PULL MODELS/ ON DEMAND
New technologies and analytics have also enabled a new breed of start-ups to adopt to a more agile, made-to-order-production cycle. The result of demand production is that there is no waste as you are just manufacturing placed on true customer demand. The traditional models of forecasting production based on forecasting is called the push mode which will always equate to waste. The pull mode is based and driven by market demand. In March 2020, Interline wrote “From push to Pull: How technology Promises to Reverse The Flow of Production”, they questioned if the long-standing “push model of apparel production could soon be replaced, at least in part, by the all-digital-date-driven “pull” model.
Mark Harrop, the founder of Interline and PLM, said that “Not every product needs to be demand driven, for one thing; basics that are never out of stock can continue to be produced in the traditional way. Although I should note that production for these types of products should still be demand-driven in the sense that manufacturing should be triggered by minimum stock levels being flagged up by Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for true automation of essentials. For trend and fashion products with a limited window of success, though, the pull chain offers several clear advantages”
The impact this will have on margins, sustainability, supplier relationships and much more can’t be overstated. Rather than discounting unsold garments, or seeing them end up in landfill, fashion could be producing only what it knows will sell – providing that everyone in the value chain is equipped with the right data, insight, and execution tools to make that happen.
An example of a brand that has just done that, is Duer, according to Fashion United, the company was growing 100 per cent, year on year, but saw a dramatic drop of 75 per cent when the pandemic hit. In a bid to line up supply with demand and cut waste they released 10 new digital images over a three-week campaign and the garment was only produced if the minimum threshold of orders was met. If it was met, the product is made and delivered to the customer within four to eight weeks.
It’s important to note that this model only applies to some products in the brand’s full range and, if a prototype is popular enough during the campaign, it can then become a part of Duer’s core product range. But nonetheless, just by shifting to this new paradigm, the brand expects the model to help reduce its overall inventory by a minimum of 35 per cent.
“Creating speculative inventory, which everyone does, bringing it into stores and then spending all this money on marketing and trying to sell it – it’s completely inefficient,” Duer founder Gary Lenett told FashionUnited. “We’ve shifted towards seeing where the demand is and then meeting it. This new way of purchasing not only produces less waste but will pass production efficiency on to the customer, meaning products are less expensive.”
Harrop summarises, “In my mind, there is little question that the push method of production has a limited amount of time left as the dominant model. As a mindset it fails to take account of just how rapidly the fashion market – and consumer expectations – is evolving. As a technology and investment strategy, the efficiencies it can realise will be incremental compared to the huge potential offered by moving instead to a demand-driven pull chain”.
One of the challenges of the pull model, is the traditional supply chain model, isn’t agile enough to deliver products to the customer in a viable timeframe, one thing for sure in this day and age is the impatience of customers. Nearshoring and onshoring would definitely enable retailers to reduce their lead times, something that is becoming more relevant for the UK with the impact of Brexit. A recent survey results published by McKinsey showed that 60 percent of apparel-procurement executives expect that over 20 percent of their sourcing volume will be nearshore by 2025. However, there may be price implications that aren’t viable for many brands to do this.
The technical revolution that is arising within the industry coupled with the desire to have products personalised, has paved way for a new type of factory set up. “The micro-factory model”. These factories are highly automated, small in scale and need fewer resources to set up and run compared to a traditional factory. They also provide the speed of response and mass customisation that customers want. Relying on the speed of image processing, computerised workflow, digital printing, computerised sewing, the textile micro-factory can deliver a sale within 24 hours of payment being received.
This new approach also combines 3D simulations of clothing with direct data transfer into virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality. Instead of presenting the customer with physical examples of the clothing to be produced, the examples are visualised as a virtual object and during the production process, the customer has the opportunity for direct input into the design of the product in question (FashionUnited).
Another evolution within the micro-factory and production is 3D printing, this process reduces fabric waste by about 35% and the minimal waste approach could provide valuable in cost and waste saving. One area that is well matched to 3D printed products is Footwear. Forbes predicts that “Streetwear in 2025 will be hyper-personalized products, designed by consumers empowered with technology. Consumers will 3D print shoes at home. Hence, 3D knitting shoes can be deconstructed and rebuilt, so consumers always have a pair of shoes that’s unique and individualized to their own personal style. Nike’s auto-lacing technology will be part of all shoes. Possibly shoes won’t have laces in 2025 as the fashion industry continues to cut down on waste. Shoes will be made out of alternate material like “bio couture, cellulosic fibre, cork sheeting, or mycelium.” Shoes will be made out of material that can sense changes in the environment. They will become waterproof when it rains or vented if it reaches a certain temperature outside. Games aren’t just for teenagers”.
That’s the future, for now the NY based designer Heron Preston has just debuted a fully 3D printed sneaker in collaboration with technology company Zellerfeld. The Fashion magazine asked, Is this the future of footwear? Made without seams or stitching, and free of toxic glues and materials, the sneaker is entirely recyclable and incorporates circularity to its production model. Zellerfeld recycles the sneaker that customers send back in a “closed loop” system” that uses the material of old shoes to create new, reimagined footwear.
However the fabrics available to make this happen are still very limited for apparel, the most common raw material is TPU, a Thermosplastic polyeurethane but this is not established for normal wear, it’s more of a decorative material, An innovate designer that is pushing the boundaries with 3D digital printing is Iris Van Halpern, although futuristic and totally waste free, it’s still very time consuming to make these fascinating garments.. Halpern’s custom “Bene Gesserit” gown, worn by Grimes to the Met Gala 2021 took over 900 hours to prefect. .
Digital knitting allows more scope and has been making great strides with companies such as Uniqlo now offering an array of 3D knitted garments, made without seams these, the process takes a digital design and turns it from a digital asset to a piece of clothing with no waste.