With technologies advancing in recent years like never before, the changes in the manufacturing industry have been so quick they have been compared to the Industrial Revolution which impacted the western world in the 1800s.
Fashion, of course, has been no exception, in fact, some of the most exciting innovations have come from fashion production manufacturing, which at the same time has been changing how the entire industry works as we know it.
The industry needs to evolve quickly to respond to the need of ensuring the right products at the right price, the right time and the right customers through improved and sophisticated processes.
Thanks to the internet, hyperconnected users with their devices have driven consumer expectations. This has created a necessity for brands and entrepreneurs to become quicker in the collection of user data, sales performance, customer feedback, identifying supply chain difficulties to better their companies, changing the very nature of the fashion cycle.
The industry needs to evolve quickly in response to the challenge of ensuring the right products are delivered at the right price, right time and the right customers through improved and sophisticated processes. This has required the persistent digitization of the manufacturing through increasingly connected devices and platforms.
There are many trends shaping the future of manufacturing, but we’ve identified five main aspects that have the most influence right now and are generating more components:
A machine’s ability to learn and adopt intelligent human behaviour is not new. Today, these advanced algorithms are transforming the way the manufacturing industry collects information, performs skilled labor, and predicts consumer behaviour. Some even predict themes in trending patterns, silhouettes, colors, and styles and provide customer sentiment around products and runway images. Some are almost taking the place of humans to detect when it’s the right time and product for a brand’s ideal customer.
Tommy Hilfiger, for example recently announced a partnership with IBM and the Fashion Institute of Technology to develop an Artificial Intelligence System to determine this kind of data to optimise production, sales and also reduce cost and waste. The students at FIT will have IBM Research’s AI capabilities including computer vision to look into the company’s data like real-time fashion industry trends, customer sentiment around every Tommy Hilfiger sent back to the student designers to make informed decisions for new product development.
Another company like San Francisco based, Stitch Fix which delivers clothing to customers with the help of online stylists, is also working with AI. They are now designing garments created by algorithms that identify trends and styles missing from the Stitch Fix inventory. These are based on combinations of consumers’ selections of favorite colors, patterns, and textiles which are picked by AI system which then suggests a new design. Then these new designs are reviewed by a (human) design team.
As people become increasingly “impatient” shortening lead times is key to ensure delivery with optimum timing. This is why many companies have taken a step further and are the entire process “in-house” to increase speed and supply chain efficiency. Things like materials sourcing, creative and technical design, samples, production and shipping under the same roof. And for everything to run smoothly all the teams must have real-time flow of information to ensure everyone has access to the same data and the same version of the latest products.
This "in-house" production thinking is already being implemented by many companies, from big brands like Gucci to small manufacturers like Suuchi Ramesh.
The first decided to internalize part of its production to speed up the pace of manufacturing and meet consumer demand quicker. And the second has become famous thanks to innovative in-house production approach which handles handling fabric sourcing, product design, manufacturing and sales in under one roof.
Suuchi Inc. currently uses 100 different machines that enable 30% to 40% of the clothing production to be automated.
"Our effort is to reduce manual intervention and eventually introduce robotic technology and automation," Ramesh said to CNN.
Illustration by Estudio Santa Rita
Robots have traditionally been ideal to perform tedious, repetitive tasks on the assembly lines in factories. However, the latest advancements have equipped robots with memory and agility making them highly programmable and collaborative. It is not about eliminating positions, but about making smarter workers, and also keeping humans safe by replacing them in dangerous situations where robots can do the job.
Of course, robots in fashion manufacturing have not come without challenges. For example, cutting fabrics with robotics has been possible for years, but sewing has been more difficult as robots are not ideal for certain textiles like pliables or elastics for example.
Some companies like SoftWear Automation have developed “Sewbots” equipped with robotic arms and vacuum grippers, that can guide a piece of cloth through a sewing machine very accurately, brigning down costs and speeding up the process.
Just two years ago robotics startup Sewbo launched a robot capable of sewing a t-shirt without any human intervention using water-soluble stiffening solutions to turn cloth into cardboard-like material.
For their part, Nike has been since 2013 manufacturing shoes under Grabit a robotics startup that uses electroadhesion to help machines manipulate objects.
Image by Palantir
Thanks to the Internet and new software brands and factories can receive real-time feedback and alerts companies of defects or damaged goods helping the save money and eliminate waste, helping deliver adequate products at the perfect time.
Some opt for management software like IQMS which serve in manufacturing monitoring and data collection of your production in real time as parts are being made and applied to the shop orders.
Today as cloud computing has grown, it lets factories and companies to work together from many parts of the world at the same time. This can allow them to access relevant data, facilitating quicker, more productive and clear communication.
In the case of optimizing communication and production with factories, Techpacker helps streamline and automate this entire process. Their cloud-based software allows everyone in design teams and factories to learn about changes in tech packs in real time, eliminating the entire manual process and emailing, making tech pack 70% faster than traditional methods.
Some labels like Badgley Mischa are already collecting data as soon as the models step on the runway showing the latest designs. Thanks to a mobile application they developed for iOs the label solicits feedback from the fashion show attendees to gain more insight on how customers are reacting to an outfit. This information is transmitted to retailers that carry their lines, helping custom forecasting, replenishment of stock and optimize business planning.
Elsewhere, brands are exploring how 3D printing can help them produce goods on-demand and create new avenues for customization. This has become an increasing need as competitiveness lies more and more in delivering products tailored to the customers tastes and needs in a speedy and timely manner.
There are new 3D rendering technologies like CLO which allows brands to edit designs in the moment and instantly review changes. This can help improve quality of designs by checking silhouette and fit sooner in the development process minimizing unnecessary waste, and error in the sample before finalization.
Another one is EFI Optitex which greatly improve the expensive and lengthy process of finding an adequate fit by taking essential components of the designs like flat sketches and technical patterns which morphed to simulated 3D renderings, which allow to cut, loosen the fit and make all necessary adjustments in real time.
Also, 3D printing has been huge for on-demand production. From Adidas’ 3D printed shoes to apparel brand Ministry of Supply, which uses an in-store 3D printer that creates customized knitwear on the spot. In addition printing garments on demand reduces fabric waste by about 35%.
Digital knitting is also changing the apparel industry, making great strides. It is not only showing incredible advancements in the 3D printing sector but offering another entire range of customization possibilities. For example brands like Australia based fashion label Shima Seiki can turn cones of yarn into a full, seamless garment in less than one hour, while Ze-Nit is creating digitally knitted urban wear allowing for functionalities and benefits to be placed where the body needs it most.
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