From sourcing to production: 8 ways to speed up your fashion manufacturing process

In a world where fashion weeks have become almost like fashion marathons with shows being held in the middle, end and beginning of every season. Brands are in an endless race to match customers’ demand with their manufacturing plan.

An average piece of clothing for a major high street brand can take anywhere between three to six months to arrive in the shops. This is the case even if there are no problems, the garment is shipped on time and without delays. So, what happens if there are delays? Well, you lose money on the table. And often times, your important relationships with buyers go sour.

Things are only getting harder for fashion brands. In the past, fashion brands only had to worry about two or three seasons a year. Now, with the rise of fast-fashion retailers, brands are expected to launch new collections multiple times a month. And those that can’t keep up are going out of business left and right.

In fact, solving this problem is the key to success in the apparel industry. Clothing brands need shorter lead times, faster prototyping and more responsive delivery dates. Streamlining each stage of production will enable them to produce garments faster and get them on store shelves sooner than their competitors.

As manufacturing timelines get crunched further and further every season, brands have to speed up and optimize their manufacturing processes to stay in business. And yet many brands are underprepared and unsure of how to achieve these crunched production windows.

How fashion companies can optimize and speed up manufacturing

For most brands, manufacturing is indeed a huge pain. And the more complex their products are – the harder it becomes. To compete and succeed in the fashion sector, you need to have a fast and well-organized manufacturing process that allows you to churn out high-quality products quickly.

Here are some tips to speed up your manufacturing process without compromising on quality:

#1 Revise your calendar. Plan early with your factories!

Unless you run your own factory, don’t wait till the last possible minute to place orders with your manufacturing partner. Communicate your requirements to the factory so that they can block capacities for you. Give them a quantity forecast so that they don’t have to accommodate your orders when they’re already running at capacity.

Talk to your factory regularly, treat them as partners rather than just a service provider. Plan your production calendar well in advance. If possible, make commitments of your buying intentions with your supplier to prevent avoidable costs, errors and delays.

Factory involvement and transparency at each stage of the design process can help you avoid most communication-related problems. This is where planning and communication tools like PLM programs can come in especially handy.

#2 Give clear and concise instructions

As a designer, it is your job to make sure that your instructions are clear, concise, and correct. Be specific about everything you want, including colors, sizes, shapes, and styles. Do not leave room for interpretation, which can make it difficult for factories to understand exactly what the designer wants, leading to mistakes and delays in production.

Remember that it’s easier to make changes on paper or with a digital mockup than it is to correct mistakes after production begins. Share photos of your references so your manufacturer can see exactly what you want.
Rather than sending a spreadsheet which needs to be resent every time there are changes, opt for a Tech Pack tool. This will let you list all details in a standardized way, make updates in real-time (with timestamps) and thread all communication in the same place.

#3 Standardize wherever possible

Another way to speed up manufacturing is by taking a smarter approach to production. Rethink the way you design collections. Designers should focus more on creating “recurrent” items instead of “seasonal” ones. This means adding some timeless pieces that stand the test of time, and allow you to plan and get to production quicker.

You can also choose to include some signature styles in every season that require minimal changes. These will become your core pieces that don’t just help you speed up production but also create a stronger brand identity over time.

Apart from this, you should identify bottlenecks and develop ways to streamline your assembly line by removing unnecessary steps in the process. This will allow you to meet demand without putting in as many work hours or resources.

#4 Streamline and speed up quality checks

Sampling is a crucial part of the pre-production process because it helps you identify any problems with fit or design before production. So, come up with a system for quality checking everything from fabric, construction to fitting so nothing gets lost along the way.

For this system to work efficiently, it needs to be able to catch errors early on so that they don’t become larger issues down the road. Ask your fit technicians to give instant feedback on samples through a centralized platform to create a sense of accountability. Using a platform that lets you snap pictures from your phone like WFX’s Click app can make things quite easy for quality inspectors.

Make sure everyone knows what adjustments are being made before going into production. Ensure your pre-production samples are perfect. If you’re having trouble getting started, try using a centralized app or PLM software to allow everyone to keep track of what needs to be done and when, without having too much back-and-forth via email attachments.

#5 Set realistic deadlines for everyone

You cannot improve efficiency without ensuring that all your suppliers are on board with your timeline. You can achieve this by developing a system that will allow them to see what they need to do at every stage of production.

It is important for them to evaluate the time it takes to make various pieces of clothing and set deadlines accordingly. Make sure you have enough time to make any necessary alterations and get them done in time for shipping. This makes it easier for them to get back on track if something goes wrong along the way.

If you’re outsourcing to a manufacturer, keep in mind that there may be delays or other issues that could push back your shipping date. Be sure to communicate with your manufacturer regularly so you know exactly when your product will be ready for delivery.

#6 Use the latest tools and technologies

Look for ways to speed up the process with automation. Experienced manufacturers work with a system set up that maximizes efficiency and minimizes human error.

If you’re working with a newer company, consider how you can use technology to your advantage by automating certain processes or using it to create more efficient workflows.

New software solutions can help you with scheduling, inventory, and monitoring workflows. These tools can help you track everything from fabric supply to garment production times.

There are also new digital manufacturing tools that can simplify processes like pattern-making and sample creation. Innovations like 3D designs can help brands create samples in a fraction of the time it used to take. This allows time for prototyping and testing before going into full production, reducing mistakes and minimizing material wastage.

#7 Simplify material sourcing

Cut down on lead times by choosing materials and trims that are readily available and don’t require special shipping from overseas. You can even ask your manufacturers about which fabrics and trims they already have in stock. You may enquire about alternative materials with quicker lead times. This can also save you money.

Some brands take this approach even further and create a trim library of commonly used trims such as buttons, zippers, rivets and labels. By having these items on hand, they eliminate the need for custom production or overseas sourcing.

If you’re sourcing fabrics, it’s important to get a clear understanding of the lead times required for each fabric and trim supplier. There may be significant differences between suppliers that are located in different countries or even different cities.

Conclusion

Time is a luxury in the fashion industry. Fashion brands are desperate to move faster. They want new products to be on the shelves before their current stock goes stale. The industry has already cut development time by half since the turn of the century. The next step will be even more dramatic: automation powered by data, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Whether you want to streamline your operations and start making a profit, or expand your company into new markets and gain international exposure, technology is there to help you grow. Technology is the only way forward. If you can automate it, robotify it, or algorithmize it, do it.

Wondering how your brand can achieve quicker lead times? Speak to a WFX PLM expert today!

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About the author

Vishakha Somani

Vishakha Somani

Vishakha Somani is a Fashion Tech Analyst and Communications expert at WFX - World Fashion Exchange. She is a Fashion graduate from Polimi Italy, and has been actively reporting on the fashion industry since 2016. She's an expert in analyzing trends, market shifts and new technologies. Her work spans forecasting and research on the global luxury and retail supply chain, emerging markets, and the circular economy.

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