TEDx Raleigh Transcript: Making Textiles Sexy

Below is the transcript from my TEDx Raleigh deck – in putting it together I noticed some mistakes, which are noted.  I had walked through four intro slides that were a play on “Making Sexy Textiles” that was not caught on the video.  Thank you again for all of the feedback.

[Start with outline slide.]

So we’re going to cover, where were we with textiles in the past?  Where are we now?  And, where are we heading next?

Next slide.  [Eve and the Apple.]

And in the beginning we had no textiles, we had nudity.  If you look at every classical origin story and definition in religion there are no clothes.

Next.  [Cave men.]

And what we see is that clothes come, and in that 40,000 BCE you start to see the use of needle and thread to create fashion, to create apparel.

Next slide. [Otzi the Ice Man, 3,300 BCE.]

And somewhere around 30,000 BCE we actually see the advent of textiles used in production methods and by the time we get to 3,300 BCE where we have the famous Otzi the Iceman found in the Alps in Italy we see that he’s wearing the equivalent of Gore-Tex© for his day.  He’s got layering.  He’s got multiple different weaves.  He’s got fasteners on his apparel and the guy even has pockets.  I mean, this is pretty advanced stuff.

[Slide change to Lateen Rig, 3,200 BCE.]

As we start to look at other areas of textiles, let’s look at the application of those materials – and we see in 3,200 BCE, we start to see sails emerge in the hieroglyphics of Egypt.   And they are using a Lateen rig, a very simple rig.

[Slide change to Weaving – 2,000 BCE.]

Around 2,000 we see weaving starts to spread, and the loom starts to appear in all of the archaeology both in images, and also the evidence of it in the materials that are being produced.

[Slide change: 1,300 BCE – 1300 AD Nefertiti / King Edward / Chinese Silk]

Between 1300 BCE and 1300 AD you see things like Nefertiti, again, the feedback loop between where she was and what she’s wearing.  She’s got on linen.  You see King Edward in his gaudy ostentatious material displaying his wealth.

And then, on the far left, you’ve got China and they’ve domesticated an insect, the silkworm, to make a new material.  To harvest that silk they created a new weave, and then they put that into new and novel applications where that stronger thread made for stronger material.

[2:15 / Next slide – 1500 AD Caravel.]

Let’s go back to transportation.  If we look at that Lateen rig, if we put on a second sail, we put thirty to forty people on it, and now we have a caravel.

Well, why would we care about a caravel?  It’s because that is what the Portugeuse use to begin the Age of Exploration.  These ships were driven around the world by the power of cloth through the sail.

[2:41 / Next slide – Bermuda Rig 1700 AD.]

That invention and trend continues with the Bermuda rig, which was developed in the Caribbean around 1700.  Here we have bigger ships transporting things around the world, all driven by textiles.

[2:53 / Next slide – 1784: Carding and Nonwovens.]

In 1784 we see another divergence in how textiles are made with the advent of a method called carding.  This is the first nonwoven.  Beforehand, everytime we made a fiber, we made it into a yarn.  With carding, that stops.  You get different materials that you can work with, you get different applications that can be used in.

[3:16 / Next slide – 1784: Cartwright’s Powered Loom]

In 1784 we see Cartwright in England developed the powered loom.  Now, what’s interesting about this, is that this was a commercial failure.  For 47 years, until the Lancaster loom was invented, because for every one powered loom of Cartwright’s model, you needed one operator.  The powered loom does not take off for 47 years until you can have one operator and more looms, so you get rid of labor.  As we talk and continue, we’ll flash back and that “getting rid of labor” is a thing we’ll see persist throughout the history of textiles.

[3:52 / 1789: Hamilton’s Report on Manufacturers]

Now, every time we read about some country looking to undermine an industrial manufacturing base here in the US by going after an industry we have one person to blame.  Unfortunately, that person is a founding father.  Hamilton’s report on manufacturers in 1789 laid out the US industrial strategy for the next two centuries.  He sent industrial spies to England to look at mills, to understand what they were, and to bring that technology back to the U.S.  So here, when you think about the application of textiles, he was applying it to a whole new society – to a whole new way of looking at the world in order to fund this nascent democracy.

[4:36 / 1793: Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin]

In 1793 Eli Whitney comes along with the cotton gin.  Before this, people worked with cotton, but you couldn’t work with that much of it because it was too expensive.  It was too labor intense to [properly] harvest cotton.  So, you create a new material out of which to make the textiles and in so doing you change the agricultural base.  You change the demographics and you change the agricultural scene of the Southeast United States.

[5:01 / 1804: Jacquard Loom]

In 1804 the Jacquard loom comes around.  This is the first piece of equipment that uses punch cards.  So if anyone is familiar with the computer industry and IBM punch cards, and the use of Hollerith cards, this all stems from Jacquard’s pioneering use of this material to store data, to store a pattern, and to use it [punch cards] as human-machine interface.

[5:25 / 1804: Jacquard Loom 2 – 2011 eBay results]

And just so you understand the lasting impact of that [the invention of punch cards] – there are two brands on this page.  eBay, again just less than a decade old and a 206 year old Jacquard loom.  His brand, but a modern creation, that any of us could go buy today.

[5:43 / 1814: Francis Cabot Lowell]

1814, Francis Cabot Lowell returns [to the US] at the age of 36.  He’d gone to England, following Hamilton’s vision and brings back a textbook application of how I’m going to take these textiles and grow a manufacturing base here in the US.

[5:59 / 1881: Chain Stitch]

In 1881, the third of the three major stitches, the Overlock Stitch, building on the lock stitch and the chain stitch, is pioneered by a company by the name of the Merrow Manufacturing Company in Connecticutt, which still operates to this day.  This is the stitch you see at the edge.  For every one inch of edge, you can have as much as twenty-two inches of yarn to seal it and give it the properties you want to have.

Now, what’s interesting is that Merrow continues to be the leader in this technology until the 1960’s, when a Japanese company by the name of Juki comes along and starts to pioneer an improvement on this, on the overlock stitch.  One of their [Juki’s] first international offices is 15 miles from here in the Research Triangle Park.

[6:46 / 1935: Nylon]

Nylon is one of the biggest inventions when it comes to textiles, and probably one of the most important inventions if you look at the history of innovation.  What’s fascinating about this is that it’s our [mankind’s] first opportunity to create a synthetic material and what we did with it was make a fiber.  We could have done anything with it – you could make a toothbrush, people made toothbrush bristles, and you can think of all the things we make today that you make out of a plastic.  The first thing that we did was make a fiber.

[7:15 / 1969 Gerber]

The Gerber automatic cutting company, and this I my last slide on our whirlwind tour, it is now 1969 pioneers a method for automatic cutting.  This is decades before robots would be used to help build a car.  So before robots made cars, they happened to make textiles.  They even made, for one reason or another, this was mostly used in undergarments – so the robots were making sexy textiles.

[7:44 / Agenda Slide]

[7:45 / Policy Slide]

So, where are we now?  And to understand where we are now in the textile industry starts with an understanding of public policy.  Tariffs and trade agreements around textiles go back far beyond what we have on this list here.   They all guide us to the 1994 Agreement on Textiles and Clothing and then getting us to 2004 when the quotas are abolished.

We all know what happens next to us here in North Carolina.

[8:10 / Gary Gereffi, Duke University excerpts from “Industrial Adjustment in the North Carolina Textile and Clothing Industry”]

The two graphs on the top, the red and the blue, are textile and apparel related jobs, and you see how they immediately fall off once the tariffs are lifted.  Across the bottom, we see the impact as jobs are lost across the state of North Carolina.  While we see that it is disappointing that we lose the fashion and the apparel, there is another line here that never goes down.  It stays use.

That is the use of technical textiles.  We lost the fashion jobs.  We lost the mills that sold into fashion, but we kept the materials that are sold into items like battery separators, like high end filtration for pharmaceutical s processing.  Those did not leave.  We as a state, remain a leader in that industry.

[9:18 / Manufacturing as GDP]

Following up on the broader national trend, you see the green of manufacturing jobs tail off, and it decreases more and more in every recession.  The red and the blue, of manufacturing output, continue to rise.

[9:24 / Weaving Productivity]

As we understand, why is that?  [Why do jobs fall, but productivity rises?]  Productivity continues to rise – let’s just look at this shirt I’ve got on.  In 1975 it would’ve taken 13 minutes of time on a loom to make this shirt.  Today it takes three.

[9:39 / Textile Productivity]

As you look at what that impact means – a great quote from a fantastic book if you want to learn more on this industry, is that while “textile production has increased three-fold, the number of workers has been reduced by more than half. “ A Stitch In Time

We spend too much time as North Carolinians focused on the second half of this phrase.  We spend too much time thinking about all the things that we’ve lost and not looking at that 3x improvement in productivity that we’ve gained.  Think about what that would mean in so many of the industries that we work with.

[10:10 / NCSU College of Textiles]

Where does that productivity gain come from?  It comes from research done here in our own state.  The College of Textiles at NC State University is a one of a kind global institution.  Every year you’ve got 200 people, about 150 undergrads, 50 grad students, from all over the world matriculating through that program.

This is a one of a kind institution.

If you are a small cut and sew operation in rural Southeast Asia, and you’re going to make one international trip in 2011, you are going to come to an event at the NC State College of Textiles.  If you’re a small business in Central Europe, and you want to figure out where your second office should be, you’re going to hire a rep, or you’re going to come to Raleigh, or Charlotte to open that next business.  [This is] Especially [true] if you’re selling into an industrial, or technical textile,  supply chain.

[11:05 / Agenda – The Future, The Shock of the Old]

We’ve talked a little about where we were, where we began, and let’s take a bit of a peak into the future and see where we’re going with textiles, and why this is an industry we should be not only proud about, but we should be looking to accelerate our investment into over the coming decades.

[11:22 / 2030 – Transportation]

Let’s look at the year 2030, right?  We’re at transportation.  Are we driving an electric powered vehicle.

How many here, show of hands, who would buy an electric battery powered car?  Well, odds are that that vehicle, the separator from it [the battery separator in a lithium ion battery] will be either developed or manufactured here in our state.

This year, big announcement from DuPont in Richmond, they’re putting a $20 million dollar nanofiber production facility for advanced lithium ion battery membranes in Richmond [Virginia].

Let’s think about – well, maybe we [humanity] never get to high powered batteries.  Maybe we’re going to work with bio-fuels.  Bio-fuels are very nasty.   They are very inconsistent and they do a lot of bad things to an engine.    So if you want to think about, “How do I protect that engine?”  You’re going to have to do it with advanced filtration.

Even if you look at how bio-materials are processed to make a fuel, there are anywhere between five and thirty processing steps which involve the use of a technical textile.  Again, those are materials all being developed and pioneered within an hour’s drive of where we’re all sitting.

[12:33 / 2040 –  Health]

Let’s look out even further to 2040, to health.  Everyone here familiar with stem cells?  Show of hands?

So the question, is, what do I grow those stem cells on?  Right, we don’t just release a stem cell and it magically knows where to go.  If you want to regrow an organ, or if you want to grow a rotator cuff that has been torn, what you’re going to have to do is grow that material on something.

What will be that something?  What will be that substrate?  What will be that tissue scaffold?

At the nano-scale, in a life-science setting, a textile is currently your leading contender.

Let’s look at something else.  How do high end pharmaceuticals get made?

When someone is making Tylenol, how do they make sure there are no impurities introduced during the manufacturing process?  How do we make sure that the water is pure?  How do we make sure we can make enough of it?  We do that with industrial level processing, which is enabled through industrial [should be technical] textiles.

Any vision you have of the future where there are more personalized and tailored medicines, where there are new drugs and therapies that will extend the human life, textiles enable that vision.

[13:43 / 2050 – The Frontier]

So finally, let’s look out, I know we had earlier today someone speak about Aerospace, but let’s look [again] at the frontier.  Can man live beyond earth?  Can you get single-stage to orbit (“SSTO”)?  The reason that people work with fiber glass – it is FIBER glass – is because of the structural strengthening of the materials.   A number of the machine companies that move here to North Carolina, and a surprisingly number, err, high number of companies that come here to make use of our history in NASCAR and development of custom performance products, do so because of the high strength and high degree of reliability that those parts introduce.

If you want to make an advanced aerodynamic vehicle, if you want to make a carbon fiber jet, you’re more than likely going to be working with advanced textile production processes.  When you think about what are things we can do to think real BIG – to move beyond Earth.  Those capabilities will be made possible by an increased use of technical textiles.


To conclude – for a lot of year’s many of us have been apologists about our loss of jobs in what can be considered fashion.  We’ve lost many jobs that can be considered cut and sew, or very basic, industries.  What we’ve kept is a very important industry, in technical textiles, that should be at the forefront of how we look at growing our state, [that] should be at the forefront of how we look at growing entrepreneurship, and it should be something that we can sit back and take pride in as a State and as an organization.

Thank you.


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