Creating an actionable plan for managing the manufacturing process can be challenging. The world still faces the global supply chain issues that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of raw material goods have fluctuated wildly, with supply shocks “choking off the recovery in some regions,” according to the Wall Street Journal. And, global transportation bottlenecks have significantly delayed the time it takes for fashion brands to get products from the factory to the consumer’s doorstep. In fact, instead of a product taking just a few weeks to get to customers, fashion businesses now report their products take an astonishing two-and-a-half-months. Granted, industrial production and capacity utilization show improvements. According to a European Union Pandemic Report, overall turnover in the textile and apparel industry is expected to bounce back by about 15% in 2021, and experts anticipate the industry will return to pre-pandemic production levels by 2023.
However, manufacturing’s recovery – and fashion brands’ future success – depends on how effectively businesses respond to future supply chain issues and global transportation bottlenecks. For fashion brands to gain more control over manufacturing, especially given the fashion industry's highly competitive market, brands must effectively organize their manufacturing process to beat out competitors. Simply canceling orders, as many brands did in response to the pandemic’s supply chain issues, will only result in revenue loss worth billions and destabilize important business relationships down chain. Thus, fashion businesses need to thoroughly evaluate their production process and look for ways to fully optimize it. Here are three practical ways to ensure your manufacturers consistently operate at peak performance through seasons of both calm and chaos.
Step #1: Build a Partnership with Your Manufacturer
According to the Harvard Business Review, manufacturers emphasize trust when making products for a business. To establish trust between manufacturers and fashion brands, both parties must act in good faith–this means businesses and manufacturers are both “interested in the other’s welfare and … neither will act without first considering the action’s impact on the other.” In other words, fashion businesses must consider their manufacturers as partners rather than just transactional vendors.
To build a partnership with their manufacturer, fashion brands should act flexibly when applicable. Fashion brands must remember that their manufacturers prioritize different goals, and though exploiting one’s power to achieve their goals may seem effective, both parties should keep in mind that a domineering approach to managing these relationships will only work in the short run. When fashion brands and manufacturers exploit their perceived advantage to achieve immediate goals, the other will ultimately seek ways to resist. To mitigate unnecessary animosity between both parties, fashion brands should act amenably whenever possible. Acting flexibly when possible allows both fashion brands and manufacturers to cut monitoring costs and focus on more important tasks. Furthermore, when both parties act flexibly with each other, they cultivate the rapport needed so that each will go the extra mile for the other in times of urgency.
Eventually, something will disrupt the manufacturer/fashion brand relationship. Such disruption may include efficiency problems, inventory and supply chain issues, or even unintentional destructive behavior. Fashion brands may unknowingly impede a manufacturer’s work, as both parties focus on different goals. However, if a fashion brand cultivates a reservoir of goodwill that helps to preserve the manufacturing/fashion brand relationship, when trouble inevitably comes, the established rapport that fashion brands built with their manufacturers will encourage both parties to avoid blaming the other and, instead, focus on finding quicker solutions.
Step #2: Monitor Waste from Fashion Production
Monitoring waste is absolutely critical to a fashion brand’s survival because consumers hold companies accountable for their environmental violations. According to a 2020 McKinsey survey on customer sentiment towards sustainability, 88 percent of respondents believe that businesses should pay more attention to reducing their pollution. In fact, customer sentiments towards sustainability significantly impact which fashion brands they support, with 67 percent of respondents reporting that a brand’s use of sustainable materials remains an important purchasing factor. In response to consumer demand, fashion brands have incorporated more ethical manufacturing practices such as sustainable sourcing, repurposing old garments into new clothing, and participating in green supply chain evaluations.
But implementing more sustainable manufacturing practices isn’t just for a fashion brand’s public image. The smartest fashion brands realize that wasted production materials can unnecessarily cost more money. To combat profit loss from unnecessary manufacturing waste, fashion brands should form a data log with their manufacturers. By creating a logging system that allows factory workers to report limited or surplus materials, managers can better determine where factories can improve their waste management. Creating a logging system with their manufacturers also creates opportunities for fashion brands to better understand production control, which extends beyond waste management. Other production processes such as proper chemical safety remain important to both manufacturers and consumers who advocate for more sustainable fashion production.
Step #3: Practice Cultural Competency
As fashion brands collaborate with the globe’s best producers, many of their manufacturing partners produce outside of a brand’s native country. Therefore, to effectively collaborate with international manufacturers, fashion brands must take the time to understand how culture informs a manufacturer’s decision. Cultural competency is famously described as the “Achilles’ heel of market globalization.” Without it, fashion brands cannot effectively navigate foreign markets with regard to price, production regulations, and conduct winning sales deals. The cultural understanding needed to find success in foreign markets goes beyond how to properly greet a business partner, whether one should offer small talk before a meeting, or use the right hand gestures. Real cultural understanding remembers local customs, traditions, governments, and economies. Even more personally, cultural understanding considers the company culture, values, and individual personalities. It’s about observing a company’s business process itself, their employee management, and their overall organizational structure.
For fashion brands to effectively consider a manufacturer’s culture, they should thoroughly research a potential manufacturer and consider how cultural particularities influence the way they conduct business. In doing so, fashion brands will gain a better understanding of a manufacturer’s process. Additionally, by researching a manufacturer’s cultural values, they can equip themselves with the right communication strategies to effectively meet their goals and build excellent rapport with their manufacturers. Such cultural research can take many forms: promoting staff diversity to gain diverse cultural knowledge, offering cultural competency development opportunities, and, on an individual level, immersing oneself in foreign cultures. Making such intentional steps towards cultural competency will equip fashion brands with the right communication tools to conduct effective business with their manufacturer and successfully optimize manufacturing efficiency.
Unsure of Where to Begin? Contact a Manufacturers’ Broker
Implementing the right strategies to optimize manufacturing efficiency can seem overwhelming at first. And for smaller fashion brands with more labor constraints, the brands’ leaders may struggle finding the time to make such manufacturing efficiency improvements. However, fashion brands can delegate manufacturing optimization responsibilities to a manufacturers’ broker. Brokers offer vital support to fashion brands and can offer a wide range of services related to manufacturing, including researching and vetting manufacturers, evaluating quality standards, and offering access to a whole manufacturing network. Some brokers even offer Fashion Supplier Directories as part of their service to support fashion brands in their manufacturing search. Not to mention that manufacturers’ brokers are manufacturing experts and usually specialize in a particular country or region. This specialized manufacturing knowledge requires extensive understanding in specific fashion and design history. Really, this understanding comes from a broker with close ties to the manufacturing world. They would mostly likely have manufactured at some point themselves, or spent years in the manufacturing world for that particular country. In the case of Italy, the highest-quality manufacturers have produced for generations, and only brokers with close ties to these family-owned manufacturers will know the ins-and-outs of Italian craftsmanship. Indeed, manufacturer’s brokers can offer brands with the right fashion insider information they need to improve a brand’s durability and overall manufacturing success.
Frida Plata studied the Humanities at the University of Chicago (MA, 2020). She is currently a Content Marketing Intern at MakersValley. An avid museum-goer, Frida enjoys learning about art and fashion from all over the world.