On-demand Manufacturing Transforming the Way Traditional Apparel Industry Works
Updated: Oct 19, 2022
By Apparel Resources
The advent of disruptive technologies over the years has made way for innovations in the fashion industry, especially the product development area that’s always been accused of using more traditional approach leading to massive wastage of raw materials, time and labour. The industry has moved from ‘Design, Make, Sell’ concept to ‘Design, Sell, Make’ concept – all thanks to technology support – which is creating less wastage of fabrics/clothing, streamlining low order quantities and making the supply chain a sustainable place for the stakeholders to work in. Precisely termed as ‘On-demand manufacturing’, the concept ‘reverses the process’ of apparel production and gives rise to the idea of smart, technology-driven factories – micro-factories – for apparel manufacturing.
The paper is written by Sriesh Magu after researching technologies including Tukatech – a company that provides breakthrough technologies for on-demand manufacturing model. In the recently concluded Texprocess Americas, Tukatech demonstrated ‘Smart factory’ / ‘Micro factory’ as a turnkey solution for on-demand manufacturing in the area of only 2,500 square feet and became one of the first companies to do so.
What Exactly Is ‘On-Demand Manufacturing’?
On-demand manufacturing simply means producing a product only after its order has been received. In the fashion industry, this concept has taken a modern approach to old-time tailor shops offering custom, tailored clothing for clients. Each clothing item is made as and when they are ordered leading to zero waste making it a highly sustainable business model.
Moreover, there is zero risk except for inventory costs of raw materials like fabrics, accessories, trims, etc. The cost of holding, selling and discarding extra inventory is also eliminated by applying this model. On-demand manufacturing enables businesses to offer various sizes so that their clothing can fit different body shapes and sizes. A tailored fit can also be offered to fit conscious consumers. The idea of on-demand manufacturing appeals to a generation of new age thinkers who are concerned about the environment and sustainability in the future.
Why ‘On-Demand Manufacturing’ Model Should Be Preferred over Mass Manufacturing?
Fast fashion is a poor practice leading to climate change and there is an urgent need to reverse this trend. Fashion has evolved into a highly dynamic industry where trends and styles change over a very short period. Moreover, it has evolved into a wasteful practice causing overproduction and widespread wastage of resources.
Major fast-fashion labels outsource their production to countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc., where the overall cost of production is low. Product development is associated with high costs, leads to wastage of resources and time, and is carried out for 90 per cent of products that will never be sold. When ordering inventory, these labels tend to overestimate anticipated sales due to poor forecasting practices and end up ordering more inventory than they can sell. By ordering higher quantities, the cost per garment is also reduced due to economies of scale. Thus, this leads to heaps of unsold inventories sitting on shelves which are then sold at discounted prices.
On-Demand Pushes Sustainability Strongly into Fashion Supply Chain
The fashion industry has a dirty little secret that no one talks about and is often ignored. The environmental impacts of fast fashion and mass apparel manufacturing are severe and require urgent reform. About 40 per cent of all manufactured clothing are not even sold at their original price. Ultimately, these clothes have to be burned or disposed of in landfills to get rid of the extra inventory. The cycle is repeated by thousands of fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, etc. These clothes are not made to last anyway and Americans alone dispose of 16 million tonnes of clothing waste every year. This leads to heaps of textile waste in nature which takes many years to decompose.
The industry alone is the second-largest consumer of water responsible for 20 per cent of global water waste. It takes around 400 gallons of water to produce a cotton T-shirt and 1,800 gallons to produce a pair of jeans. Moreover, water is used extensively for dyeing fabrics and these water-containing harmful chemicals are released into the environment polluting the water supply. Tiny micro-plastics from synthetic fibres like polyester also pollute water bodies and threaten marine life.
The industry is also responsible for 10 per cent of carbon emissions and contributes heavily to the phenomenon of global warming. Climate change is a real issue and needs to be addressed through a change in mindset towards attaining sustainability in the future.
Thus, on-demand manufacturing is truly an environment-friendly and highly sustainable business model which can change the dynamics of the fashion industry forever. Fabric utilisation is maximised and ink is saved and used only on the pattern pieces with dye sublimation and direct-to-fabric printing.
Two companies studied by Tukatech that have implemented on-demand micro-factory model are Los Angeles-based Neems, formerly Lasso, a made-to-measure denim company that’s carrying all production in their local factory making all their products Made in USA and Freedom Rave Wear that specialises in making apparel for rave parties and music festivals using Tukatech solutions alongside their swimwear label and custom fabric printing studio.