Of course, rubber plays a major role in the textile industry as a raw material.
Rubber calendering is used to make various types of fabrics, incorporating synthetic rubber, like SBR latex, specially developed for textile finishing.
There are rubber rollers for textile printing, pressure hoses for textile spinning machinery, rubber coating for screen coating applications and rubber-molded components. There are even rubber suits and rubber footwear.
Thermoplastic elastomers are the most popular for production of undergarments, prized for their efficiency in energy consumption, as well as their customization with most batch dyes. Non-latex rubber bands also can be found sewn into a cuff or the waistline of disposable clothing used in the healthcare industry.
And as the rubber industry goes, so goes the textile industry—not just with market trends as they relate to pricing volatility for raw materials and choked supply lines, but as they relate to the labor force.
"Why is this industry so slow to change?" Jur asked. "There are $50 million companies out there without a website. This is a commodity market with low margins. ... You need to maneuver your supply chain to get the raw materials for your products that will benefit you.
"And I have seen some cases where product lines are still being inspected visually."
Messer agreed that automation can assist the textile industry, just as it found its way to the production floor in rubber-making to reduce the dreaded downtime.
"Predictive maintenance can help," he said. "It uses less labor (in production) with greater efficiency."
But is there enough labor to support the industry, even with automation?
"There is talent out there," Messer said. "Talent does not leave, it migrates. The question is, how do we look for them?
"People are the most important asset in this industry. We have to treat them well ... and we have to do a better job of showcasing industry benefits."
Some companies are between 20 and 30 percent understaffed, Jur said.
Cox suggested that education is key, pushing the virtues of modern textile manufacturing jobs in pre-high school students.
"We need to start way before high school," she said. "Apprenticeships are important, whether that is for a basic manufacturing or supervisory track."
Regardless of the loose labor market and high unemployment, the textile market needs to grow with Industry 4.0 trends and downstream needs, especially those of the biomedical technology industry, according to Schindler.
"How do you integrate legacy technology with med-tech companies?" Schindler asked. "Fitbit, Google, Facebook ... all of these companies have hundreds of people looking at wearables."
Jur said the industry should continue to educate itself on current trends, which takes "coordinated investment strategies."
"Taking that new technology and advancing it is a big deal," Jur said. "And it is something that the U.S. is very good at doing.
"Take the semi-conductor industry in this country—there was no road map and we see what happened. So set it up to build a road map in a non-competitive way."
"Collaboration is key for textile companies to branch out their business," Cox added. "We need to continue to foster collaboration."
According to market watcher industrialrubbergoods.com, the global market for textiles sits at around $400 billion, with China by far the largest producer at 52.2 percent.
India is second at 6.9 percent, with the U.S. third at 5.3 percent. Pakistan at 3.6 percent and Brazil at 2.4 percent round out the top five in global textile production.