Between 60 and 75 million people were employed in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide in 2014; more than three times the number employed in 2000. Its total value is estimated at US$1209bn; just over half ($621bn) is women’s wear. The garment industry’s supply chain is buyer-driven: big retailers and brands, as well as the knowledge and design base, are located in Europe, Japan and North America. They determine where and what to produce, and price levels. The most labour-intensive elements are in developing countries.Recent years have seen a move towards consolidation of supply chains and move towards ‘reshoring’ production.
Controlling costs ethically
Overtly expressed desires for more ethical production are not always matched by a willingness to pay more. Pressures to reshore are opposed by the need to keep costs low. Labour-intensive production methods are too expensive to be utilised in developed countries.
Automation of production, including effective scheduling of resources with online plans and interactive job lists, enable competitive and profitable manufacturing closer to consumer markets.
The clothing industry is driven by fashion, which is by definition fast-changing. While established outlets have the major say in determining demand, breakout brands and social media-led ‘guerrilla marketing’ can affect consumer tastes and preferences. ‘Ethical purchasing’ campaigns can be severely disruptive.
Transparent supply chains with real-time visibility and multiple sources for materials vulnerable to volatility enable accurate, auditable tracking and demand-driven inventory.
Even value-driven, price-conscious consumers expect appropriate quality. Demands become more stringent higher up the price spectrum. Colours, finish and suitability for purpose are important for maintaining relationships with buyers and for brands’ reputations.
Real time visibility with paperless production processes, downtime alerts and collaborative messaging within the factory and along the supply chain help to eliminate faults and damage to materials, boosting operational efficiency.
New materials, including recycled PET from plastic bottles and food packaging, are gaining market share and replacing traditional materials, especially cotton. Sustainability requires more environmentally sensitive production, minimised water usage, and elimination of dangerous and wasteful leakages and effluent disposal.
Producers must be agile and able to repurpose machinery from virgin to recycled material. Real-time data collection and tracking of employees, equipment and jobs optimise machine performance and helps to eliminate wastage, in processes and behaviour.
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