Manufacturing in America has eroded over the decades to approximately 10% of our country’s annual Gross Domestic Product. The Bureau of Labor Statistics documents 3 million jobs lost in manufacturing between 1996 and 2006. At an average manufacturing hourly wage of $18.50 representing a loss of $115 billion in annual manufacturing wages. I witnessed this first hand while living in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1980’s when the entire textile industry was relocated to Asia eliminating a wonderfully industrious work force who proudly called themselves “lint-heads.” If we are going to have a sustainable economy and environment we have to figure out how to build a sustainable manufacturing base.
And Valley Forge Fabrics ValleyForgeFabrics could be the example on how to do this. They sell textiles to the hospitality industry, namely furniture fabrics and bedding. This is a globally competitive industry that became very heavily regulated after the tragic 1980 MGM Grand hotel fire. The secret sauce to winning business in this industry is a competitive price, good service and regulatory adherence to fire retardation standards.
Remarkably, Valley Forge Fabrics has created in this global industry a competitive advantage built upon sustainability. Their products called Fresh Fabrics are made through the recycling of plastic bottles. And they have created a similar technology revolution in what they call “Living Fresh Bedding.” Their sheets are made from harvesting Eucalyptus trees rather than from farming cotton that requires intensive use of water and pesticides. Eucalyptus trees grow like weeds and if properly harvested will re-grow to adult size in about 6-8 years after being cut down above the bulb level. The only things Eucalyptus trees need to achieve rapid growth are rain and sunshine.
And unique in their industry, their FRESH fabrics and LIVING FRESH bed-sheets are also 100% recyclable. How huge is all of this? Americans throw away 60 million plastic water bottles A DAY! And the hospitality industry typically throws their sheets into a land fill after 18-24 months of use. Turning these waste streams into a re-usable system for fabrics and bedding alleviates much pressure on landfill capacity and shifts textile sourcing to a previously discarded product.
And here’s a key point. Valley Forge Fabrics is located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and they are price competitive. The Valley Forge Fabrics folks are very analytical business people who do their homework. They researched their customers and realized that the hospitality industry would NEVER pay more for “green.” While sustainability was on the list of customer expectations the requirement for a competitive price was at the top of the list followed by on-time delivery, customer service and quality. But Valley Forge Fabrics is a company built from scratch by Judy and Daniel Dobin starting in 1977 with a legacy of turning barriers into profits. From this entrepreneurial spirit Valley Forge Fabrics saw an opportunity to deliver upon the “cost less, mean more” business-success mantra emerging in The Green Economic Revolution. They are now successfully moving through the typical, but painfully slow process, of launching a product revolution in an industry that requires years of performance documentation.
There is also a bigger story here than Valley Forge Fabrics. Sustainability is maturing beyond an ethic or moral call to arms. In this contentious society flooded with “sound-bites” there appears to be no end in sight to the debate over global warming. However, the American consumer has spoken. They want to buy “green” if the price is at least in parity with the 20th Century’s products built upon extraction and emissions. A sustainability profit path has emerged. And I am seeing examples from sheetrock to bricks to Valley Forge Fabrics of an emerging new industrial paradigm built upon manufacturing plants that are “smart” in their use of resources, price competitive on a global stage and located in the United States. Like Valley Forge Fabric’s Fresh Fabrics, America is waking up to a fresh start in manufacturing grounded upon using sustainability to create price competitiveness, good paying jobs and a sustainable environment.
Bill Roth is the author of The Secret Green Sauce