A very Interesting video about Internet jargon:
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.
- We have a massive sophisticated consumer base with an expanding multichannel retail infrastructure (ERP, CRM) ready to serve.
- Bar code SKU based prediction profiles for trends and purchasing patterns.
- 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.
- Incredible design and visualization capabilities, with digital 2D and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) applications enhancing product development capabilities.
- 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.
- Cutting and sewing technologies enhanced by computer integrated manufacturing systems are evolving at digital speeds.
- “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.
- 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.
“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.”
Audio interview here – please listen to Bill’s historical background story.
| Bill details the historical background:
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.
– 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.”
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:
Unique Solutions Tanya Shaw, President [Founder] and CEO of Me-Ality by Unique Solutions
Exciting things are happening at Unique Solutions. Body scanners that aim to ensure the perfect fit have attracted a $30-million investment for Unique Solutions.
Northwater Capital Management Inc.’s Intellectual Property Fund is putting the money into Unique Solutions Design Ltd. The cash infusion will allow Unique Solutions to open more than 300 of its scanning kiosks across North America by the end of 2013. Tanya Shaw states, “As of June 2012, 500,000 people have been scanned and Me-Ality has over 65 size matching locations that are open in malls across the US.” [article link: Body scanners help shoppers get better fit]
Where will all of those body scanners be located? Click here to see if one will be near you.
Size matching service answers the frustrating question…What is my size?
No more will our shopping experience either in the real world or the on-line world involve totally guessing how that brand will fit you. It is an open secret that there are no consistent sizing standards for clothing brands so it is a total gamble for a prospective buyer especially when they are purchasing online how that particular brand will fit. Vanity sizing is common among brands and some brands use it to give them a psychological ” vanity edge.” [translation: $ales] Instead of “those lying eyes” in retail it is now “Oh those lying brand sizes,” combined with a dose of self-denial from all of us.
Some brands actively manipulate the sizes to appeal to the customers vanity ego as a competitive tool to use against other brands with similar price points, but other brands have honestly been trying to provide as much information as possible to empower their customers to order the best size for their body shape. They realize that the lo$$ percentage due to returns from chaotic and random sizing far outnumbers the additional rate of sales for “vanity sizing.”
The task in the past has been near impossible. Why? Because the culturally diverse US only has one sizing survey “public” database [SizeUSA] in the last 40 years. [see 3D Bodyscanner – Ready to Wear, Cornell University]
From the [TC]² site about Size USA:
[TC]² conducted a comprehensive sizing survey of the U.S. population, scanning nearly 11,000 individuals in 12 locations across the U.S. The first such survey in over 40 years, SizeUSA provides current measurements on the sizes and shapes of today’s adult consumer. [NY Times archive article]
Using this vast data base of scanned subjects, [TC]² can provide statistically accurate shape and sizing data analysis for manufacturers, brands, and retailers to improve fit.
SIZE UK using TC2 scanners
TC2 scanners were used to gather 3D body scans for SIZE_UK_STATISTICS during 2001 & 2002. During this time approximately 11,000 scans were captured and a total of 1.5 million measurements have been analysed.
Alvanon sizing surveys in China and France:
In 2008 Alvanon released the results of a body scanning survey in China and published those results: A 2008 fashion industry survey: The average US female is 5’4″ at 155 lb?
Alavanon also collaborated with: the Institute Francais du Textile et de l’Habillement (IFTH) to create standard French sizes for the apparel industry. The study, conducted by IFTH in 2006, which included more than 11,500 scans of French citizens in 37 different sites in France, provides powerful insight into how to improve fit for the French body for apparel brands both in France and those seeking to gain a competitive advantage in the market Link to announcement here.
Phase I? What is Phase II?
Now the title of this blog posting is that Me-Ality represents Phase I towards revolutionizing the way we shop. You may be wondering what is phase II? Really exciting developments are underway right now incorporating Microsoft Kinect based technology to initiate and fast forward development of the Phase II: that includes the development of holy grail home fit services for online shopping. Bodyscanning on the retail site “or at home” and in addition to accurate body size match up to a variety of brands. Once the users body is scanned, the user can then virtually select and try on brands [to test accurate fit] that are matched up to the bodyscan. Customized clothing or garment patterns can be ordered from in store “or home” using this service. Here is a link to some earlier research in this area from Cornell University College of Human Ecology. More in future posts.
Update: If Me-Ality installs 300 bodyscanner brand size matching services in shopping centers across North America, they will have addressed and resolved a portion of the accurate sizing issue for online retailers. Once your accurate body measurements are in the Me-Ality database, you can shop online for accurate fitting clothing.
About Unique Solutions Ltd.
They develop and commercialize advanced body measurement technologies and maintain the largest database of body measurements that accurately reflects the real size and shape of people. The company’s proprietary technology yields aggregate data and body measurement information that readily translates into better fitting products and services.
Me-Ality [formerly mybestfit]
What is it? Me-Ality is a FREE service that matches body sizing to specific brand sizing measurements that takes less than 10 minutes from Scan to Shopping Guide and makes it easy to find the best fitting clothes for your unique body. Customers are given a shopping list of jeans and apparel that will fit and flatter them. Specific brands and stores in the mall that carry those brands are listed to find their selections. They can also narrow their list to specific style features, or to favorite brands, or the price they want to pay.
Here is a link that will show you the current brands that are working with the Me-Ality service.
The Intellifit Virtual Fitting Room is a high-accuracy scanner utilizing low emitting radio waves to capture 200,000 points of data on a fully clothed individual in less than 20 seconds. It includes a high-volume transaction server to store a customer’s shopping profile and body measurement information. The data collected can be converted into body measurements for the purpose of size and styling recommendations, product customization as well as health and wellness indicators and progress tracking.
Online Size and Stylist Recommendation Software
Unique licenses its customer measurement database for use in body research, and technical design applications. This data could also be licensed in aggregate to apparel brands, or used for marketing to consumers through their affiliate programs through our mybestfit service.
The program is available to retailers and apparel and lifestyle manufacturers who sell apparel and lifestyle products through an e-commerce portal; or want to enhance their brick-and-mortar customer experience with the ability to quickly size-match customers to their products. Managed Business Services An all-inclusive scanning service offered to industries which require high volume scanning (measurement collection) during a specified and short period of time. This service is aimed at those who would like the scanner to come to their location as opposed to sending people to an outside location. Consumer Reports Fitness and wellness Comprehensive Measurements.