At Unmade, we’re fascinated with using the latest technologies to disrupt traditional fashion manufacturing to reduce waste and empower brands to connect more deeply and meaningfully with their customers.
PI Apparel NY is a global event for product development in fashion, bringing together leaders in fashion, apparel and footwear to discuss the challenges and technologies disrupting the industry.
At this year’s event, held in the The Metropolitan Pavilion in the heart of Chelsea, NY, Unmade’s director of sales and business development Bruno Mattia took part in an exciting think tank, ‘On Demand Fashion: Creating the Next Generation Supply Chain’.
With great input from guest speaker Michael Colarossi, Vice President of Product Line Management, Innovation and Sustainability at Avery Dennison, the discussion centred on what the next generation supply chain might look like, and how initiatives such as customisation and limited edition runs can pave the way for on-demand production.
Here are our key takeaways:
Digital is driving a revolution in fashion
First of all, the appetite for change is there. Unmade’s Bruno Mattia confirmed that brands are aligning on the vision for moving forward on mass production and consumption. However, for retailers dealing in bigger volumes, the solutions are more complex. They still share the vision but the complexities of moving to such a new model can be overwhelming.
What can be agreed on is that developments in technology are driving disruption across the industry, not just today but for the future.
The digital revolution has really been a key pillar of transformation. We know today that the blockchain is opening many doors. But tomorrow, there will be new innovations.
In fashion production, one size cannot fit all
Even with the advantages of technology, the reason many retailers and brands have yet to implement customisation and personalisation options, even though they view them as valuable drivers for sales, is the complexity of the supply chain as it is. How do you make that shift, from design to manufacturing? How do you make a unique garment and how do you do it at scale?
The answer isn’t simple but could be more of an ecosystem approach than just a one size fits all.
It was clear that the panel and audience shared the vision of on-demand manufacturing customisation and personalisation from a front end perspective.
But it was recognised that you can't do that without a fundamental shift in our supply chain
Delivering change takes more than one player
To talk about this shift, how can retailers and brands influence at factory level, if at all? The current model is centred on mass production ‘megafactories’ with processes based on volume and cost. Can individual brands apply pressure?
Audience participants were cautious in their responses, pointing to incentives and subsidies being offered by the Chinese government to producers willing to utilise the types of technology that could bring on-demand production to life. The current US-Chinese trade tariffs are playing a part too, perhaps pointing to a transitional phase where conversations with new suppliers and new factories could be initiated.
I believe it is going to take us acting collectively to make the change happen. We have to create a discussion around the industry shift that has to happen versus one part trying to move.
The supply chain can be convinced to adopt new technologies
Who’s leading in the power struggle for change? Even big brands report that they have limited influence when it comes to driving change in the supply chain.
But there is certainly hope, stated Bruno. When it comes to innovation, the adoption of 3D technology indicates new technologies can be brought into the process - something he reports in his conversations with suppliers.
"I'm convinced there is a way to explain to the supply channel that they need to adopt new technology - now they are coming to us to understand our solution. When it comes to the power balance in terms of adopting innovation, I'm sure that there is a way to work together for that."
Stepping forward with curated customisation
If implementing wide scale change is a challenge that needs industry alignment, offering curated design options to consumers could be a way to move forward and meet demand, with more controllable production elements.
This is of course a core offering of Unmade. Our technology enables brands to offer curated customisation, where they retain overall brand control but can empower customers to change certain elements of a garment’s design.
Michael: "I actually predominantly think that's going to be the interesting evolution of this model. I think what we're seeing right now in the customisation space is exactly that - brands and retailers giving options to customise but still within a fairly tight box."
Bruno concurs: "You have to curate your product at the end to preserve the DNA of your brand. Some brands that want to offer curated customisation as a possibility, e.g. changing the neck from crew neck to V neck. Others want to give much more possibility to change more of the design. Ideally, you should have both possibilities.
"I feel that should be driven by how you want to engage in your consumer in the design."
Overall, there was a consensus about the need for change in the supply chain but the complex problems of actually convincing a landscape of players to come together to effect this change raised questions with no easy answers.