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How PAM and Mini-Factories can help us Avoid the US Apparel Industry’s Perfect Storm

August 15, 2012 3 comments

Retail shopping is being transformed by technology in multiple ways. A recent article in USA Today titled ” Why shopping will never be the same,” by Jon Swartz touches on just a few of them.

This blog post has a follow-up guest post to a recent posting titled: Demand Manufacturing: AM4U (Apparel Made 4 You). I asked Bill Grier (founder and current chief technology officer (CEO) of Critical Mass Manufacturing (CMM), Bud Robinson (Chief Marketing Officer of Critical Mass Manufacturing Inc.) and Dr Peter Kilduff (chair of Cal Poly’s Apparel Merchandising and Management department (AMM)) to comment by developing the guest post below on the perfect storm currently taking place in the US apparel industry.

Current Online Apparel Sales Trends

How PAM and Mini-Factories can help us Avoid the US Apparel Industry’s Perfect Storm

We may never see a “parting of the waves” opportunity like this again, where crisis level problems meet potential solutions head on. The confluence of technological advances and market need has never been more in sync than it is today.  Yet with all this opportunity the apparel sector has been slow to recognize and embrace change, blinkered and straight-jacketed via sunk investments that link distant low-cost offshore manufacturing locations to increasingly dynamic and fragmented consumer needs.  The reality is that the existing US apparel marketing philosophy of mass foreign production, seasonal market overloading, up to 50% markdowns, and eventual unsold product dumping, is becoming increasingly untenable economically, environmentally, and (ultimately,) politically.

Yet, we have solutions close at hand if we just extend our reach.  Here is a list of the available technologies that have developed separately over the last ten years.

  1. We have a massive sophisticated consumer base with an expanding multichannel retail infrastructure (ERP, CRM) ready to serve.
  2. Bar code SKU based prediction profiles for trends and purchasing patterns.
  3. Both the government (DAMA) and the private sector have created efficient and accurate tracking (RFID) and communication/control (PLM, MMS) programs for supply chain management.
  4. Incredible design and visualization capabilities, with digital 2D and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) applications enhancing product development capabilities.
  5. Body scanning to obtain up-to-date sizing data, improved fit selections and with the promise to enable virtual reality fit to avatar permitting custom fit and custom design.
  6. Cutting and sewing technologies enhanced by computer integrated manufacturing systems are evolving at digital speeds.
  7. “Change-on-the-fly” digital printing technology that utilizes fewer water and energy resources and is perfect for the shorter runs needed by today’s fickle fashion industry.
  8. New advances in chemical-physics have unlocked the ability to permanently dye and print the polyester, spandex and nylon micro fabrics that dominate today’s worldwide fashion choices.

Individually, these technologies have provided the industry with opportunities for significant but incremental advances.  When amalgamated, as demonstrated by the Apparel Made for You (AM4U) project, they open the way for a radical new approach to apparel retailing and manufacturing – one that begins with the consumer purchase and integrates this with fabric and garment design, retail selling and garment assembly.  This Purchase Activated Manufacturing (PAM) model will produce custom-designed, custom fitted, and custom labeled apparel, eliminating finished goods inventories and dramatically improving profitability.  At the same time, it will considerably reduce pollution, energy and water use, and return a significant number of apparel jobs back to the USA.  PAM has the potential to be the most disruptive technical event to affect the sewn goods industry since the innovations pioneered by Elias Howe and Isaac Singer.   PAM promises an answer to the building storm of eroding profit margins, and the generation of huge waste and pollution in a world progressively expending its natural resources.  Not so much a perfect storm more a parting of the waves.

The Top Challenges in Apparel Retail

Reducing Out-of-Stocks. This is more critical than ever to apparel retailers, since many have adopted defensive inventory practices designed to keep only as much inventory in the store as is absolutely needed. This has put significant pressure on retailers to enhance supply chain efficiency by having real-time visibility to merchandise levels in their stores and at distribution centers.  PAM/Mini-Factory:  Garments are stored in digital form and sized to fit and produced when purchased.  There is no out-of-stock for any product ever stored in the inventory i.e., a standard DVD will hold over 1200 digital garments including all colors and sizes.

Lowering the Cost of Inventory. Retailers had to adapt during the recession, making difficult cuts to their inventories in order to avoid overstocks and markdowns. But the short selling seasons of apparel, as well as frequent reconfiguration of products on the sales floor, makes this challenge particularly poignant in the apparel industry. PAM/Mini-Factory: By targeting PAM production on high inventory cost and high risk designs, colors and prints, retailers can use a single display or touch screen image in place of product on the floor.

Improving Speed to Market. Fashions change at blinding speed, and new trends and consumer preferences emerge at the blink of an eye – today, even more than in the past. Apparel brand-owners must get their products from the design center to the store faster than ever, and retailers must stock and sell those products immediately while consumer interest is at its highest – and before the next selling season begins. PAM/Mini-Factory: With real time design, on the fly patternmaking and one-off production, retailers can test the market continuously without delay or cost.  Consumers can make, color and print changes and see them on their bodies before they purchase.

Reducing or Reallocating Labor. Gross margins on apparel have dropped significantly in the past two years as a result of the recession, as retailers have slashed prices to move merchandise. This has put renewed pressure on retailers to be more efficient with their labor allocation in order to recoup a few percentage points of margin lost by price-cutting. Additionally, more retailers have begun adopting source tagging, moving the process of attaching tags to the front end of the supply chain, where it can be done more cost effectively.  PAM/Mini-Factory: Consolidation of tasks removes the dye-house, the wet printer, the label maker, the hang-tag printer, the cutter and all the transportation and duties in between these sites.  The key to gross profits is not paying less per person but to pay less people. A mini-factory will pay less people higher wages and still more than double gross profit.

Generating Data to Manage and Maximize Programs. As both sales and gross margins have slipped among apparel retailers and brand owners in recent years, more money has been spent on direct-marketing programs to drive store traffic and encourage purchasing activity. But retailers need additional, real-time information in order to determine what promotions are working and which ones are not, while manufacturers need this information to determine which retailer marketing campaigns they will continue funding.  PAM/Mini-Factory: PAM is both real time and real money data, plus it generates size and demographic details never before available.  Remember there are no markdown or sale promotions because there is no inventory to markdown.

Preserving Brand Integrity. Apparel counterfeiting remains a huge, vexing problem. It robs retailers of legitimate sales opportunities, erodes margins, confuses supply-chain partners and erodes a brand in the eyes of consumers who receive shoddy substitutes for the real thing. Retailers and brand-owners are taking extra steps to ensure that their brands are properly and consistently presented to consumers. PAM/Mini-Factory: Total manufacturing control of high end products allows security and anti-counterfeit techniques and applications never before possible.

Enhancing Customer Satisfaction. Research from Harvard Business School has consistently noted that when a product is out of stock when a customer comes in, that customer is highly likely to shop for the product in another store and perhaps unlikely to return again in the future to the original store for that product. It also means that the customer doesn’t buy additional apparel products and accessories, robbing the retailer of important add-on sales and profits. PAM/Mini-Factory: The consumer participates in the fitting and coloring in real time online or in the store and since the inventory is digital nothing is ever out of stock.

Reducing Shrink. Apparel is the number-two category for shrink worldwide, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer. Reducing shrink is a huge step toward improving the bottom line of apparel retailers, especially considering that higher-margin products such as accessories, designer-label clothing and intimate apparel are stolen at even higher rates. PAM/Mini-Factory: Every garment has an owner before it even starts through the factory. Elimination of shrink is a major contributor to increased gross profit.

Maximizing Sales. At a fundamental level, retailers are in business to sell products that their customers want to buy, and they need to do everything possible to maximize sales. Having the right mix of products, maintaining adequate shelf availability, and keeping prices competitive are all key to their long-term success. PAM/Mini-Factory: The PAM selling strategy increases consumer participation, provides for multichannel convenience (in store, online/in store pickup, online/ship) and creates personal tailor level customer loyalty.

An example of the PAM Mini-Factory strategy for recovering the US apparel manufacturing base can be seen daily in thousands of Lowes, Home Depot, Orchard Supply, and other home centers and paint stores through the country.  Paint was a staple product for years but it suffered from high inventory costs and large floor space consumption.  The problem was that every color had to be in stock and if you did try to mix a new color it was almost impossible to match the customer’s chip.  Sound familiar…?  Then a smart young lady decided to apply the new low cost spectrophotometer technology to the problem.  This permitted colors to be mixed and matched in-store right at the counter with white paint!  Voila! Purchase Activated Manufacturing mini-factories were born in home centers across the United States (and the rest of the world)! Suddenly, integrated diverse technologies joined to reduce waste and inventory and more than double gross profit.

Standby, because in the next guest blog post, Bill, Bud and Peter will demonstrate how to maximize profits through matrix product selection and multichannel sales distribution.

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Demand Manufacturing: AM4U (Apparel Made 4 You)

August 14, 2012 9 comments

“Demand Manufacturing” what is it? Just as it states, it directly connects consumers’ demand to manufacturing. The AM4U (Apparel Made 4 You) concept represents the set-up of turnkey purchase activated manufacture (PAM) mini-factories in the USA for making and selling active performance apparel online. With this method the need for all finished goods inventory will be eliminated. Mini plants can be placed inside a distribution site or near a shopping hub and can be easily moved on two trucks.

Bud Robinson is Chief Marketing Officer of Critical Mass Manufacturing Inc, (CMM) which is the leading member of a group of apparel industry advisors to Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Apparel Merchandising and Management (AMM). Dr. Peter Kilduff, Chair of AMM has assembled a team to demonstrate a revolutionary new way to manufacture and market Active Apparel. “Bud’s Apparel background includes: President of Levi Strauss International, and President of Hang Ten and Catalina Swimwear, he was also EVP of the Gap Stores and was instrumental in their startup. Bud is coordinating the AMM advisory group that has incorporated itself as AM4U.

Bill Grier is a pioneer in the digital printing industry and he is also the inventor of numerous international and US patents. Bill is the founder and current chief technology officer (CEO) of Critical Mass Manufacturing (CMM). For the AMM demonstration project that Bud recently coordinated, Bill teamed up with Styku virtual body-scanning, Tukatech Apparel Technology, AIMS apparel management system and Eton Systems to launch an initial demand manufacturing AM4U prototype project aimed at illustrating how consumers can be  directly connected to manufacturing to create the demand manufacturing process.

After listening to Bill speak so eloquently about the AM4U demand manufacturing mini manufacturing modules he would like to see set-up across the US, I decided that you should have an opportunity to listen to him talk more in detail about the historical background of how numerous developments in technology have come together to create a “perfect storm of opportunity and transformation for the American apparel industry.”

Bill Grier

Audio interview here – please listen to Bill’s historical background story.

 Bill details the historical background:

  • On the confluence of bar codes, digital printing, fiber development, environmental awareness, the DAMA Project,overseas manufacturing, custom body scanning and the Internet, which presented this unique opportunity for change.
  • Zero Inventory Production (ZIP).
  • Technology Advantages. incorporated into AM4U digital printing.
  • Critical Mass Manufacturing (CMM).
  • Purchase activated Manufacturing.

Dr. Peter Kilduff

The companies initially came together with Cal Poly Pomona’s Apparel Merchandising and Management department to work on the project, hoping to find a solution to waste and overproduction in the apparel industry.

The video clip below represents the initial demonstration of the AM4U solution. AM4U’s mentor Dr Peter Kilduff, chair of Cal Poly’s Apparel Merchandising and Management department (AMM) explains one of the major problems plaguing American manufacturing. He introduces how AM4U technology has the capacity to change the apparel industry from supply and demand to demand and supply.

Critical Mass Manufacturing: Cost Effective Demand to Supply Green Technology

When I spoke to Bill Grier about this green cost-effective demand and supply technology he spoke passionately of his dream to bring the industrial base in textiles back to the U.S. by doing demand manufacturing.” Bill went on to say that “The Internet is not about price it’s about choice. Our purpose is to make the technology or products available to people who need them on a wider scale.  The AM4U concept represents a huge shift for the apparel industry. It’s switching supply and demand to demand and supply.”

CMM has developed the Active Tunnel Coloration (ATC) process (patent pending) that replaces huge water-based dye houses. No water or hazardous chemicals are used.This represents a green technology with no use of chemicals.

Bill states:

–  that the colors produced by his method are so permanent that you could pour bleach on it and the colors will never change. Cleaning agents or bleach cannot affect the coloration of the fabric, resulting in the most durable colored fabrics available. Since water is eliminated in the AM4U color application process, production is simplified.

This technology allows color changes on the fly, any colors and different colors for each garment, that includes all over prints and graphics. This process will eliminate finished goods inventory and the related carrying costs will increase retained gross profits by up to 100%.

CMM’s technology is devised around a single principle: The fiber itself contains enough energy to conduct colorization from the energy stored in the fiber, rather than requiring external chemicals to create color.

What we found is that there was energy stored in the fiber when it was formed that we could trigger to move dye into the fiber.

Most fabric coloring requires mass production through multiple processes and factories, which often results in excess fabric from over-estimating production. This technology enables dying, printing and labeling only the amount of fabric needed, all on one machine in a single pass  and on a much quicker schedule, instead of a designer having to place an order overseas to separate dye houses and printing manufacturers.

Grier’s technology is devised around a single principle: The fiber itself contains enough energy to conduct colorization from the energy stored in the fiber, rather than requiring external chemicals to create color, Grier explained.

“What we found is that there was energy stored in the fiber when it was man-made that we could release at certain frequencies,” Grier said.

Currently, his research has been limited to man-made polymers, such as nylon and polyester.

Beyond the environmental benefits of conserving water, the new technology also helps conserve resources by enabling users to use demand manufacturing, which negates the need for over-production, Grier says.

Most fabric dyeing requires mass production through multiple factories, which often results in excess fabric from over-estimating production, Grier explained. His technology enables him to dye, print and imprint only the amount of fabric needed, all on one machine and on a much quicker schedule, instead of a designer having to place an order overseas to separate dye houses and printing manufacturers, Grier said.

“We’re trying to tie the manufacturing speed directly to consumer takeaway speed. That way, there’s no extra production. We can produce a one-off for the Internet for the same price as mass production,” he said.

Grier said this technology could help bring the textile industry back to the United States instead of relying on large-scale mass printing and production overseas.

“Four out of every five blouses produced overseas is not sold at retail price. That means we’ve produced four blouses more than we need for the marketplace, and the water use is somewhere around 100 to 150 gallons of water per blouse, so if we don’t produce four of them because the technology is closer to the consumer, we’ve saved water and pollution,”  He explained. “Water is becoming a precious commodity, especially in California, and without waterless technology we lose the ability to control our own destiny on the products we produce in California.”

California Apparel News

Top Benefits of AM4U Technology

  • A perfect Fit every time for the consumer.
  • A zero inventory production system.
  • ACT technology save the environment by eliminating the use of billions of gallons of water with no caustic chemicals.
  • Very important is the bottom line – AM4U technology will result in a 40% higher profit and will produce thousands of new jobs.

Higher Education Partnerships Wanted

Bill Grier and Bud Robinson would like to partner with higher education to continue testing AM4U (Apparel Made 4 You) demand manufacturing green technology. At the same time they would like to support higher education by providing an opportunity for schools and students to build funding streams for more student centered research projects. They will provide more details in an upcoming post.

If you can’t wait here is contact information for you:

Adobe Illustrator CS6: New Pattern Tool Video Tutorials

I just completed some very basic Adobe Illustrator video tutorials for the new Pattern Tool in CS6. They are meant to be class exercises but you are welcome to use them if you like. First I watched THIS VIDEO TUTORIAL from Adobe, then I made these video tutorials for the students.

Part 1 of Intro to Pattern tool in Adobe CS6 – create a 6 sided flower, create 6 different pattern repeats using the new CS6 pattern tool.

Part 2 of Intro to Pattern tool in Adobe CS6 – recolor, single repeat, in repeat swatch, resize, pinked edges

If you like them – here is a link to five more from my fashioncad.info site: INTRO ADOBE CS6 ILLUSTRATOR PATTERN TOOL & PATTERN

  • Adobe Illustrator CS6 Pattern Tool – Bug: Draw a simple bug to use in a two way and non- directional pattern using Adobe CS6 Pattern Tool.
  • Adobe Illustrator CS6 Pattern Tool – Tossed Crayon: Intro Pattern Tool Adobe CS6, Simple crayons: Tossed, non-directional repeat pattern, 3 colorways, 2 in pat tool, 1 on layer palette, single cropped repeats, in repeat swatches, title, pinked edges, drop shadow added.
  • Adobe Illustrator CS6 Pattern Tool – Flower Pattern: Using Adobe CS6 – sketch simple flower and use Pattern Tool to make repeat pattern.
  • Adobe Illustrator CS6 – Pattern Tool – Comma Pattern: Using Adobe CS6 – sketch simple comma shape and create w/pattern Brush & pattern inside pattern; use Pattern Tool to make repeat pattern.
  • Adobe Illustrator CS6 – Make a simple argyle pattern: Video Tutorial of simple argyle pattern – not using the pattern tool – traditional method.
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