The Supply Chain Crisis: How Technology Can Help Rebuild Resilience

Supply chains must evolve in order to overcome the challenges faced by both the fashion industry and the planet

For the past 2 years, global supply chains across all industries have been overwhelmed due to the pandemic, and the fashion supply chain is no different. Let’s recap:

Experts are remaining optimistic but cautious for the year ahead (State of Fashion 2022). There will be new challenges for sure, but the industry should focus on improving their response to the challenges that are here for the long haul; balancing supply demand, logistical bottlenecks, manufacturing delays, high shipping costs, and raw material shortages.

As a whole, supply chain in the fashion industry is segmented into 3 spaces:

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1. Raw materials and the imbalance of supply vs. demand

At the start of the pandemic, apparel production activity halted as consumer demand dropped and people stocked up on the essentials instead. In response, raw materials and textiles companies reduced their inventory to prevent the high expense of excess stock. When the global economy finally began to reopen, this unforeseen surge in demand put a huge amount of pressure on the supply chain. Natural materials like cotton were particularly scarce as new harvests are subject to nature, far beyond the control of human intervention. To add to the scarcity, many countries recently banned the import of goods sourced from China’s Xinjiang region following allegations of forced labor in the area. To put it into perspective, this region was responsible for over 85% of China’s cotton production…

Freight disruptions continue to fuel this issue as even if you can get your hands on the raw materials, chances are you will struggle to get them where they need to be on time.  Companies have been left scrambling to secure shipping containers at extortionate prices, and previously manageable events like the Suez Canal closure are now disastrous for a supply chain already running at full capacity. The unexpected should now be considered probable.

Despite booming consumer demand, material shortages and the freight crisis are making it difficult for companies to make the most of potential sales. Companies should look to implement dynamic forecasting models into their procurement organizations to keep up with these raw materials imbalances. By pre-booking goods ahead of time, companies can help to reduce severe disruptions in the future, but they may need to look at other areas of their supply chain in order to cut lead times and streamline their production process.

2. Modernizing product development in fashion

The product development process is often long and costly, with few companies managing to meet deadlines on time or on budget. Translating a designer’s 2D sketch into a 3D physical sample is a major part of the development phase. As manufacturers work to bring a designer’s vision to life, samples are shipped back and forth as technical designers analyze and adjust them several times over. Not only does this take time from an already tight schedule, but it also negatively impacts the environment through unnecessary waste and carbon emissions. Historically, this system has run on outdated methodology, and now more than ever the industry is pushed to recognize the incredible technological advancements available and the benefits in adopting them.

Many apparel brands work directly with their own fit models, all with their own unique body measurements. Communicating this to the manufacturers can be challenging, but it doesn’t need to be. 3D body scanning technology enables brands to quickly capture and communicate these body measurements through the creation of digital avatars. Many companies are already making the most of this technology and are amazed to see how 3D avatars and body analytics can provide consistency across the entire product development stage and how it can even reduce physical sample production by 80%. Brands can digitize the entire development process by using these 3D avatars to create virtual samples with incredible accuracy at a fraction of the cost.

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3. The inefficiencies of manufacturing 

While previously favored, offshore manufacturing is now seen as incredibly inflexible and inefficient due to demand volatility and rapidly changing trends. The labor costs overseas might be lower, but offshoring usually involves much longer lead times and high minimum order quantities (MOQs). Factors such as factory location, time difference, and language barriers all further contribute to this logistical dilemma, not to mention the unequal distribution of risk. When the pandemic hit, apparel companies were quick to cancel orders, deny the delivery of goods, and defer payments in favor of their own survival. Manufacturers were saddled with all the loss which revealed the lack of partnership between brands and their suppliers. Sharing the responsibility and risk associated with inventory is key to trust and a good working relationship. 

Resiliency in the supply chain has been widely discussed for years, and offshoring is not the answer. The disruptions and unforeseen costs associated with the recent freight crisis, have shown that diversifying the supplier base is necessary and cost efficient. Striking a balance between nearshoring and reshoring could even out the higher cost of labor with the avoidable costs of delay or unsold stock. Many strategies for achieving true efficiency in production will require long-term investments and the acceptance of higher cost goods. Brands should choose to invest in the digitalisation and stabilization of the value chain in order to improve both internal collaboration and external communication.

Now, instead of dwelling on the negatives, we should look to all the exciting opportunities presented by the adoption of technology. Integrating these systems will be key to lessening the impacts of the supply chain on fashion, on the environment, and on you.

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TrueToForm is a smartphone-based 3D body scanning platform that generates digital avatars for apparel design. Our mission is to help creators accurately capture the shape and size of their clients from the comfort of their own home.

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