There’s much focus on the challenges faced by the fashion industry: the problems in the outdated supply chain, the material waste from fast and ultra-fast fashion, the continuing struggle to improve inclusion and diversity. Despite that, much work is done daily to give fashion a cleaner reputation, be that with new vegan leathers and low-impact materials or through putting more emphasis on ethical manufacturing, improvements to the fashion business are made constantly without getting the attention they deserve.
One of these developments is the micro-factory system, a new concept that has the potential to impact multiple business areas of fashion.
What Is a Micro-factory?
The first to work on the idea of micro-factories was the Mechanical Engineer Laboratory of Japan in 1990 while trying to downsize machine tools and manufacturing systems for cars.
Its original goal was to speed up the process of production by reducing the amount of people, machinery, and materials used to get to the final product. To do so, the new work environment design was smaller and more efficient, relying on a more automated production system.
Although fashion is a much different business and adopted the micro-factory concept many years later, the concept of using a micro-factory is still based on the same fundamentals: shortening the – sometimes incredibly long – process of garment and accessories production by making it as computerized and automated as possible.
The final micro-factory process relies heavily on tasks such as digital printing, cutting, and sewing, thereby reducing human touch points and the potential for human error. It can also make it possible, in select cases, producing an item only 24 hours after receiving its design.
5 Things To Keep in Mind If You Want To Produce With a Micro-factory
A lot of questions can come with producing a clothing line and sometimes it can be overwhelming. The whole process can take several months and be extremely expensive, with a final result that might not be exactly what you expected or desired. If you’re an emerging designer still considering if and how to produce your first few creations, micro-factories might be a great starting point. Here’s why:
1. No Required Minimum Order Quantity
It doesn’t matter if you only want to produce 30 jackets to sell quickly. Most factories will ask you to order a minimum amount of pieces per item, and they won’t budge on that. Be that 300 or 5,000 items, you won’t be able to escape the minimum order quantity with a big factory producing your collection. Fortunately, you will not have the same problem with a micro-factory. Because everything is tailored to your exact and specific requests, your manufacturers will be able to produce a smaller quantity of items, without you having to worry about having too much excess.
2. Faster than Producing with a Gigafactory
Think of this: in a big factory, before a project can even get approved, it will probably have to go through multiple people who will have to check and double-check everything. Same thing when it comes to the production part: first, there’s the sampling period, in which you might make multiple sample runs before your clothing items come out as you want them to. Some factories might even have to order parts from different places, which will slow down the whole process even more.
Azfar Hasan, the CEO of micro-factory company Lulusar, explains that the benefits of using virtual product development technology are visible and undeniable.
“Whereas we might have done 4 cycles to finalize one print on one style, we are now just going into the final run after approval of our styles and prints digitally. The whole process is very efficient, it’s much faster than physically sampling and - honestly - it’s more accurate than physically sampling.”
In a micro-factory, the most relevant steps of clothing line production are automated and computerized, so you won’t have to count on as many possible human mistakes. Less people and fewer steps can mean more efficiency.
3. Have a Closer Working Relationship with Your Factory Team
As we already said, a micro-factory’s team is usually very small but extremely skilled. Most micro-factories will welcome you with open arms and be willing to be more collaborative partners with you about your clothing line. For example, they may help recommend fabrics to you and give you their expert, experienced feedback on your designs.
Working with them on collaboration-enhancing software, like MakersValley, can also help you make the whole process even more efficient than ever. Australian designer Joshua Scacheri says that working with micro-factories has shaped and changed the way he designs his clothes, making his project more functional and eliminating errors and waste.
In the end, this will also assure you full eyes on the production of your design, leaving nothing taken for granted or completely off in other people’s hands.
4. Cost Reduction
The beginning of a career in the fashion industry can be scarily expensive, most of all when it comes to producing a clothing collection. However, micro-factories are a perfect solution in this area:
“The primary difference is that the micro-factory is demand and not production led. The micro-factory paradigm is ‘Sell, Produce, Deliver,’ and not ‘Produce, Sell, Deliver’. In this system, which is driven by an online sales presence, alongside AR and AI software, the client selects, buys and pays for their product before the item is produced. Production and delivery are after the sale, and not before it, and therefore cash flow is not an issue.”
With a micro-factory, you can cut the expensive costs of producing too much of a clothing item, as well as the costs of leasing expensive inventory space for product you might not be able to actually sell. The reduction in required materials and fabric also results in a lower price of production.
5. Smaller Environmental Footprint
If you’re hyper-aware of fashion’s environmental impact and want to produce your clothing line in a more sustainable way, micro-factories can help you out. Not only do they occupy less land and use less energy than gigafactories, but working with a micro-factory to produce a smaller collection will also keep the amount of material waste minimal since everything is bought in order to produce a smaller and hyper-specific quantity of fashion products.
In the end, micro-factories can not only save you time and money, but leave a more conservative environmental impact. If you’re still deciding if fashion is the right path for you and don’t want to put your dream on the side without first giving it a shot, producing with a micro-factory might be your best option.