"I Want It Yesterday" The Fast Turn Apparel Model


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture. I'm Emily Lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:12 

I'm Bret Schnitker. 

Emily Lane 00:13 

We speak with experts where we explore the global dynamics that shape trends in the fashion industry, 

Bret Schnitker 00:19 

brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global production and design house with over 30 years of industry experience. 

Emily Lane 00:34 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today I'm going to be talking with Bret Schnitker on fast turn. So here we are located in the United States, where we live and what we commonly call a microwave society. We want things fast, we want things now, Amazon, we get it next day, we order from Whole Foods, we get it in two hours. And inevitably, Bret, when we are talking with clients, the conversation of fast term always comes up. Why do you think this is beyond of course, as being in this microwave society? 

Bret Schnitker 01:14 

I think a number of reasons I think the further that you're planning and designing things, from the point that you're delivering them to your consumer, whether it's direct to consumer and brick and mortar models, or whatever else, the more time things have to change. I mean, we look at, you know, we're in the middle of COVID. And I think in some cases during this past year, you know, stuff that was produced, designed and developed pre COVID. There was this radical change during COVID. To everything we did, 

Emily Lane 01:47 


Bret Schnitker 01:48 

you know, we lived at home, where, even if, you know, some people didn't even wear pads, but we've heard some crazy stories about that. But I think, you know, they people want to be comfortable houseware business exploded, this whole kind of leisure comfort, kind of class of clothing really exploded. And if we were able to react to business in a much quicker way from when conditions occurred, and it could be like COVID, or it can be simply something like we've designed a number of products, and there's a particular color skew style that has a range, yeah, then we can chase that demand. I think the first thing I learned when I was in business years ago, as a buyer in a in a department store, or a retail specialty chain, sorry, was that you either over by or under by you never by the right amount, you know, it's kind of an impossibility, you're either gonna over project or under. And I think in a world where you can react demand multiple times, let's say, within a season or the lifecycle of a garment, you can kind of buy more in line with the demand, and therefore, on a financial basis, reduce markdowns and liability, you know, on a global basis, reduce landfills from bad decisions. So, you know, I think that is at its heart, one of the real positives of return, certainly. 

Emily Lane 03:20 

Well, why don't we talk a little bit about the expectation of fast turn? And I mean, I understand what that means when you say fast turn, I get it really want it fast? But in the industry, how fast is fast? 

Bret Schnitker 03:28 

Yeah. Oh, good question. It's funny, I think people have different perceptions, I think the more experienced you are in the industry, you kind of understand what can and can't happen. I mean, traditionally, you know, traditional manufacturing cycle 90 to 120 days, production is sort of a norm that people kind of are used to hearing from manufacturing lead times overseas, regardless of country. And then, depending on where that country is positioned relative to to where the ultimate destination or product is, you can be anywhere from, you know, 30 days to over 70 days. And that would be boat lead times, customs clearance, perhaps, you know, trucking domestically, etc. So, you know, when you add those two together, that's a traditional cycle. Fast lead times, you know, these intentional expediting of programs can move those 90 to 120 days to sometimes in some categories 45 to 60 days production. And if you move it from boat to air, you can go from these longer lead times I mentioned to, you know, seven to 15 days maybe you know, if you get quick clearance, it can be quicker than that buyer. So it's a pretty radical difference in time, 

Emily Lane 04:53 

right? Oh my gosh, so many in the industry know, and that Zara is kind of the the the entity that really made this model work. What? What is some of the magic that that, you know, Zara is doing to make this model, you know, successful for them. 

Bret Schnitker 05:16 

Yeah, it's interesting. You know, I've had a lot of conversations from people all over the industry. And they're always fascinated with how is Zara manage to do this, you know, and it's really honestly, it's not magic, it really is preparation and intention, you know, the way that they build their pipeline, the way that they develop product, make decisions internally at Zara, partner with groups pre plan, fabrication, pre approve, styling, set certain expectation for some deficiencies that might occur because of fast turn, all of these are kind of built into that model. And it's not something you can just go do, you have to really have planning, I mean, to have quick turn within cut, make and trim, you know, the manufacturing of the garment part in the CM factories, you really have to own lines, position yourself. So those lines are always open and ready to produce goods for your particular needs. And those steps are the magic to creating fast turn, you know, 

Emily Lane 06:25 

I would think volume has got to be playing a role in that as well. 

Bret Schnitker 06:28 

Certainly volume does volume can also create complications with fast turn, because if you have a lot of units, you've got to allocate more lines to them. More units take longer production time, depending on the capacities. But volume in terms of sales volume at the store level benefits fast turn, because what happens within fast turn environments is you might be the first to market in terms of a style, you might be reacting to certain things. But you'll also make mistakes within fast turn, specs can be deficient, quality can be less than you can miss the mark on color. And one of the benefits that Zara has created within that model is because of this unbelievable demand that occurs at the retail level. If a mistake comes through, it's flushed to the system. almost overnight 

Emily Lane 07:19 

short memory, right? 

Bret Schnitker 07:20 

Yeah, and they have the ability to move that out and have it disappear. In traditional retailing environments where turns we call turns the you know, or weeks of supply, you know, the ability for an entity to go through numbers and a certain allocated time. They're on the lower side today, you know, they don't turn as fast as as, as they have in years past when consumerism for a particular brand might have been more elevated or, or that you know, a garment experience could have been a little more robust in years past than they are. You know, you have those mistakes that occur, your inventory continues to build up and build up and build up. So these are all things that you really have to think through when you're dealing with these kind of fast reaction times fast delivery cycles to your consumer. 

Emily Lane 08:14 

Yeah, I think intention here is really key as you as you mentioned, because those costs can really build up with bad decisions. 

Bret Schnitker 08:20 

Sure. Right. 

Emily Lane 08:21 

So I think intention can also help in you know, if we're talking to people who are okay, realize maybe fast turn isn't a real model that they can fully adopt. But there are things that people can do to speed up their production cycle. Absolutely. And I think intention is probably part of that. But I'd love for you to dive into some of those things that that companies can do to shorten that cycle. 

Bret Schnitker 08:50 

Sure. I mean, you know, a lot of this comes with understanding, like you mentioned these key components to expedite delivery. And so, you know, in our industry, there's a lot of base fabrications that we use across a number of different programs. And a lot of those base fabrications are constantly running through Mills throughout the world. And some Mills take bigger positions on those fabrications than others. And being able to dialogue with Mills to utilize fabrics that are constantly running. Using a fabric that comes out of grays consistently every week and large volumes that you can pull away from and utilize for your production can sometimes save three to four weeks. Wow. You know, in weaving or knitting, I mean having the fabric ready to go. You've just got to now go through the dyeing aspects of that production. So, you know, that's a really big key component in terms of that making decisions Prior to the season on production, versus putting some of those approval processes as part of your production cycle can also speed up production. I've talked to a number people in saying look if you can set up your, your your development and design phase prior to the point that you're writing the Pl go down the path and do your approvals and lab Depp's strike offs on patterns, fabric decisions, specifications, garment, fit samples, if those can all be done before that season. And then when the season comes around, you're ready to do it, you start selecting items within the assortment that you ultimately wish to go with. And then you write the PEO the factory is not waiting on approvals within that particular cycle, all the approvals have been made. So it's basically Hey, just go. And that can speed up production, because a lot of things that drag production is when you let's say you put a fit sample or a styling approval sample or a lab dipper coloration is part of your production cycle. If a color doesn't come through, right, and you reject it, you got a week or two before you get that color redone. And that can slow dyeing fabric. So factories overseas, because the penalties that organizations have put in place to make sure that delivery happens on time, they're going to look at your process and say, Wow, this is part of that production process, we might have an issue getting an approval, I'm going to pad my delivery cycle, where with good long term relationships and consistent decision making, of having these things approved prior to the process, a factory will have more confidence saying look, I can allocate X amount of lines for this, it's going to take me you know, I can make X amount of units a day. And you right and confirm the order since we have everything approved already, I can move this much quicker than what I would be normally quoting as a delivery cycle. 

Emily Lane 11:55 

You talked about, you know, the the fabric side of things, it seems like that is one of those spots that can really, really trim things down for you. I've also heard you talk to clients about buying fabric in more bulk. 

Bret Schnitker 12:09 

Sure that that generally, I would say, a predominant basis, if you have a core base category of a program that you consistently run, let's say, khaki stretch bottom program, they are always in stock on those are situations that I think make a hell of a lot of sense on on blocking and storing fabrication, you know, a month's worth of demand in advance because that fabric is then not only woven, or knitted or whatever, depending on the category, but it's also died in the colors. And you can stages certain part parts of that fabric can be woven, or knitted and in grays state which is prepared to be dyed. And then there are also a portions of that fabric, you know, a certain amount of meterage that can already be dyed and stored in facility along with trim sewing thread and all of that. So that they can call out rush demand and everything is there. And if if the line is open, or you have secured the line, they can immediately put that line off and produce those those garments much, much faster for sure. 

Emily Lane 13:22 

I kind of want to go back a little bit to talking about the fast turn the true fast turn model? And are there some kind of misconceptions that people have about what it takes to do this model the right way? 

Bret Schnitker 13:37 

Certainly, there are misconceptions. And I think we've talked about a few of those, I think that they think they can go through the process. And a factory just makes things faster. You can find faster Mills to produce fabrications, I think nine times out of 10 that's a fallacy of thinking, you know, as you mentioned before, this is something that is a kind of an intentional process in an organization to be able to make sure that you get fast turning or successful faster. 

Emily Lane 14:09 

Okay. So, as you're talking about, you know, the factories and the processes that you can implement to speed things up or, or go faster. And what about technology? There's got to be some great options out there that can help speed things along. 

Bret Schnitker 14:26 

Oh, 100%. I mean, in the case of the company here, you know, we've embraced 3D design technology for now nine years. And that is rapidly evolving, in our industry, I think, you know, one of the reports a while ago is less than 2% of the industry is using this. And I think when you can be comfortable with the fact that you can design in 3D get a very, very realistic looking image of the garment. You have confidence in playing that in and in our case Each one of these 3D images are built from the pattern file forward. So, in essence, you can make decisions on fit, pattern, all of that as part of that design stage. And I think, you know, any of us who have gone through product development design knows, that can be a very, very long process, if you do it the traditional way. 

Emily Lane 15:23 

Yeah, I was amazed. You know, recently, we had a design project that, that we did, and it's as tradition in 3D first, and I thought it was so fascinating to see the the dress on the avatar walking around. And very quickly, we saw that there was a little bit of a fit problem, right. And, and it was just so wonderful to just very easily make those modifications. And, you know, address the issue when, as opposed to the other method, which would be you would go to a sample phase, right? 

Bret Schnitker 15:57 

Yeah, you hit wait 30-45 days, get your pattern, find your fabric and a sample, bring it in, put it on a mannequin, put it on a fit model and go, Oh, that's a problem. 

Emily Lane 16:07 


Bret Schnitker 16:07 

When you can identify the problem. And then in minutes, not months, not a number of days, 

Emily Lane 16:13 

right? Yeah. What are what are some other technology solutions out there? 

Bret Schnitker 16:18 

Certainly, when we look at, there's a number of things that are going on the industry in terms of support functions within manufacturing, in in lines, machinery that that moves at a much faster pace than than humans. Automating certain segments of production can speed up production, most certainly, within a factory. There's a lot of conversation about Sam's, you know, its production allocations for how quickly a certain process takes. And certainly the less time it takes the more profitable and more efficient you'll be, the more time it takes the less profitable, less efficient you'll be. So really studying that line and putting in modern equipment to substitute for maybe a sower that might be slower can also speed up production. 

Emily Lane 17:10 

We often talk about how long ago, the US abandoned the manufacturing in apparel. And 

Bret Schnitker 17:19 

not entirely. Not a big big, not a big, not a 

Emily Lane 17:23 

big part of our economy. And, you know, as we're talking about technology, and you know, us being St. Louis based having a lot of technology forward companies locally, as well as all throughout the United States, it makes me think, is there a play here for the United States to become a part of a bigger part of the game in with this technology angle? 

Bret Schnitker 17:44 

Sure. I mean, one of the big hindrances, obviously, in a lot of manufacturing sectors in the US versus other places in the world, are labor costs. And if your labor costs are extremely high, everyone, there are a number of people that would love to make goods in America, and there are a lot of consumers that would love to buy American. And then when you show them the price tag that would exist on that, there's a lot less of those people that want to purchase that. This is where technology can help and what the term has really been a lot more prevalent lately called nearshoring. 

Emily Lane 18:19 


Bret Schnitker 18:20 

Returning manufacturing to the US, and certainly within the apparel business. certain technologies have been really interesting one of those, you know, where an investor in here in St. Louis called Evolution Manufacturing. And they're utilizing STOLL knitting technology, which is whole garment knitting, where, you know, you basically program a whole bank of machines, and they'll all knit the garment from beginning to end, you're basically in theory, a snip a thread, you're throwing a label, throw it through some washing and finishing, put it in packaging, and you're ready to go. You know, you're replacing a lot of manual labor on that. And there might be people that will be, wow, you know, we're not, we're not employing enough people. But in a, in an industry, that doesn't exist, to the levels that it could be, you would actually if you really think about this long term, bringing technology and that replaces expensive manpower, ultimately, as that business sector grows, and it can grow exponentially based upon demand. And we really can export some of that production internationally because of American made. You're going to employ a ton of people, but it's just going to be differently than you might have employed them years ago, you're going to employ design designers that understand how to, you know, work with those machines and design. You know, the garments themselves. You're going to have technicians, you're going to have people that are servicing the machines. So there are a lot of opportunities for employment, that they might not necessarily be an in the, in the knitting or linking lines like years past, you know, like in this situation, but there'll be there'll be employed in other areas, and it will create a robust economy. It'll allow us for quick turn reacting to demand that technology can that one sweater in his particular size he quickly programming it'll knit another sweater another size varies from garment to garment. Yeah, there's and there's a wonderful sustainable story. There's no wastage, there's no loss, there's really very few defects. It's a, it's an amazing kind of place we're at today, where, you know, there are two leading companies right now working on whole garment knitting and that STOLL and Shima Seiki. And, you know, there's probably pros and cons to each of them to different degrees. But it's exciting that over the years, they've invested so much into this technology. And if you can layer on to that, you know, within other sectors of our apparel industry, digital printing, and, you know, if there, there's situations we're seeing where there's 3D printing capabilities, and I think that's going to evolve along the path, where we might be 3D printing garments, in the future. So there's a really exciting opportunity for Evolution in nearshoring in America today, that never existed before. 

Emily Lane 21:20 

I think that seems like a pretty exciting opportunity for schools in the fashion industry to be thinking about a path forward of, you know, embracing technology, and making sure that the those that are coming into the industry are at least familiar with, where it's going and getting their hands in it. Because like you said, as as nearshoring, and technology comes into place that can provide a different kind of opportunity for people in this industry. 

Bret Schnitker 21:52 

You mentioned opportunity. I agree, it's an opportunity. But it's also a challenge. Because with technology, you don't have teachers that have a long degree of experience in that new technologies actually teach it. So yeah, it's it's an interesting dynamic, because technology moves so quickly, how do you get people to teach it? And it's certainly a huge opportunity in our segment, and it's, and I think it's going to be much, much larger. It's just how do we prepare, you know, various educational institutions on teaching this new technology and staying ahead of it? There's, there's a number of schools throughout the United States that are embracing this, thankfully. And and I think they're going to be the ones to look at in the future for, you know, future employees in the sector. 

Emily Lane 22:47 

Do you see any other kind of core challenges kind of going back a little bit to the fast turn or speeding things up? Do you see any other challenges that people should be aware of as they're considering? This option? Yeah, I think, you know, whenever we talk about fast decisions, in general, in our in our lives, fast decisions sometimes come with repercussions, you know, and fast turn is is no exception. If you're making decisions quickly on design, you might forget some key things that should happen. Within design. Certainly rushed manufacturing can be fraught with quality issues. You're not providing enough time to think through, you know, various garments, you're gonna end up with some some issues there. And certainly, there is a number of people and steps in manufacturing, that a lot of people aren't aware of. And if one of those breakdown in the process and faster, Domino effect, right, 

Bret Schnitker 23:52 

Yeah. Doesn't happen. The factory is in deep trouble and the client who expected it, you know, will be disappointed and there could be some cancellations or, or loss of certainly loss of revenue and retail. And so understanding that there's a certain percentage in all fast turn production decisions. Even Zara, I am sure has a certain percentage saying, hey, this percentage isn't going to make it. Yeah, you know, we've allocated for this fast turd, but we're buying in such abundance that if these don't make it, we're going to slide these in in their place, because I think there's, there's probably a decent percentage of those that just don't make it. 

Emily Lane 24:33 

Do you have any thoughts as to what that percentage might be? 

Bret Schnitker 24:36 

I wouldn't guess. 

Emily Lane 24:39 

Well, thank you, Bret. For this fascinating conversation. This very fast and fascinating conversation on how to speed up production, fast turn, a topic we touch on almost every day in conversation with our clients. If anyone out there has questions on this topic, feel free to reach out on our website Stars Design Group, looking for seeing you once again on a future episode of Clothing Coulture. 

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"I Want It Yesterday" The Fast Turn Apparel Model