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How product innovation can give an edge to the Vietnamese apparel industry

by Apparel Resources

03-May-2018  |  12 mins read

Fashion shows are also a source of information for product development team

There is nothing more satisfying and exciting than seeing your own creation.

This is what makes product development in fashion manufacturing houses reach such an interesting stage in the entire supply chain. “It is a department which suggests and develops a look and also helps in bringing latest fashion trends and styles to the retailers or a brand,” said Kirill Alferov, General Manager, Gloria Jeans, while corroborating on what defines product development.

Today’s product development team not just includes fashion designers or merchandisers, but also comprises of the research team, market analysts, sales team, and last but not the least, the quality assurance team. They collect information from all over the world in the form of street style, consumer behaviour changes, latest techniques to be put together to create new product categories with special attributes.

Altering market demands change of existing PD strategy

With the increasing popularity of mass production, fashion houses work to avoid complicated design features. To make their brands look different, and simultaneously also appealing for their consumers, most of the fashion brands and designers across the world use innovative fabrics to enhance aesthetics and functionality. Material innovations in the form of sports textiles and textiles with changing colours are a part of such latest discoveries being made by global fashion brands and designers.

Popular brands such as Nike have today become pioneers in product innovation by launching cutting-edge and groundbreaking innovations in their product categories in footwear and materials. One such shining example is the launch of Nike’s ‘free athletic shoes’, which with its unique feature of minimum shoe movement, has moved ahead to establish a new product sensation within the industry.

Much like its South Asian neighbours, the local fashion scene in Vietnam has moved far away from its traditional roots of ethnicity. The youth here are exceptionally fast at picking up global trends and their aesthetic is quite similar to the street styles prevalent in Seoul, Hong Kong or Japan.

fashion manufacturing houses
Image Courtesy: webaloo.com

This young generation has definitely developed a taste for oversized street wear-inspired clothes that are a mix of sporty anoraks and baggy sweatshirts as well as straight fit trousers and hyper visible closure detailing. The materials of choice in the country are often edgy variations of raw denim and faux leather as well as performance fabrics mixed with crisp cotton and jersey.

This triggers product development – or rather higher product development – to be the core of every fashion house in Vietnam, not to deny the huge amount of consumer expenditure on apparels.

There is also a scope for clothing producers to enhance their product offerings by developing their own brands and becoming original design manufacturers (ODMs) rather than mere subcontractors. However, a lot will depend on nurturing the local design talent and establishing brand names that have a resonance with consumers in sophisticated western markets.

Apparel manufacturers’ take on product innovation

Developing and innovating designs and styles means more business and more revenue for a manufacturer. It is as simple as that. The designer creates the sketch on the paper and then on the basis of that sketch converts it into a 3D garment — keeping all the technical and creative aspects in mind. “Product development for sample is based on customer requirements – they give us the sketch and ask us to develop style and we work according to their requirement. Product innovation, on the other hand, means we design our own product. Once we design the product, we show it to our brands and if they like it, we sell it with their label,” explained Prasanka Buddhipriya, Factory Manager, Fashion Garments 2 Co. Ltd.

product development
Innovation is today one of the most important aspects of product development

Creation of a product according to the customer and creating a new product are two different activities. While elucidating further on what Prasanka said, Vince Vu remarks, “Most important aspect of PD is innovation today. It’s not just about construction of garments; it’s about fabrication as well as functional aspects too. It’s about design, materials. In outerwear, we are talking about waterproof garments. It’s not just about keeping warm but keeping comfortable as well when one is doing outdoor activities like climbing, fishing, skiing – he/she needs to feel good wearing it and yet it should be fashionable and functional.” Discussing about the fabric requirements for such innovative garments, Phan Kim Hang, Vice General Director, Phong Phu Corporation reasoned,“We predict the trend by gaining information from designers all around the world. Then we figure out the most popular trends and make the fabric in advance. Whenever a garment company comes to us, we are there with the fabric a year ahead. We give what they want.”

A production merchandiser has an important role to play as a designer when it comes to providing a new angle to product development. He has to bring the buyer to the factory and then inspire the buyer to give design development to his company. It is his ability to present all the colours, patterns and styles of the product that ultimately wins over the customer – only the exquisite collections will help to get major orders.

Fashion keeps coming back and the same customer may pick it up in 3 years – so maintaining a library is very important.Corroborating on this further, Garry Mehta, CEO, Goldmark Development Limited averred, “We provide the library of fabric from China to Brazil and each month there is a display of new collections. We support customers with such a backup. The customers have to just tell what they want and we get it for them. There should be no limitation of choice.”

Buyers prefer independent design studios for product creation

Sometimes the buyers may ask independent studios to develop products. The process of product development done by a studio is similar to that done by brands. All the market trends and analysis reports are provided to the studio by the buyer, which helps the former in creating the product.

What it also does is that it saves the buyers from looking into the sourcing part for the product development. Another noticeable gain is that since the design studio does the product development, the speed of the process gets enhanced.

A lot of buyers also prefer working with independent studios because it gives the former the advantage of using the latest technology in design studio. There isn’t anything better than that. The only major drawback of hiring an independent studio is that the cost is majorly incurred by the brand.

Cost-effectiveness is what every company thinks at each of the production stages. The companies ensure that there is continuous improvement in the cost-effectiveness of the process by streamlining and reducing the product development cycle. Rajendra Singh, General Manager, Premier Fashion Co. Ltd., puts it simply “Your total business depends on your product development.”

And, there is no way better than using the latest technologies which not only enhance quality but also save time.

The digital product creation/development process using virtual technologies opens the door for the apparel firms to bring down the product development time from few months to few days. Phong Phu Corporation utilizes all the latest technologies from technological giants like Lectra and Gerber for activities such as pattern designing.

Elaborating on the same, Robert Nicholson, Chief Representative, More UK Limited, affirmed, “We have technical managers and pattern makers here and they work on machines provided by Gerber, Lectra and other technology providers.”

Interestingly, the new trend that is strongly visible these days in apparel product development is the digital angle whether in 2D or 3D, and very few physical entities being used like garment patterns and samples.This trend not only applies to apparel product development but also to the pre-production, production and post-production functions in the entire apparel supply chain.

Expatriates add value to the PD team

Lot of companies have been putting efforts in building a team that comprises a good mix of foreigners and locals as this combination brings out the best. “While we have locals in our product development team, one person from Philippines will be joining soon,” said Micheal, Operation Head, Nam Viet Import and Export Joint Stock Company.

Expatriates bring with them global experience and better understanding. “Many factories in Vietnam today hire expatriates for designing. We have to feed the buyers with our latest collections and trends and having designers from different parts of the world helps,” reasoned Maksym Sukhanov, General Director, Maximum Sourcing.

Today, to survive and maintain one’s position in the business, everybody associated with the industry knows that product development process is the spine of apparel industry – the more innovative and exclusive the products, the better off is the industry’s future.