Fast fashion: Manufacturers embrace new production processes

To meet apparel and textile brands' desire to move into fast fashion, manufacturers have begun to embrace new production processes that improve efficiency and performance.

 

 

Apparel and textile manufacturers have been slower than many other manufacturing industries to embrace supply chain improvements in speed, but are now succumbing to pressure from brands moving into fast fashion retail.

 

"They are getting a little faster in that industry. The pressure is coming more from the brands and the retailers...", says Bill Remy, COO of US-based TBM Consulting Group, which has offices around the world and has worked with apparel manufacturers in countries such as Mexico, Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka..

 

Manufacturers can speed up their processes by better organising their production lines, considering how to "harmonise" the different styles they are producing and "figure out the right assembly structure," he says.

 

At Sri Lanka based MAS Fabrics, a subsidiary of apparel powerhouse MAS Holdings , six units are set up to offer solutions across the intimate apparel supply chain: Stretchline (narrow fabrics), Noyon Lanka (South Asia's only knitted lace manufacturer), Prym Intimates (accessories), Textprint (fabric printing), Trischel (warp knit fabric) and Silueta (moulded bra cups).

 

"Speeding up the process of design to delivery is not about working fast but working smarter," explains Timothy Speldewinde, head of MAS Fabrics and managing director of Stretchline Holdings.

 

"In a supply chain this is achieved by eliminating any waste - hence minimising lead time - in the flow of information and materials needed to bring a product to market."

 

The six business units of MAS Fabrics manage their individual value chains and integrate with each other to help retailers improve the efficiency of their raw material sourcing and offer rapid replenishment of stock.

 

For example, within the intimate apparel sector, "we are able to deliver the necessary raw materials from moulded cups and fabric to lace, elastic and accessories within 4-7 days so that the garments can be cut and sewn by the manufacturing partners and received in store by global brands within 14 days," Speldewinde says.

 

Changeovers and reworking

 

Two key areas that slow down manufacturers are changeovers from making one style to another, (which can take days to set up), and the rate of defective items coming off the line, (which means reworking is needed).

 

Remy gave the example of a factory producing two variations of jeans - one with a regular waistband of one piece of fabric, and another with a waistband of three pieces of fabric sewn together.

 

Initially, the person who sewed the completed waistbands onto the jeans was also required to sew together the three pieces of fabric for the alternative style, which created a bottleneck and slowed production.

 

To improve efficiency, TBM suggested sewing the three-piece waistband in a preparatory area before the waistband specialist simply attached the completed waistbands.

 

Another example involved a women's lingerie supplier in Indonesia. The factory would put out a day's worth or more of raw material to feed the production line and found this hindered its ability to make frequent style changes efficiently because material had to be cut and set aside. The supplier also lost material because workers would neglect to properly store this excess material during the day, increasing the risk it could be soiled or damaged.

 

TBM helped change the process so that the line was replenished every hour, significantly reducing the amount of material that needed to be removed when switching to different designs.

 

Minimising errors

 

Robert Cammilleri, senior account executive of business development at US-based UL, agrees on the importance of minimising errors. "The biggest problem is you don't have enough time to do something once, never mind redo it because it was done incorrectly or because of misunderstandings."

 

Manufacturers, in partnership with retailers, should work to make sure both parties understand what the expectations are, he adds.

 

UL, a global safety consulting company, offers on-site visits to factories for its apparel and textile customers, conducting factory audits, product inspections prior to shipment, and explaining the brands' expectations to suppliers in their native language.

 

"What we do is work with our customers in getting into factories very early...to evaluate that facility. We make sure they have what's needed to produce the product," says Cammilleri. UL audited and/or inspected more than 50,000 locations or products in 2012.

 

In terms of North America-based clients specifically, UL conducted more than 26,000 product inspections in countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

 

Manufacturers are always looking for the "right partners - facilities that have the capabilities, quality systems, [and] social compliance programmes," Cammilleri explains, so the more that suppliers can match the retailers' expectations and requirements, the better and faster the supply chain will move.

 

"It's probably the most important thing to [the industry] these days: speed to market and cutting out waste in this entire process."

 

With better organisation and oversight of the production line, the gains can be significant.

 

"It's not unusual for us to see 20% to 30% productivity or efficiency gains. It's also not unusual to see significant reductions in work in process and lead times," adds Remy.

 

And, of course, improving labour conditions for employees can help companies retain experienced workers and avoid costly delays in the production process such as re-training and accidents, he adds.

 

A key challenge to manufacturers is scepticism that implementing new processes will benefit their business, explains Remy. However, he adds, most companies are willing to implement the changes after a trial run or witnessing other successful case studies.

 

"The [apparel and textile] industry in general, is a bit more insular...It's a little bit less mature an industry sector than some others," he says.

 

He notes that in the automotive industry, for instance, the benchmark for suppliers delivering on-time is about 99.9% of the time, whereas in apparel and textiles, "if they [brands] can get suppliers over 90% on time, they're doing pretty good."

 

Still, the industry will continue to improve as brands constantly search for ways to improve speed and efficiency.

 

"You're going to see more consolidation, more push by the retailer sand the brands for better performance as the industry matures over the next few years," Remy believes.

 

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