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How Tech Is Making Fashion Manufacturing Futureproof

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28 June 2023

How Tech Is Making Fashion Manufacturing Futureproof

With the rise in technologies such as AI, VR and AR, as well as customer expectations for quicker service and more sustainable practices reaching dizzying new heights, the fashion industry has seen a major injection of technological advancements in recent years to improve many different areas such as supply chains, the design process or marketing. One sector that is arguably evolving more rapidly than others is manufacturing, the heart of the entire industry. Major technological advancements are happening here, encouraged by global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, which forced the industry to completely rethink its infrastructures either due to an unforeseen overhaul in consumer spending habits or current supply chains no longer being a viable option respectively. Tech advancements have been seeping into other industries for many years now, and it can be argued that the fashion industry is late to the party in terms of incorporating state-of-the-art technology to streamline the business and improve customer experience. But, they don’t call it ‘fashionably late’ for nothing. Whilst the industry may be a step or two behind others such as transportation or healthcare which have both been at the forefront of technological integration, the fashion industry is certainly doing it with style. Here are some of Bodywear Labs’ key technological trends that are reshaping the manufacturing for a fashion industry of the future.

3D PRINTING

A topic we’ve touched on before and is perhaps the most tangible advancement for consumers is 3D assets. Whilst fashion designers and marketing professionals love 3D assets for their aesthetic appeal, ease of use and futuristic feel, manufacturers are also experimenting with 3D technologies but in a very different way. 3D printed apparel and footwear dominated international fashion weeks in early 2023 with luxury brands such as Dior showcasing their 3D printed Derby shoe and sustainability-focused brand Botter presenting their architectural 3D printed footwear in collaboration with Reebok, demonstrating the industry’s interest and demand for 3D to only increase as the technology is explored further. Sportswear brands are leading the innovative charge by experimenting with 3D printed athleisure with New Balance working with researchers at MIT and the Royal College of Art to create bioLogic, a 3D printed material which reacts to body heat and precipitation to open minuscule flaps around ‘heat zones’ enabling sweat to evaporate and cool the body quicker than standard fabrics. BioLogic achieves this due to active bacteria from Japanese fermented soybeans being embedded into the printed material which helps to control sweat and humidity by opening and contracting in its presence. 3D printing can help brands produce goods on demand and open up new avenues for customer customization, meeting customer demands by producing bespoke products in a timely manner. New 3D rendering technologies like CLO allow brands to edit designs instantaneously and review changes when designs are already with the manufacturers. This can help improve product quality by checking the fit sooner within the development process thereby minimising unnecessary waste or errors in the samples.

PRODUCTION ON-DEMAND

With consumer interest in more sustainable practices for shopping increasing, many brands are switching to made-to-order production cycles which results in a reduced level of overstock and less unwanted clothing that ends in landfills from both consumers and the business. Usually, the production cycle was a long time-consuming process requiring nearly a year of planning and as we all know from the impact of COVID-19, you can never truly know what the market demand will be a year in advance. Production on-demand puts a brand’s customers at the centre of its business model as companies only manufacture garments to satisfy their needs, providing personalisation, and avoiding any inventory excess. An increase in the importance of the small-batch production cycles from brands such as House of Sunny or Fruity Booty demonstrates that a business model which focuses on more eco-friendly practices is also a winner for both the planet and the customer. On-demand production requires lower capital investment which leads to a small batch inventory and a more sustainable production cycle. However, due to the lower quantities of garments produced the manufacturing costs can be higher as they are more bespoke to the brand and not every manufacturer will want to produce smaller MOQs if they don’t feel it will be worth their time. New technologies are helping to push the rise of the made-to-order model by making it faster and scalable to a larger amount of products thanks to the automatisation of each process along the supply chain. Tech company Lectra which specialises in CAD software and CAM cutting-room systems for industries using soft textiles has been developing innovative software for the fashion industry to respond to the demand of digitally savvy customers looking for ethical and sustainable products that don’t break the bank. By giving fashion companies the tools to become more agile and reactive to customers’ needs, while developing better relationships with suppliers, production in the on-demand era will become more efficient, profitable, resilient and sustainable resulting in smaller, more frequent and higher quality collections that transcend the seasons.

VERTICAL INTEGRATION & SUPPLY CHAIN OPTIMIZATION

Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit have made outsourcing manufacturing much more time-consuming logistically as well as far more expensive due to travel restrictions and new trade agreements. Due to this, many companies have decided to move the entire process in-house, either by setting up their own factories close to company HQs or by buying manufacturing companies that are skilled and trusted to work solely on their product. By moving manufacturing closer to home, brands are able to increase the speed of production and improve supply chain efficiency as steps such as sourcing, creative and technical design, samples, production and shipping now all fall under the same roof, with teams being able to communicate more efficiently and practices becoming standardised company-wide. Vertical integration (companies that design, produce and sell their own clothing), also have creative control over their products and can maintain higher quality standards, ensuring their customers remain happy shoppers. 

 

Since 2021, many brands have started to optimise their supply chain by moving it in-house from big names such as Gucci, Zara and Victoria’s Secret to smaller companies such as Revival Lingerie or Emma Harris. Vertical integration also allows for less product wastage as the wholesale stage is skipped over completely. Wholesale is when the manufacturer sells the product in large quantities to an “intermediary” who then sells it to the consumer. This stage takes a substantial amount of time and by skipping over it completely, brands are able to start designing 3 to 6 months in advance of the expected sale date compared to 9 to 12 months. This means that there is less demand uncertainty because they are closer to consumer demand. Supply chain control also means that companies can invest in cutting edge manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing or even robotics which quicken repetitive tasks. Whilst these investments may be more expensive short term, long term these tools will streamline production, reducing costs and ensuring the brand becomes an industry innovator by utilising advanced technology. The value of vertical integrated manufacturing is that the brand has more creative control and can tailor the process to suit their specific needs and unique customer demands.

Ready to start manufacturing, or need some assistance in finding the right manufacturer for you? Get in touch with us now! 

Want to learn more about how 3D assets can boost your brand? Read about our 3D services here.

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What is Brands of Tomorrow?

Brands of Tomorrow is a curated program, designed to support the growth of an exclusive group of creative entrepreneurs embarking on the journey to develop their businesses in the bodywear sector.

Interested? Find out more on our sister company,
London Contour Experts website.

What is Brands of Tomorrow

Brands of Tomorrow is a curated program, designed to support the growth of an exclusive group of creative entrepreneurs embarking on the journey to develop their businesses in the bodywear sector.

Interested? Find out more on our sister company,
London Contour Experts website.