juan Zighelboim of TexOps and Mike Todaro joined a seminar sponsored by Roy Shurling of Lectra in New York. We spoke on the industry in the Americas.

At our annual meeting, we went after several issues – direct-to-consumer; Made in USA; and the TPP legislation. The founder of the Made in USA brand American Giant, Bayard Winthrop, told his story. We had two speakers on TPP, Jon Fee and a representative from Mary O’Rourke Associates. Kurt Cavano showed 36 direct-to-consumer websites online, realtime. We also had 5 break out sessions.

In July we visited members in New York including TexworldUSA, World Textile Sourcing, and others. It was also about this time that Robert McKee of Infor proposed the idea of an Ethical Sourcing White Paper that he would fund us to write for Infor’s distribution worldwide.

In August over 20 of our members traveled to Denver for Walmart’s Made in USA conference. This came on the heels of our president Rick Horwitch visiting Walmart with 4 Made in USA members – Larry Plyler of Unifi, David Sasso of Buhler, Ron Roach of Contempora and Kevin Williams of Coville.

In September Juan Zighelboim of TexOps spoke at a major Textile World meeting in Atlanta on technology. Juan was the only apparel speaker on the agenda. The subsequent article in TW on TexOps was terrific. In October, Mike Todaro joined Tom Glaser, President of VF’s supply chain, on the agenda of the Cotton Council International’s conference in Scottsdale AZ.

The 2014 AAPN LEADERSHIP FORUM was hosted at the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel in Antigua Guatemala 50 members attended. We had 5 break out sessions on such topics as technology, textiles, design and more. Later that month, we attended the grand opening of Avery Dennison’s Customer Design and Innovation Center in Los Angeles. We also toured the operations of members SAS Textiles and Swisstex.

2015 – in January, we attended ColombiaTex in Medellin but also toured hotels and meetings sites in Bogota, at the invitation of Colombia’s Proexport.

In February, we flew to New York to meet with The Sourcing Journal and used the trip to also visit members Lenzing and World Textile Sourcing.

In March, Mike Todaro traveled to Dallas to spend several days with Tony Anzovino at Haggar where he learned of Tony’s application of Sun Tzu’s Art of War to getting his staff to express themselves and be more assertive internally.  Mike also spent a morning with John Strasburger of Williamson Dickie in Fort Worth. 

In April, Mike Todaro attended YKK’s executive retreat at Calloway Gardens in Georgia. He gave 4 presentations on the Americas in break out sessions in the morning and as the dinner speaker that evening to over 100 people. He spoke on the operations of TexOps which, although they do not produce pants, which require zippers, is nonetheless one of the most modern, hi tech and innovation apparel producers in this hemisphere.
Later that same month, Mike spent 4 days with member Danny Habie of Liztex in Guatemala.

AAPN’s annual ‘conference’ at the Fontainebleau May 3-5 was the largest in its 35 year history. The two keynote speakers were TED speaker and author Seth Godin and also Johnnie Rush, a recognized retail innovator, now at HSN. Kurt Cavano updated technology, Edouard Macquin of Lectra spoke of global fashion trends, James Vatalaro of Productivity Inc. addressed how factories can plan for Strategic Innovation and Shawn Neville, CEO of Avery Dennison, talked about how he had changed them from a trim producer to an innovation company.

Seth Godin said in May, “Sue and Mike, you are clearly a tribe in this room”. Harvard Business Review’s most frequent and repetitive article is about the value of networking. Woody Allen put it best when he said, “80% of success in life comes from just showing up”. One member told us about Nicaragua, “.... the meeting paid for itself on the shuttle bus ride over. I got to bond with a prospect I’ve been after, so we now have something to build on”.  Randy Harward of Under Armour once put it so well, “The AAPN offers this group nothing but themselves, and no one should see it any other way.  It's not an organization providing anything other than the opportunity to meet and think and solve issues together.”

Mike Todaro had three articles published in global industry magazines including Liztex: The Regional Textile Supermarket (TW Jul/Aug); It’s Not A Color, It’s An Esthetic (TW Nov/Dec) and The 21st Century Factory (SJ Dec). 

We took a delegation to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei. In Shanghai our panel of members described the explosion in the market for activewear. In Hong Kong we met for 6 hours with dozens of Hong Kong-based sourcing executives under the conduct of the GAFTI (Global Apparel, Footwear & Textile Initiative) organization committed to product safety, compliance and environmental standardization. In Taiwan we saw a trade show packed with ink jet technologies bring one week turns for entire bolts of fabric. We also were on the highest level panel of Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea plus PVH and Tom Travis for a major ‘big picture’ discussion of future trends and power shifts in sourcing. 

in November, Nicaragua hosted a major meeting of all the Free Zones of the Western Hemisphere. Mike Todaro was invited onto an industry panel. the next day, Mike was invited along with Scott Vaughn of Rocedes and 5 other executives, to spend an hour at the residence of President Ortega. He specifically discussed the TTP legislation with Mike along with his views on trends in the apparel industry.

The topic of our 2015 AAPN LEADERSHIP FORUM in Mukul, Nicaragua was the 2015 quote from PVH’s Bill McRaith, “The next China is not a where, it’s a how”. 

Rick Horwitch said, “We survived the Giant Sucking Sound of NAFTA so let’s stop talking about China. Stop talking about TPP. Talk about consumers and how you drive speed in the supply chain, taking the focus off of legislation and putting it on calendar compression”. Kurt Cavano added thoughts that, “what Zara did was change the math, changed the equation of production and sourcing (creating fast fashion)” and his admonition that, “we all need a Direct to Consumer strategy”. Kurt added, “There is a convergence of forces, and its not TPP. Pay attention or get swept away.”