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Texcycle #6

New Modes of Production

Whether engaging in a spot of “see now, buy now” shopping or searching for sustainably manufactured goods, consumers, with the internet at their fingertips, are more switched-on than ever. In the information age it’s the brand that needs to keep up with the customer – but thanks to automated technologies, microfactories and nearshoring, on-demand production can offer instant gratification as well as the potential for a more sustainable supply chain.

To quickly respond to ever-changing trends and consumer demands, brands must first be agile, i.e. have a flexible and adaptable supply chain that can create new or custom products at the drop of a hat. This can be approached in a number of ways including the use of planning and scheduling software (such as ERP or APS) to optimise production, as well as reducing lot sizes to speed up time to market. By being able to serve a range of demands, agile manufacturers can maximise sales opportunities and increase revenue, while cutting down on inventory and waste. Smaller lot sizes can also trigger the scarcity effect to make products more desirable in the mind of the consumer.  

Putting agile methodology into practice, fully automated, compact manufacturing units, aka "microfactories", with their small footprint and reduced labour force, can facilitate cheaper local production. This "nearshoring" or "onshoring" shortens supply chains, making them more transparent and capable of rapid production. Local microfactories can enable brands to manufacture on-demand – particularly handy for smaller labels that could produce following payment and therefore not have to worry about cashflow or MOQs. Being closer to the customer base also offers greater opportunities for customisation. Turnkey solutions like Lectra’s Fashion on Demand automates the entire personalisation process from order reception to final cutting stages, making made-to-measure more accessible and affordable for all.  

So what does a microfactory look like? Take the Adidas Knit For You pop-up shop in Bikini Berlin, where for 200 EUR customers were able to co-design their very own bespoke sweater, made in-store on a Stoll flat knitting machine and ready to wear in four hours. The prospective prosumer would first step into a dark room equipped with projectors and motion sensors to customise the surface design using augmented reality technology and their body as a canvas. Next, they would enter a 3D scanner to retrieve precise measurements, then do a final design edit on a touchscreen before hitting the print button. Experiential production give customers a reason to physically go to a bricks-and-mortar store, forging a deeper connection with the brand and their co-created purchase, which should, in theory, prolong the product life.  

Moreover, this kind of "single item" or "batch size one" manufacturing matches supply with demand, putting an end to overproduction and wasteful use of resources – including warehouse storage for excess inventory and product markdowns. Given the choice, whether the majority of consumers would actively participate in the creation of their clothes is yet to be seen, however these new modes of production used responsibly in conjunction with sustainable materials could radically transform the fashion industry as we know it.

Next Instalment: Wearables, IoT and smart fabrics.

Written by Mairi Hare as part of a collaboration between Sourcebook GmbH and Texpertise Network.

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