Serai Spotlight: Navigating the apparel value chain with information technology

October 5, 2020

In this fireside chat, learn key insights from Greg Fleming, an apparel operations executive and garment specialist with 35 years of experience in the industry.

Greg Fleming has worked across the supply chain, from yarn, fabric, and garment production, to retail, marketing, and e-commerce. He is the former COO at Elise Fashion, and the founder of the Saigon Apparel Lab.

The value of digital transformation

With the increasing demand requirements of high mix and low volume, manufacturing must evolve. At the core of this evolution is digital transformation. This is something that the industry has discussed for years, but most suppliers do not have a full understanding of what it really means. Greg believes that Coats Digital has the most appropriate information technology available for the apparel industry.

“Coats Digital is intuitive and it is built by apparel experts. It's not built by people with a focus in IT, computers, or coders. All the information and understanding comes from those with history in the apparel field. So their ecosystem for the industry is by far the best practice.”

The need for digital transformation is not a one-sided process either. Buyers and suppliers share the responsibility of implementing information technology.

“Both parties need to understand what value information tech brings to their businesses. As an industry, we have to minimise the cost of doing business, and information technology is the unlocker to doing this.”

The important adjustment to low MOQs

As we have seen in the current climate of the industry, buyers are increasingly demanding lower MOQs. Suppliers know this is something they must adjust to, however, it starts even before the RMG manufacturers.

“The industry has created for itself a behemoth where dyeing houses around the world are set up for large scale production only. That is one of the hurdles we have to get over.”

Greg believes this is where technology comes into play, breaking down the silos of planners and product developers. The people in these roles can work together to develop 500 pieces, for example, with a certain portion of fabric purchased. Once they see that these 500 pieces work, there is flexibility (and leftover fabric) to develop products in the same style, or a slightly different style.  

“For agility to evolve, brands' business models need to change. From the CEO to the patent maker, everyone needs to understand what's going on in real time.”

From a brand perspective, there must also be an acknowledgement that if you want a small order completed, you're going to have to pay for it because the factory has an overhead that it has to sustain. “But it’s going to last, not end up in a landfill. With transparent planning and visibility of the value chain we can plan better and become agile.”

Transparency across the value chain

Transparency can mean different things to different companies, but the key aspect is about finding the source of the proof. Greg speaks about two examples of technology that facilitate transparency.

  1. Merino Wool. “There is technology available today to tell you exactly where your merino wool dress came from, which farm, and even what specific sheep. That is the ultimate in transparency.”
  2. Cotton. “There are applications that create a digital signature for the cotton showing where it was made, and how it was produced.”

“Transparency is, again, both the brand’s and the manufacturer’s responsibility. Both parties need to get on board, otherwise, transparency will be very hard to facilitate.”

It all comes down to the business model, what is a company’s purpose? If it is fast fashion and being inexpensive, some people might want to buy into that. However, young, small, and innovative brands have a purpose too. They can connect retail customers directly to the factory and tell us where their products are made. This high level visibility to a consumer is increasingly important.

“If you buy a pair of pants or a dress, a brand can include a link to the factory in the tag, so you can actually see the person who made it. That is where digital transformation is going to take us.”

Advice for navigating the Vietnamese market

Greg gives us a breakdown of the apparel market in Vietnam, and how it differs from many other apparel exporting countries.

“Its weakness is that 60% of the Vietnamese factories do have an element of government funding, so they are partially government-owned. That is something that has to change, they have to be more market owned.”

The companies which are not, are divided into larger suppliers, which work with major brands, and the smaller suppliers, which are equally as reliable but do not know how to market themselves.

“Part of their challenge with interacting with the world is the language barrier. The other aspect is that the Vietnamese manufacturing industry revolves primarily around Cut-Make-Trim (CMT). They have to take on board information technology to add value to buyers.”

Greg highlights these manufacturers in Vietnam must take advantage of the European Free Trade Agreement and begin producing all the way from raw materials to garments domestically to export 100% duty free.

“Again it comes back to the whole supply chain. Everyone needs to digitise, everyone needs information technology, everyone needs transparency. From my perspective, what Serai can bring to the industry is super important.”

Conclusion - The time to act is now!

“It’s change or die. You can either go home, or you can address that it’s broken, and fix it. Either you get on board the bus or not, I choose to get on board. I’m not saying it's going to be easy, but that's the road.”

If you found this fireside chat insightful, be sure to follow Greg Fleming on LinkedIn to stay up to date with his business.

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