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Adapting To The Changes In Apparel Manufacturing - Challenge or Opportunity?

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April 29, 2022
The apparel manufacturing industry has evolved over time, especially with the introduction of Industry 4.0 technologies in recent years. But this evolution was slowed down by the pandemic, when the entire industry came to a standstill, thus exposing the fragility and operational instability of apparel factories, and as a consequence, many in the industry are skeptical of the industry's future.

Apparel manufacturers are examining the current operational practices and discussions have emerged about how production dynamics and practices are to be transformed to adapt to the post-pandemic era. The pandemic has accelerated the uptake and adoption of technology in the sector, especially of digital and analytical solutions, thus enabling faster and more efficient production practices. There are many ways in which apparel manufacturers are adapting to these changes and it is imperative to plan these changes in a swift and strategic manner. But how does one plan this effectively?

Mr. Shirendra Lawrence, Director at MAS Holdings, and Mr. Aadi Vaidya, COO at Zilingo got in a conversation to shed light on the most efficient ways of adapting to these changes. They also discussed the need to come together as a community and be better prepared for such adversities in the future.


Building the future together





Industry 4.0 technologies have revolutionized the apparel supply chain and are truly enabling factories to become supply chain partners of the future. Large-scale manufacturers are becoming brand partners while the smaller units are finding their footing by becoming specialized in their niche. Brands, manufacturers, and suppliers - are all coming together to collaborate toward common goals. Yet, there is a great deal of work still to be done on the intelligence side of the machinery, and there is a need to rethink the entire adoption process so as to continue to evolve and become future-ready.


Reducing supply chain lead times



A strong supply chain from top to bottom can make a big difference. In order to keep up with the current effervescent demand, shortening lead times is vital. To do that, material standardization is required so that manufacturers can stock up to scale production processes. As more and more design processes are digitized, virtual prototyping is becoming the norm. Besides sourcing raw materials, diversifying distribution processes can also help with shortening lead times. Getting closer to the market or nearshoring helps reduce lead times as well as offer other advantages, such as trade benefits, collaborative opportunities, etc.


Strategy for navigating adversities



Apparel manufacturing industry has faced many adversities over the past years and has successfully managed to come out of it. But the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for the industry to rely on the same old measures to steer through the situation. It made the global leaders realize the need to have detailed documented contingency plans in place for every aspect of the business, including multiple risks that can arise as a result of the adversity. At the same time, having a well documented disaster recovery plan makes it easier for leadership to take the right course of action. A trained and equipped leadership plays an important role in navigating these waters carefully. Having plans and resources in place enables them to initiate action plans as soon as first signs of adversity are seen. A crisis management team composed of top leaders can establish priority workstreams and divide the tasks in manageable chunks and manage this additional responsibility of steering the organization through the tougher times. It is important to take care of your employees and customers alike and the key to managing both through such times is to be honest and authentic to instigate confidence.


Managing financial instability during adversity





Factories and their leaders should be able to switch to survival mode as preserving cash is critical in such situations. Review all the cash flow and instream channels to find sources for liquid cash that may involve drawing loans, re-negotiating payment terms with suppliers and customers, etc. Another source of maintaining liquid cash is to take pay cuts, it can start from the leadership and can cascade down to the mid and lower level employees if required. Once the corporation has pulled through the crisis, it is advisable to restore the salaries and reward the people that stood with the corporation.

Partner with your suppliers and customers to sail through the crisis together and see it as an investment towards the future. Focus on keeping the business running as it assures a smooth partnership with the business partners and keeps everyone’s business afloat.


Automation for smaller manufacturers





Rapid digitization in the apparel manufacturing industry seems to be a by-product of the COVID-19 adversity but it has also posed the question of automation investment for smaller players. It is easier to automate processes in a less design centric production factory as compared to the ones that work for fashion led brands where it becomes challenging. Smaller manufacturing units should focus on empowering and upskilling their workforce by automating repetitive and non value adding tasks. This will require lesser investment and will make the processes slightly easier for the employer so that they are able to make better use of the tangible resources. Encourage the team to be more welcoming towards digitizing processes by offering recognition and rewards.

It is evident that manufacturers will have to ride on Industry 4.0 wagons to make their factories future ready. They need to adapt to modern supply chain channels and foster collaborations within the industry to become supply chain partners from being mere order fulfillment partners. Manufacturers have already begun to adopt digitization changes after the pandemic, which is a positive step in the right direction.

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