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House Votes to Ban Xinjiang Cotton

If the bill becomes law, it could affect supply chains, drive up cotton prices and influence apparel trends. Those developments would impact the promotional products industry, experts say.

Concerned over reports of forced labor, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban the import of all cotton from the northwestern China province of Xinjiang – a move that could have a dramatic effect on apparel supply chains, potentially including those in the promotional products industry.

The House, which approved the bill in a 406 to 3 vote on Tuesday, Sept. 22, is now sending the legislation to the Senate for consideration. The Senate would have to approve before it could become law.

Xinjiang makes about 85% of China’s cotton. China produces about 20% of the entire world’s cotton supply.  “About one in five garments flowing into the U.S. contains Xinjiang cotton. It would be a challenge to identify any major apparel brand or retailer whose supply chain doesn’t run through Xinjiang,” Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium, a nonprofit labor rights organization that monitors global supply chains for abuse, told NBC News.

Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, introduced the Xinjiang cotton ban bill. He was motivated by various investigations that indicate more than 1 million ethnic Uighur people from Xinjiang are being held in internment camps where they’re forced to work in factories and on cotton farms against their will. At the camps, authorities make the primarily Muslim Uighurs study Marxism and renounce their religion, NBC reported.

Governmental authorities in China call the alleged internment centers “re-education camps” and assert that they provide vocational training, lead to employment and help fight extremism. There is no forced labor, Beijing officials say.   McGovern – and others in the House that voted for his bill – don’t buy that line. “It is time for Congress to act,” McGovern said during a debate on the bill. “We found that the evidence of systematic and widespread forced labor in Xinjiang is astounding and irrefutable — and includes evidence from camp detainees, satellite imagery of factories being built at internment camps, and public and leaked Chinese government documents.”

Stephen Lamar, president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, last week told U.S. lawmakers that a blanket ban on cotton or other products from Xinjiang would “wreak havoc” on supply chains. He said an all-out ban on Xinjiang cotton and/or other products from the province would be impossible to enforce.

Lamar’s comments to the House’s Ways and Means trade subcommittee came on Sept. 17, a few days after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued Withhold Release Orders (WRO) on apparel, cotton, hair products, computer parts and other items produced by particular companies in Xinjiang.

“Such a WRO or legislation would no doubt make headlines, but they would wreak havoc on human rights, economic development and legitimate supply chains, themselves already battered by COVID-19 all over the world,” Lamar said. “As a country, we simply do not have the capability or capacity to implement or comply with or enforce a blanket WRO or the proposed legislation right now.”

Eric Simsolo, director of business development at Gardena, CA-based Top 40 supplier Next Level Apparel, said that if the Xinjiang cotton ban becomes law it could trigger cotton price increases and propel a shift toward more synthetic fibers in apparel. Both of those developments would impact the promo products industry.  “Between India and China, you have 47% of the world’s cotton supply,” Simsolo told Counselor. “If one were to be limited, or turned off, you would have a large supply issue for the world’s cotton commodity exchange. Long story short, prices will go up. The vendors that are smart about how they source and have the least impact on their COGS will be able to survive the price wars. This increase in cotton will directly affect cotton and cotton-blends. If prices go high enough, we could see the demand for and usage of synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and modal go up.”

Simsolo also thinks a cotton ban – or even just the discussion around it – could compel more promo industry apparel companies to intensify their corporate social responsibility efforts (CSR). He noted that Next Level has a robust CSR program and that its supply chain is not exposed to human rights issues. “The Fair Labor Association has had their eye on the Xinjiang region for some time now,” Simsolo told Counselor. “In some ways, this proposed ban is catching up to the rhetoric that companies with serious CSR’s have been watching.”

Avenel, NJ-based Vantage Apparel s one of those companies with a serious CSR focus. The Top 40 supplier already maintains a strict corporate code of conduct that includes annual factory audits. As news about forced labor in Xinjiang has spread, Vantage “immediately reviewed our supply chain mapping chart to reconfirm that no raw material supplies were coming in from that region,” Gina Barreca, Vantage’s director of marketing, told Counselor. “We also reached out to our manufacturing partners and all of our factories have submitted an undertaking confirming there is no forced labor of any kind, especially from the Xinjiang region.”

Top 40 supplier alphabroder has been diligent about avoiding Xinjiang. The Trevose, PA-based supplier conducts traceability and transparency assessments of its manufacturers’ supply chains to evaluate fabric and component origin in its private brands — North End, Devon & Jones, Ultra Club, Harriton, CORE365 and TEAM 365.

“Based on the assessment, we determined that no items used in the manufacturing of alphabroder private brand apparel styles is from the Xinjiang region,” Andrea Lara Routzahn, alphabroder’s senior vice president of portfolio and supplier management, told Counselor. “We will remain vigilant to ensure that we do not knowingly purchase any components for our goods that originate from the Xinjiang region of China.”

Chinese authorities have said that U.S. legislative action aimed at Xinjiang has nothing to do with human rights.  “Lately, China has shown with facts and numbers that issues relating to Xinjiang are by no means about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about counterterrorism and anti-separatism,” said Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesperson. “What the U.S. truly cares about is never human rights. It is just using human rights as a cover to suppress Chinese companies, undermine stability in Xinjiang and vilify China’s Xinjiang policy.”


Reprinted from Promogram, By Christopher Ruvo

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Luxury PPE: Hazmat Tuxedos and Louis Vuitton Face Shields

Fashion brands are releasing high-end masks and other personal protective wear.

It seems PPE has gone Hollywood.

At the Emmy Awards, aired Sunday, Sept. 20, trophy presenters were decked out in “tuxedo hazmat suits” to give out some of the awards live during the virtual ceremony. The protective formalwear was designed by Katja Cahill, a top awards show costumer, and Guy Carrington, executive producer of the awards show, according to Los Angeles Magazine. The pair worked with an actual hazmat suit manufacturer to ensure the safety of the winners and presenters, but the team went the extra mile to make the suits “safe and classy” – and inject some fun into an otherwise serious precautionary measure.

The Emmys aren’t the only place that masks and other personal protective equipment have gotten a designer upgrade. Just as the promotional industry pivoted to making cloth masks and transforming them into a sophisticated accessory, so too have high-end fashion designers put their spin on PPE. Louis Vuitton recently announced the creation of the LV Shield, an adjustable photochromatic visor that darkens when exposed to sunlight, trimmed with the brand’s signature monogrammed print. The visor is set for release in late October.

Louis Vuitton plans to offer a high-end face shield.  “When a brand like Louis Vuitton unveils an item like its new face shield, the rest of the industry pays attention,” Elizabeth Paton, a reporter for The New York Times style section told The Guardian. “It’s easy to see why a sleek, design-led face shield is likely to be embraced by high-fashion brands. It is more dramatic in structure and statement than a mask – which will appeal to creative directors who can sense an opportunity.”

Covidisor

The Covidisor is described on its website as an “N95 respirator that protects your entire head without covering it.”

During New York Fashion Week, a style blogger, Michelle Madonna, was spotted wearing a bubble-like face covering called the Covidisor, invented by Nicholas Kosta. The futuristic helmet is powered by an air-purifying respirator and costs $245. Kosta explained to Vanity Fair the fashion-related benefits of his creation: “With masks, people get makeup on them and lipstick on them, and after they take them off, they have to do their makeup again.”

Burberry

Burberry is selling masks, featuring its signature vintage check pattern.

But masks still have their place in the luxury world. Burberry, last month, unveiled a designer face mask featuring its iconic check design, becoming the first major design house to launch a high-end collection of masks commercially. The masks are made from leftover fabric and come in either pale blue or beige. The British brand says profits from the sale of the masks will go to the Burberry Foundation COVID-19 Community Fund.

Celebrities have been flexing their style muscles when it comes to PPE as well. Scout Willis was spotted in a fringed face mask recently, Anne Hathaway donned one sporting a pair of bright-red lips, and Jennifer Lopez showed off a pink, sequined number during a bike ride in Manhattan back in August.

The fact that designers and fashionistas alike are embracing the stylish side of PPE should be welcome news to promo pros offering custom masks and other protective gear. Clearly, there’s a desire in the marketplace for items that make a statement, in addition to helping to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Reprinted from ASI Central News – Web Exclusive

sixtwentysixLuxury PPE: Hazmat Tuxedos and Louis Vuitton Face Shields
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A Gift Still Worth Giving

The end of this year may be unlike anything we’ve seen before, but don’t give in! It’s more important than ever to show employees and customers that they’re appreciated.

Year-end celebrations are meant to commemorate all the good times and successes of the past year. But clearly no one’s in a mood to celebrate all that’s happened in 2020. “We’re traumatized,” says a chief strategy officer for marketing, sourcing and compliance at a Top 40 distributor in Los Angeles. “We’ve been through a lot. We haven’t been connected, we haven’t been together.”

The fourth-quarter gifting season has always been promo’s time to shine. Distributors and suppliers could count on the rush of end-of-year orders to lock in a successful, profitable year. This year? There’s only uncertainty. Of course, there’s the looming specter of prolonged shutdowns that have crippled business for months.

But what will those year-end celebrations look like – if there are any at all? Without in-person events, how will companies recognize and show their appreciation to hardworking employees and customers who weathered There are ways to do it, say distributors and suppliers, and it’s important that gifting and recognition still take place, especially this year. Yes, customers’ budgets have been slashed, so distributors will need to tap into their creativity, sourcing connections and long-term relationships with suppliers to help end-buyers find solutions challenging situations this year and stuck by them? Promo can help companies connect their employees and prepare for 2021

Two Little Words: ‘Thank You’

With health and business challenges and slim budgets, who feels like celebrating? While it’s sure to be scaled back and more conservative than previous years, gift-giving this year will play a critical role in acknowledging, recognizing and thanking people. If 2020 taught us one thing, it’s that we’re more than employees or clients; we’re people, with real human concerns. A little gift to say thank you goes a long way.

A director of national accounts at a Top 40 distributor in Sterling, IL is starting to help clients with appreciation gifts for their employees. “They worked through the pandemic, took pay cuts and went on furlough, while staying loyal and often doing things outside their job description to help keep the business going,” he says. “Recognition and retention will be big topics this year.”

In years past, high-end awards for star employees and donors dominated the Q4 gift scene. This year, without in-person events, recognition and thank-you gifts will be smaller and more utilitarian, much of it drop-shipped to private homes as custom kits or “parties in a box.”

“Trophies are really for recognition in front of peers,” says Rena Ashfeld, vice president of sales at Webb Company, Eagan, MN. “We’re not going to see ceremonies, cocktail parties or dinners, but people will appreciate high-value, useful items at many different price points.”

It’s definitely going to be a different feel from past fourth quarters. But it’s also an opportunity for end-buyers to comfort their recipients and let them know they’re there for them and appreciate their hard work.

“We’re going to need the human dynamic,” says Greg Armstrong, vice president of sales at Evans Manufacturing in Garden Grove, CA. “Gifts need to be impactful, thoughtful and utilitarian, with high perceived value. Don’t give out something like clocks that will just sit on a mantle, and recognize that companies might not be able to afford name-brand wireless speakers for everyone.”

Marketing budgets may be slashed significantly, but it’s up to distributors to make sure clients know how important it is to reach out to their employees and customers with gifts that can serve them at this difficult time. “We’re not going to have parties, but it’s still very important that companies send out something to their people,” says Abergel. “Promo connects people.”

No Place Like Home

As reopening plans were made, implemented and then rolled back in some states this summer, people slowly realized that a return to normalcy was going to take a long time. For many, homes were their safe havens in the midst of the storm.

While $100 trophies and name-brand wireless speakers may be off the table this year, companies can still show appreciation with gifts for home use, usually at affordable price points. “We’re now working, playing and overall living at home more,” says a distributor in Maple, ON. “It’s up to distributors to present unique ideas that might not have been typical options in the past but are totally relevant now.”

Despite fears of slashed marketing budgets, food gift supplier Maple Ridge Farms in Mosinee, WI, is up 50% year-over-year, because of remote work, a lack of dining out and a few smaller reopening celebrations. President Tom Riordan says they’re fulfilling more orders for cheese and sausage packages than he can ever remember. He expects dining in and family sharing of food gifts to remain popular through the fourth quarter, and smaller items will be used as teasers for virtual parties and year-end meetings.

“Almost all of our customers think their Q4 business from 2019 will repeat,” says Riordan, anticipating repeat business this holiday season but with smaller orders. “Over the past 10 years, there’s been a shift from sending items to residences to sending them to offices for workers to share. That will flip big time this year.”

Now, people want a change of scenery after months of stay-at-home orders, but aren’t yet ready to board flights. That means more road trip and camping items will soon be in demand. “People want to be safe, but they want to get out of the house,” says Abergel. “Items won’t be at the same price points as previous years, but we’ll take the same care with it.”

Another option: “Experience” gift bundles that give recipients a taste of a destination without having to leave the couch. Was a client’s incentive trip to Puerto Rico canceled this year? Put together a kitted box with personal care items, fun sunglasses, barware, towel and tote. It’s not the same as actually going, but it’ll get attendees pumped for the 2021 event.

Think home exercise apparel and equipment and cooking accessories, for starters. Starline in Grand Island, NY has a wide array of kitchen tools, such as bowls, tongs, spatulas, serving spoons and bamboo cutting boards. “This is the year of cooking and dining in,” says Brian Porter, Starline’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ve seen steady order increases week-over-week.” He says other “universal use” items, like tech accessories, are great for sharing with significant others and kids.

Workers Near & Far

When employees were first told to go home and set up shop in their dining rooms, no one knew exactly how long it would be before seeing their co-workers in person again. Now, it seems it might not be before the end of the year, and maybe not until Q1 2021. That means employees will continue to need work-from-home items, even if they’re on newly implemented flexible home/office schedules.

Sheng Kuo, principal at KLM Promo Products in West Covina, CA, says good quality branded headsets would be appreciated for virtual meetings, especially if the ones recipients have been using look worse for wear after more than six months of near-daily use. He says companies are also looking for desk items like wireless device chargers with UV sterilizing cases.

For those venturing out of the house more often as restrictions lift, consider stylus pens for transaction screens and ATMs, no-touch tools and bag holders to avoid contact with floors.

Ahead of virtual year-end events, companies can distribute gifts to employees in the office and drop-ship them to those still working remotely. “It adds a personal touch and promotes team spirit,” says Kuo.

For companies with a little more to spend, custom sales specialist Eleanor Turner of Cufflinks Inc. (asi/47838) says cufflinks, ties and scarves are ideal for virtual holiday parties and then as permanent wardrobe pieces for virtual sales calls. “All of our items are used from the waist up,” she says. “There’s a novelty to them and they’re personal items the team can use. They bring comfort and remind everyone that we’re all in this together.”

Meanwhile, welcoming back employees to shared workspaces is slowly starting and is expected to continue ramping up for the rest of 2020 and into 2021. Q4 gifts can help prepare everyone for the transition.

Webb Company has been doing more kitting than ever before. “Kitting is our go-to moving forward,” says Ashfeld. “It’s interactive and tangible.” The supplier is putting together bundles of PPE and promo customized to each client’s needs. “We’re including no-touch keys and drinkware,” she says. “We’re also combining tech accessories with personal care products like lip balm and sanitizer. We’ve made things easier by offering a black gift box with an in-house printed label. It’s got a subscription box feel and it makes people happy. And then we can drop-ship to homes.”

Clients can also help returning employees maintain a healthy distance by giving them personalized items, which not only adds an appreciated touch to the piece, but also mitigates accidental sharing.

Personalization is normally used with about 10% of orders at Starline, says Porter. It’s now about 50%. “They’re looking for personalized coolers in particular,” says Porter. “Employees won’t be able to commune in breakrooms, so this helps avoid gathering and use of the fridge. Then they can still bring their lunch and eat healthy because they’re not going to the fast food place down the street. Plus, with temperature checks at the door, leaving for lunch and coming back will be a pain.”

An appreciation gift will have even more impact this year if there’s a built-in health and safety aspect. “We can help people feel safe coming back to work,” says Silseth. “Whether it’s PPE or showing them how valuable their role is, there are opportunities we can propose to clients to help them with comforting their people.”

Q4 Challenges Compounded

With a flurry of orders and clients coming to distributors late in the game, the fourth quarter is traditionally a trying one, particularly when it comes to inventory levels. This year, the quarter will have its own unique challenges.

To start, many end-buyers will have a hybrid of in-office and remote gift recipients. To meet demand, promo companies will have to be nimble to offer clients the smoothest gift experience possible. Drop-shipping, for example, is a must-have this year. “Say a company has 600 remote workers,” says Armstrong. “How do you get gifts to them? They can’t all stop by on December 23 to pick them up. That would be chaotic, so you deliver them to people’s doorsteps.”

Many factories are now offering extended services in drop-shipping, kitting, warehousing and curbside pick-up. “We’ve always offered these things, but it was mostly for our larger national clients,” says President & CEO Sam Singh. “Now, everyone needs them. In Q4, we’ll be ramping them up to offer a frictionless experience.”

Keep lead-times in mind as well. This year, the persistent problem of COVID-related supply chain disruption complicates an already busy gift season known for fluctuating inventory levels. Riordan at Maple Ridge Farms said they had to expedite a few meat orders because of facility closing concerns, and lead-times on gift towers lengthened considerably recently after the cardboard supplier was shut down for several weeks. “Disruption could also spike prices, sometimes between 25% and 30%,” he says. “Clients should be ordering twice as early.”

But arguably, the most daunting challenge will be reduction in client budgets. End-buyers say they just don’t have the money to give out gifts this year. Distributors should be sensitive to financial challenges while also offering to help clients get creative with fewer dollars at their disposal.

Singh says two kinds of spend will dominate Q4 sales: Higher-end products for a smaller group of recipients (what he calls a “narrow and deep strategy”), and higher volumes of lower-priced items to get them into more people’s hands and keep their brands top-of-mind. Think pens, ceramic mugs and water bottles, he says. Clients might still be thinking in terms of $100 gifts. Tell them $10 to $15 will still get them something worth giving, says Abergel, even if it’s just drinkware, a blanket or comfy socks with a card or note.

Don’t forget to use available budget from canceled end-of-year parties. “Our national sales meeting isn’t happening,” Porter adds. “The $50-$60 in overhead for each attendee is going to Q4 promo for our people.”

Ashfeld says she’s quoted a variety of gift bundles from $15 net (a vacuum tumbler with candy inside) to $50 net. “I’d say the sweet spot for gifts this year is in the $10 to $30 range, including the products, imprint and packaging,” says Armstrong. “Companies aren’t going to do $50 to $100 a person.”

It’s been an unforgettable year, but for all the wrong reasons. Now, it’s up to distributors and their supplier partners to help clients end the year on a positive note with an affordable token of gratitude. “Showing appreciation is at an all-time premium right now,” says Armstrong. “Companies need to say to their employees and clients: ‘Thank you for enduring and sticking by us.’”

The right gift at the right price not only recognizes employees and clients after a long, difficult year, but also boosts morale for the next. “Gifts will keep everyone connected and ready for 2021,” says Abergel. “We’re all going to have to start building business up again and getting back on track.”


TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC: HOMEBODIES – Stay-at-Home Order
With restaurants and bars either closed, takeout-only or at reduced capacity, 2020 has become the year of cooking at home. Think kitchen items with high perceived value, such as cutting boards, utensils, spatulas, spice racks, and even bowls and strainers. Send an eco-friendly message with items made of sustainable bamboo. And look to food gift suppliers for meat and cheese packages that would pair perfectly with cheese boards, or for sweet items that make for an excellent after-dinner treat for the family.
TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC: HOMEBODIES – A Little R&R
Weekends used to be filled with personal care appointments and trips to the movie theater, but now people are staying close to home and watching streaming services. Movie-themed food gifts will be appreciated among end-users, along with spa items like bath salts, slippers and soft robes. Whether it’s a DIY face mask or movie night with the whole family, soft blankets are an ideal addition for the colder winter months. They can also double as a little extra warmth for the home office. For those planning to have small, distanced get-togethers at home to celebrate the end of 2020, think wine marker sets to help guests avoid accidental sharing.
TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC: VIRTUAL WORKERS – Going and Staying Virtual
We’re not out of the woods yet. Many companies plan to keep employees safe by prohibiting company air travel and asking everyone to continue in their remote setups for the foreseeable future, perhaps even into 2021. That means they’ll need accessories, particularly “waist-up” ones, for virtual meetings and client calls. Consider a custom tie, pocket square and cufflinks as a sophisticated set. They’ll make a nice impression on video calls and will continue to be used when in-person meetings start back up. Custom cufflinks – like these depicting the famous Japanese woodblock print “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” – would be ideal gifts for patrons who continued supporting museums and endowments this year.
TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC: HYBRID WORKFORCES – Out & About Again
Items that encourage good health practices – whether while running errands or spending time in the workplace again – will be appreciated by recipients in Q4. Consider branded masks and sanitizer bundled with hard goods, and don’t forget no-touch keys for opening doors. Styluses are ideal for transaction terminals, ATMs and gas tanks, and a UV sterilizer case keeps devices clean during the day. Health and safety items say the giver cares about the recipient’s wellbeing, appreciates them and wants them to stay healthy for the long-haul.
TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC: HYBRID WORKFORCES – Sharing (at Home) Is Caring
Even with some workers heading back to the office, the days of sharing food gifts in the conference room are still a long way off. Consider smaller individual edible gifts (like candy bundled with a hard good or PPE) for desks and shipped to remote workers, as well as larger gift towers ideal for drop-shipping, to be taken home and shared with family members. Even if most or all employees are back in the office, close gatherings with shared refreshments still aren’t in the cards yet. Consider including a note with the gift encouraging everyone to take their food home to share in one household.
TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC: VIRTUAL WORKERS – Home Technology
Those continuing virtual work have been putting their devices and tech accessories through their paces since March. Some are most likely starting to wear out with heavy use (especially when shared with the kids). Consider fresh tech accessories that will keep workers connected from their home offices into the new year, like power banks, charging cases, web cam covers, speakers, headsets for video calls and earbuds. This wireless pair comes with a convenient charging case and cable, so users can easily make and take calls, and listen to music or podcasts without bothering roommates and family members.

Reprinted From ASI Central News, By Sara Lavenduski

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