ON-DE­MAND MAN­U­FAC­TUR­ING: A CON­CEPT WELL ADOPTED BY USA AP­PAREL IN­DUS­TRY

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Amidst the 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 man­u­fac­tur­ers. How­ever, it’s an ac­cepted truth that ap­parel orders are shrink­ing with time and that the buy­ers are ask­ing for more vari­a­tions which is lead­ing the com­pa­nies to lose profit due to their in­abil­ity to han­dle so many vari­a­tions. This re­duced quan­tity per style, pushed by the chang­ing con­sumer pref­er­ences, has made way for a new man­u­fac­tur­ing model named ‘on-de­mand’ in USA. Team StitchWorld delves deep into this model to let its read­ers get more clar­ity about this quickly evolv­ing theme. Be­low are some ex­cerpts from our con­ver­sa­tion with Kather­ine Schild­meyer, Founder, KS Ap­parel De­sign & Con­sult­ing, USA; Ram Sa­reen, Head-Coach & Founder and Ria­lyn Espinosa, Col­lab­o­ra­tor, Tukat­ech Inc., USA.

It’s time for re­ver­sal, a shift in ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing which can be seen right from Asia to USA. It was in early ’80s 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 as well as wish 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 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 has led to the sys­tem of ‘on- de­mand’ which re­quires scal­able, 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 to spread 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 and un­sold at the end of each year. Colours and 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 long-term ben­e­fit for growth, de­sign and al­lo­ca­tion,” elab­o­rated Kather­ine.

On the other hand, a com­pany that de­cides to reshore mass pro­duc­tion may risk los­ing the qual­ity and ef­fi­ciency of its prod­ucts and has to also in­vest more money in reshoring. 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 for siz­ing and this is why the cus­tomers keep guess­ing their size and hope that when their cloth­ing ar­rives, they will fit in. These al­go­rithms ac­tu­ally help the man­u­fac­tur­ers know if the gar­ments 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 on­de­mand struc­ture,” stated Kather­ine.

On- de­mand man­u­fac­tur­ing can po­ten­tially be the fu­ture of the US ap­parel in­dus­try and there are sev­eral rea­sons for this The most sig­nif­i­cant be­ing that 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 the re­duced down­time can help the

On-de­mand man­u­fac­tur­ing can po­ten­tially be the fu­ture of the US ap­parel in­dus­try and there are sev­eral rea­sons for this. The most sig­nif­i­cant be­ing that on-de­mand works on ‘de­mand and sup­ply’ model in­stead of ‘sup­ply and de­mand’ con­cept.

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 over­flow of orders, it would be more dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute with­out an on- hand in­ven­tory. “It is re­ally an ap­parel process made for the DIY, graphic de­signer, or com­pany that wants to mar­ket its 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 con­cept may not be an al­ter­na­tive to im­port even with trade wars be­ing ini­ti­ated by USA 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 prod­uct in 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 is the in­cor­rect way of sewing op­er­a­tion, in oth­ers, the fab­ric has been seen hav­ing QC is­sues such as dropped nee­dle areas or nee­dle oil stains. An even 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 char­ac­terised 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 of busi­ness with one brand, and pull in a few small pro­duc­tions to help start- ups,” in­formed Kather­ine.

As of now, PAAM might not give any tough com­pe­ti­tion to ‘on- de­mand’ model as there can be more risk and over­head in­volved in PAAM since 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 em­pha­sis­ing that PAAM still has a long way to go to over­take the

‘on- de­mand’ model.

On-de­mand con­cept may not be an al­ter­na­tive to im­port even with trade wars be­ing ini­ti­ated by USA with other coun­tries be­cause the on-de­mand busi­ness model may not suit the needs of ev­ery ap­parel com­pany.

Not just USA, but also the brands and man­u­fac­tur­ers in the Asian coun­tries are also adopt­ing this model see­ing its pop­u­lar­ity.

The con­sumers’ pref­er­ences for cus­tomised cloth­ing have made both brands and man­u­fac­tur­ers put their hands in cus­tom-made cloth­ing busi­ness. Ma­trix Sourc­ing, a Pak­istan­based sourc­ing com­pany, has fol­lowed ‘on-de­mand’ con­cept through its own brand, named ‘Lu­lusar’ and Tukat­ech plays a key role in it.

Ma­trix Sourc­ing part­nered with Tukat­ech back in 2005 for CAD, pat­tern-mak­ing, grad­ing and marker mak­ing and over a pe­riod of time, the col­lab­o­ra­tion helped Ma­trix to launch its own brand with no phys­i­cal in­ven­tory. “The main idea be­hind start­ing the brand was that we wanted to move to­wards high tech­nolo­gies in terms of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, pat­tern de­vel­op­ment, print de­vel­op­ment and brand de­vel­op­ment,” com­mented Fawad Shah Gardezi, Brand Head, Lu­lusar, adding fur­ther that the do­mes­tic brand takes just some hours to cre­ate de­sign in­stead of tak­ing days. Ac­cord­ing to this brand, ev­ery process right from de­sign, de­vel­op­ment to man­u­fac­tur­ing is dig­i­tally syn­chro­nised with each other.

In­cor­po­ra­tion of tech­nol­ogy in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment…

The PD cy­cle in Lu­lusar starts from the sin­gle sketch which is handed over to the pat­tern-maker. Once the pat­tern is de­vel­oped, the print de­signer adds the re­quired prints and place­ments. Then, it is sent to TUKA3D soft­ware to model and fix the pat­tern. “Here we can see where the fab­ric is not fall­ing right and ob­serve the loose and tight areas which are all colour coded and easy to un­der­stand. And then we take it to the fi­nal stage and there­after, we cut a fi­nal gar­ment which is very ac­cu­rate. This process has en­abled Lu­lusar to come up with 100 styles with­out phys­i­cal sam­pling,” in­formed Az­far Hasan, CEO, Ma­trix Sourc­ing.

Adding to what Az­far said, Nadeem Saigol, CFO & Part­ner, Ma­trix Sourc­ing com­mented that the sam­pling process is re­ally a com­pli­cated process as it re­quires a num­ber of sources, the avail­abil­ity of trims and ac­ces­sories is lim­ited and the amount of work that goes into a phys­i­cal sam­ple is enor­mous be­fore one gets it right. “This is where TUKA3D plays a ma­jor role. Hun­dreds of mea­sure­ments can be ex­tracted from a body scan which can then be used to cre­ate a 3D avatar that is an ex­act replica of the fit model. An ac­cu­rate vir­tual fit ses­sion with an­i­ma­tion al­lows us to by­pass phys­i­cal sam­ple mak­ing, dra­mat­i­cally re­duc­ing the time and cost as­so­ci­ated with prod­uct de­vel­op­ment,” shared Nadeem.

The ex­act replica of the fit model and a num­ber of body shapes that are as­so­ci­ated with the mea­sure­ments of that model fur­ther as­sist Lu­lusar to de­velop gar­ments which can be termed as ‘per­fect fit gar­ments’. The in­dus­try has started learn­ing about the im­por­tance of fit in the gar­ments as the brands can have the most stylish and good-look­ing prod­ucts to at­tract the cus­tomer, but if it does not fit the cus­tomer, he will never come back. “If it does not fit, it does not sell. So how do you check whether the fit is con­sis­tently the same? Tak­ing mea­sure­ment is not enough. It all de­pends how that mea­sure­ment de­fines your shape,” added Ram. The only way to repli­cate the fit model is tech­nol­ogy but the most im­por­tant tech­ni­cal as­pect is to take the body pos­ture un­der con­sid­er­a­tion rather than de­vel­op­ing pat­terns based on shape and mea­sure­ments.

Un­til now, it is be­lieved that Tech Packs and mea­sure­ment sheets are enough to know the shape of a per­son but that’s not true. The best way to know the shape and pos­ture is to scan that per­son and that’s what Lu­lusar and Tukat­ech to­gether are do­ing. “Now Lu­lusar is copy­ing ex­act in­for­ma­tion. Mo­tion simulation fea­ture in our soft­ware plays a big role as it asks the fit model to do a cer­tain test i.e. squat test, which is the best way to find out the slid­ing of back side of bot­tomwear,” ex­plained Ram.

Cloud is bol­ster­ing on-de­mand ap­proach…

Speed to mar­ket and col­lab­o­ra­tion of team mem­bers are two of the im­por­tant out­comes of cloud-based sys­tem in Lu­lusar which is helping the brand to col­lab­o­rate peo­ple from out­side. TUKACloud en­ables the pat­tern maker and de­signer of Lu­lusar com­mu­ni­cate with much faster speed than any other method. “We are re­ally a young gen­er­a­tion and we are al­ways on the go with our mo­biles and com­put­ers. If my pat­tern maker is work­ing on pat­tern and the de­signer is work­ing on de­sign and it needs my ap­proval, then I can straight away ap­prove that de­sign or pat­tern ir­re­spec­tive of what my lo­ca­tion is at that point of time. TUKACloud real time up­dates me and I can eas­ily ac­cess my ac­count through my phone,” shared Fawad. Once the prod­uct is ap­proved, the team at Lu­lusar of­fice can trans­fer the prod­uct onto the ac­tual printed fab­ric and then send it for stitch­ing. “Ev­ery­body sees the same in­for­ma­tion. They can share their com­ments on a com­mon plat­form. So we de­velop ev­ery­thing vir­tu­ally and the ac­tual sam­ple is made with­out any tweaks and it helps us elim­i­nate a lot of un­de­sired job in sam­ple mak­ing,” quoted Fawad.

Fu­ture is dig­i­tal too…

Lu­lusar be­lieves in show­ing its ven­dors what CAD sys­tems can do which would be an amaz­ing leap into the fu­ture and the brand is look­ing for­ward to data that comes along all Tukat­ech sys­tems. The fash­ion tech­nol­ogy gi­ant pro­vides Lu­lusar with a new plat­form to an­a­lyse the data over the pe­riod of time as to what peo­ple’s pref­er­ences are and stretch the brand’s imag­i­na­tion to­wards what all ex­per­i­ments they can do with their pat­terns and de­signs. “We, as a com­pany, are very in­grained in tech­nol­ogy. We have our IT team, de­vel­op­ment team and we un­der­stand data very well. All this feed­back comes in data form, where it can be an­a­lysed fast for our fu­ture as­pects,” con­cluded Nadeem on an op­ti­mistic note.

Ram Sa­reen, Head-Coach & Founder, Tukat­ech Inc., USA

Ria­lyn Espinosa, Col­lab­o­ra­tor, Tukat­ech Inc., USA

Ram Sa­reen, Head-Coach & Founder, Tukat­ech Inc., USA

Kather­ine Schild­meyer, Founder, KS Ap­parel De­sign & Con­sult­ing, USA

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