Amidst rapidly changing apparel industry’s landscape, everybody keeps asking one common question: What is the future of fashion technology? USA, being the largest apparel market in the world, provides enormous opportunities for the manufacturers. However, it’s a fact that apparel orders are shrinking with time and the buyers are asking for more variations which is leading the companies to loose profit due to their inability to handle this many variations. So, the reduced quantity per style pushed by the changing consumer preferences has made way for a new manufacturing model named ‘on-demand’ in the USA. Team Apparel Resources delved deep into the concept to let its readers get more clarity about the same. Below are some excerpts of our conversation with Katherine Schildmeyer, Founder, KS Apparel Design & Consulting, USA and Ram Sareen, Head-Coach & Founder; Rialyn Espinosa, Collaborator, Tukatech Inc., USA.
It’s time of reversal, a shift of apparel manufacturing can be seen from Asia striding back to USA. It was in early 80’s that the shift started from USA to the Asian countries because of many relevant reasons. Now, people are spending less on clothes, they want the latest designs while wanting to express their individualities by wearing customised dresses. So, it has become obvious that some part of fashion business will move back to USA to cater to such highly conscious consumers. But the question remains: which part is this? “It’s a fact that USA will never become another Asia in terms of apparel manufacturing, so the mass production will remain in Asia. Whereas, any model or approach which produces goods when required within 3-4 days will stay in the USA,” quoted Ram. This evolved the system of ‘on-demand’, which requires scalability, adjustable and flexible manufacturing processes to complete the customised packages based on real time data which USA will definitely be able to achieve.
Opportunities push ‘on-demand’ to enlarge its footprints…
On-demand model allows apparel brands to tell the story of global warming awareness which is the utmost need of today. “Now, brands do not create additional waste that feeds into the massive amount of products left unworn & unsold at the end of each year. Colours & styles can also become localised, regionalised, and nationalised under this approach. If a company can understand how something sells in different areas, it can have a long-term benefit to growth, design, and allocation,” elaborated Katherine.
On the other hand, a company that decides to re-shore mass production may risk losing the quality and efficiency of their products but also invest more money by re-shoring. On-demand approach lets these companies experiment with the size run algorithms from a regional perspective. The problem is, there’s no global industry standard across sizing and this is why the customers keep guessing their size and hope that when their clothing arrives, they fit. These algorithms actually help the manufacturers know if the garment they are manufacturing will fit the customers or not. “If the company grows to a larger size, it will usually have a much better understanding of the needs of each size as a result of the on-demand structure,” stated Katherine.
On-demand manufacturing can potentially be the future of the US apparel industry and there are reasons behind it. The most significant being on-demand works on ‘demand and supply’ model instead of ‘supply and demand’ concept. A company that practices the ‘demand and supply’ model shouldn’t have an over abundant inventory. Since a product isn’t produced until a customer orders it, the model allows a company to only produce when necessary. This way, the manufacturers would have to deal with less inventory and reduced downtime can help the US apparel manufacturers compete with overseas competition. “So, this concept can fulfil the needs of US apparel customers because customers are receiving the products they want from apparel producers,” expressed Rialyn.
Cons of ‘on-demand’ model…
Essentially, on-demand manufacturing should save a company time and money, if they are well prepared. However, the con of this ‘demand and supply’ approach is that it requires strategic planning. This approach may only be very effective for companies that have a small selection of styles in multiple colorways. Companies that use the ‘demand and supply’ approach may not be able to have a large selection of styles because if there is ever an over flow of orders, it would be more difficult to execute without an on-hand inventory. “It is really apparel process made for the DIY, Graphic designer, or company that wants to market their talent somehow. Many Americans also use this for teams or crafting,” averred Katherine adding that, “We have a large plus market in the USA and not much in terms of on-demand for this market.”
Further, on-demand concepts may not be an alternative to importing even with trade wars by USA being initiated with other countries because the on-demand business model may not suit the needs of every apparel company. “It can limit the capabilities and creativity of a company. A company that is known for making around 100 different styles every season and sells to multiple retailers may not benefit from on-demand manufacturing. These manufacturers may need to have that in stock inventory to be able to deliver large quantities of products at a short notice,” opined Ram.
Quality control in on-demand manufacturing is said to be another challenge. “I have seen issues with quality in many on-demand companies. In some cases, it was incorrect way of sewing operation, the fabric had QC issues such as dropped needle areas or needle oil stains. A bigger issue is colour. Some on demand companies use RGB, over CYMK and this can change colour quality,” commented Katherine.
Can ‘on-demand’ be challenged by other models?
Though the future of on-demand apparel manufacturing looks promising, there is another model emerging named ‘Purchase Activated Apparel Manufacturing’ (PAAM). PAAM is a method that allows a person to have a clothing brand without going to design school and it is characterized by a structure in which, the product is purchased before it is manufactured. “PAAM is still largely done overseas. Some manufactures do have US hubs, but are held by overseas groups. The US locations are usually doing the bulk business with one brand, and pull on a few small productions to help start-ups,” informed Katherine.
However, as of now, PAAM might not give any tough competition to ‘on-demand’ model as there can be more risk and overhead in PAAM as the manufacturing facilities still need a certain MOQ. “This can be a risk for a smaller business that has lack of knowledge in design to develop what the customer may really want. I see it work best in a supplemental way. One of my clients is a body care company that supplies products to professional salons. They produce apparel products for the barbers to wear, instead of a standard smock. Or, my other client that buys athletic apparels to meet the needs of the consumers in this segment,” asserted Katherine emphasizing that PAAM still has a long way to go to overtake ‘on-demand’ model.