Responsible Production Decisions in Turbulent Times


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 00:20 

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

Emily Lane 00:37 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today, we are going to be talking about responsible production and manufacturing in a turbulent world. Welcome back, Bret. 

Bret Schnitker 00:47 

Hi, Emily. 

Emily Lane 00:48 

And wow, what a topic, turbulent world responsible production. Let's start at what does responsible really mean? 

Bret Schnitker 00:59 


Emily Lane 00:59 

Because I think we understand what turbulent world perhaps means. 

Bret Schnitker 01:03 

I remember my parents saying when I went out, you know, on a date be responsible. But that's not what this means, I think, you know, that has that term has changed in the industry for a really, you know, over over many years, it used to be responsibly find a manufacturer that can give you a quality product at a good price on time. But today, it means oh so much more than that. It really, it focuses on the welfare of the workers, I think, you know, the world talks about sustainability a lot. But part of that sustainability is the human chain, too, right, you know, the humans that are, that are manufacturing product. And, you know, there's a lot of economies that live and thrive on apparel, as part of, you know, their GDP and, and workers rights are more and more important. And I think, you know, we've heard these devastating stories around the world of people that have not taken care of their workers or been very irresponsible with places that they put workers and it's, you know, it's really hurt overall economies. And, and people. You know, these are, these can be our brothers and sisters, they can be family members. You know, I've traveled the world, I've been in over 70 countries. And, you know, these people just want to feed their families, they want to, you know, have they have similar hopes and dreams, as many of us do. And I think it's important that we show them that they that we care, too, you kno. 

Emily Lane 02:43 

How do you go about vetting whether or not a manufacturing partner is truly being, you know, good to the workers and really cares about worker welfare? 

Bret Schnitker 02:56 

You know, it's definitely not an overnight decision for us, I think it comes to developing a relationship, understanding the mentality between behind ownership or management of a particular factory, what they find important, that's most that's, that's really most and foremost, in our minds, when we sit down and think about factory relationships. The, you know, one of the other ways to do it, a powerful way to do it also is certifications. There are organizations that are out there that help those that don't have time or ability to develop, you know, direct relationships with a number of factories to help understand where they sit on workers welfare and workers rights, RAP, BSCI, Better Work are some of those different organizations, and they have, in many cases, pretty stringent requirements on on managing, you know, the different workers rights around the world 

Emily Lane 03:59 

Is that an expensive process for people to go through? 

Bret Schnitker 04:02 

Yeah, I think I think that probably therein lies some of the challenge on a global scale, because it is a time consuming, expensive process for a lot of factories to go through those certifications. And much like in the United States, we talked about in the lab, last episode about Boutique Brands right? A lot of boutique brands won't buy the mass quantities that these larger factories produce that can afford the certification and you know, all those different details. There's also boutique manufacturing, you know, on that side of the coin, and they're generally family run small organizations, one, two lines, sometimes four. And, you know, they find it difficult to put all those steps in place. And I think that's where it goes back to really having a transparent relationship with both the ownership and dialoguing with factory workers and understanding where they are with laws and certifications and doing some, some detailed research to make sure that they are being compliant. They do care. 

Emily Lane 05:15 

You've often spoken about how the apparel manufacturing in various countries is such it plays a key role in in the industrialization and of a country and it being able to play on a global economic field. When thinking about that, and thinking culturally and socially, and just overall economics from one country to another, and looking at these various certifications that come into play to measure worker welfare, is it all looked at through the same lens? 

Bret Schnitker 05:55 

That's an interesting question. We live in a pretty diverse world, and each country has set up its own laws and regulations to manage worker welfare. And certainly, some countries have are a lot more advanced in terms of workers welfare and rights, and some countries are probably more repressive. So you know, the first part of looking and vetting a factory is does it meet the laws of the land, effectively and in in most of the countries I've been to, there's some pretty good information on that. However, the next step you have to do is look at the laws of the land, you know, are the laws of the land, fair and equitable in your view, and that's where some of these certifications come into play, because they're generated sort of outside of the laws of the land and set, you know, really good standards for worker welfare. And so, again, I don't think that the solution is one or the other. I think it's a combination of those different things. It's, it's developing relationships with partners that care. And it's it's self awareness of nations, because, again, we live in this super connected world. All the news shows up on our phone immediately. And if something goes wrong at a particular factory in a particular country, the ramifications for the economy are immense. There was a situation with Rana Plaza in Bangladesh years ago. You know, there's a tragic situation where the building collapsed, and many people were killed. Tragic enough that that happened. 

Emily Lane 07:37 


Bret Schnitker 07:37 

But on a more global scale. You know, Bangladesh relies on apparel manufacturing, heavily in terms of making sure that their people are fed and, you know, roof over their heads and everything else. And, you know, I have a small soapbox about Bangladesh. But when that occurred, there was certainly an uproar about the individual as there certainly should be. But instead of a global community, a global economic community, partnering together to say, look, we have this economic power and strength, you rely on the apparel manufacturing as a whole, we're going to use that leverage to ensure that workers rights are improved. Many companies ran from Bangladesh, they were like, Man, that's a problem spot, I'm not going to deal with those headaches. And so the impact to the economy and other workers because of that Rana Plaza situation was pretty profound. And you know, they're, they're still production in Bangladesh. But I can tell you that at one point, you know, the country itself, and I think workers in general, suffered from lack of production in the country. And I think there's more effective ways for us to understand that economic leverage that business can have a lot of profound impact on improving workers, lives and rights. We got to get it, we got to engage and get a little messy, but I think it's important. 

Emily Lane 09:07 

There is certainly impact and a domino effect. 

Bret Schnitker 09:11 


Emily Lane 09:12 

-certain decisions, and we've seen a lot of that in this last year. COVID came into play. A lot of people started canceling orders, help walk us through kind of the impact of some of these rash decisions. 

Bret Schnitker 09:26 

Yeah, I think, I think initially, what we're seeing in many companies that we're dealing with, is that demand exceeds supply today, you know, it's human nature to panic, and especially in a situation that's unknown. It's not like we lived through a pandemic, every few years, you know, this is a brand new situation. So, you know, I understand the emotion and the decision in what occurred, self preservation issues, company preservation issues, etc. But the ramifications going worldwide have been epic, proportionally tragic. I mean, there have been companies that good upstanding companies that employ a lot of workers that really have gone out of business because these massive cancellations they, you know, they leverage their credit to supply these large American corporations or European corporations, etc. And when cancellations occur, they've got nowhere to go. And so, you know, 

Emily Lane 10:25 

And they're also stuck with that bill, right? Because many- 

Bret Schnitker 10:29 

Well to wherever they are along the production site, right, 

Emily Lane 10:31 

They've already paid to have 

Bret Schnitker 10:33 


Emily Lane 10:33 

you know, fabrics and 

Bret Schnitker 10:35 


Emily Lane 10:35 

trims and workers and 

Bret Schnitker 10:38 

yeah, for sure. 

Emily Lane 10:39 

Bring projects along. 

Bret Schnitker 10:40 

Absolutely. So I think, you know, we we all talk partnership, we all talk about, you know, global equity and everything. I think that comes into there, there are probably different ways to have accomplished those situations along that pipeline, preserving the fabric, slowing production, working out requirements, and a better way than then, in some cases occurred internationally. 

Emily Lane 11:09 

Yeah, I think not making a quick decision and thinking through what can be done to preserve what's in place. 

Bret Schnitker 11:15 


Emily Lane 11:16 

And, and, and again, that that domino effect thinking about all of those people who have lost their jobs and these cities that are now economically deprived, because people are not working and- 

Bret Schnitker 11:28 


Emily Lane 11:28 

And as you mentioned, demand is still there. 

Bret Schnitker 11:31 


Emily Lane 11:33 

So what can be done as far as creating a good strategy for, you know, balanced production in today's world? 

Bret Schnitker 11:43 


Emily Lane 11:44 

What does really balanced production mean? 

Bret Schnitker 11:46 

Yeah, so you're right. That's a, what does that mean? It's it's a complicated question. And it changes based upon each brand or company's individual product mix. Right? So but a good strategy is making sure that you're not country specific. You know, this last year has had a lot of interesting things for our industry, our industry has never been boring. I mean, there's always been something that's made, made for challenge and kept us up nights. But I think, you know, with the advent of tariffs, that were a miserable disaster, 

Emily Lane 12:23 

Right. constantly changing, evolving 

Bret Schnitker 12:26 

-Constantly changing, I think, you know, we had to be creative. Certainly, China had built a powerhouse of apparel manufacturing, and there are specific industries like shoes that were so heavily concentrated in China. And so, you know, those costs either get passed along to the consumer, or production has to move to various areas that tariffs don't exist, and the economy and the industrialization and the infrastructure has to be there, 

Emily Lane 12:56 


Bret Schnitker 12:56 

-for that business to move. I mean, China, disproportionately disproportionately ships, a much larger percentage of apparel and footwear and stuff to the US than other nations. And so managing that supply chain, I think, is interesting today. And COVID, plays another role, you layer on this pandemic that's going on, and certain countries are harder hit by it, certain countries, managed to escape a number of things with good leadership, Taiwan, for instance, has very few cases of COVID they just don't have a ton of apparel production anymore. They used to be a very large apparel producing nation, but they are doing, you know, still doing some fabrication and other things. And so, you know, understanding those the different nuances of each nation and, and, and what each nation excels at, or is not so good at is important as a starting point. But then understanding the balance of your assortment between these different nations that are occurring, you know, it's a constant balancing game. And you've got to know these countries, you got to know the nuances of production in each country that that does production So much to sort through. I mean, you really have to be globally curious. I think, not only curious, you have to be involved globally. You know, you have to be engaged on an international level. I think that in conversations we've had with a number of brands and customers, they don't travel like they used to 

Emily Lane 14:38 

Well it's expensive, it's time consuming. 

Bret Schnitker 14:39 

It's certainly that sometimes it's scary or 

Emily Lane 14:43 


Bret Schnitker 14:44 

there's different areas. But you know, this is certainly a a sector of business that relies on global production. And I think you have to be you have to be very open and engaged. Real time, on the ground, whether it's you or offices or partnerships or whatever, and these various countries to make sure that, that you're balancing all of these things that we've talked about, or worker wel- worker welfare, quality, reliability, production, affordability, you know, all those things. 

Emily Lane 15:22 

What are some other factors at play that have their hand in, you know, kind of change, that economics of things are impacting decisions, and for locations of sourcing, 

Bret Schnitker 15:36 

A lot of those things have been around with us for years, we always are managing labor costs, political situations in countries, focus of country governments on what sectors they're investing in, you know, for years, we really felt China's apparel production, not the textile part, the manufacturing of fabric, but the garment cut, make. And so kind of portions factories, we really thought that those were going to end they had, you know, China had migrated and moved, as many nations do, to more advanced manufacturing, 

Emily Lane 16:17 

Technolgies, right? 

Bret Schnitker 16:18 

technologies, appliances, you know, they pay, they're able to garner more per hour income, so then workers benefit. And so we really felt China was going to abdicate from that. So there was this strategy in place to look toward countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, certainly Africa has played an important interesting role in, you know, the future of apparel production. I started in Africa in 2000, kind of worked my way north, and there is opportunity, but the infrastructure challenges, there are still pretty strong, pretty great. 

Emily Lane 16:59 

What are you know, you've talked a little bit you've met Ethiopia, Vietnam, China, what are some core, like some strengths of certain countries that you've seen? 

Bret Schnitker 17:09 

I think different countries exhibit different strengths. Certainly, I think, you know, when you look at India, I've been in India 30 years, and I find them to be extremely entrepreneurial. You know, you give them a project, you give them a task, they really want to figure out a new solution for that, I think, you know, that comes with the, you know, the society as a whole, you know, they tend to be entrepreneurial is a society. I think that, you know, other countries like Ethiopia, they, they have a interesting shift from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy very early. But there's an eagerness and a skill set in those workers, that that can produce some pretty good product there. And combined with a pretty affordable monthly wage, you know, there's a good value, which offs, you know, which offsets some of the challenges in the country, we always look at SWOT analysis by country, you know, long lead times out of Ethiopia, are just kind of a reality. And so, you know, you based upon individual mixes, you can look toward a number of different countries for strengths or weaknesses and understanding those, but those are a few countries that I mentioned that, lay it out. 

Emily Lane 18:34 

Are there any other kind of factors are global challenges that you see that are having an impact on the entire supply chain right now? 

Bret Schnitker 18:44 

Interesting question. I think, as we mentioned, in the last podcast, we talked about this kind of growth and advent of boutique brands. I think, changing factory infrastructures internationally to recognize and be able to serve these boutique brands with smaller quantities, quicker turn, I think is a unique challenge, because there's more and more every day. And I think some of these large, massive brands, and certainly brick and mortar are really trying to find their way and are struggling. So as there's this shift to this kind of more entrepreneurial, you know, more and smaller kind of focus. I think that's going to be an interesting thing for manufacturing overseas to sort of get their hands around. 

Emily Lane 19:38 

Do you see anywhere that's doing that, right? 

Bret Schnitker 19:43 

I think there are countries that can manage it better than others. I think certain countries again, like India, in smaller shops, they could manage smaller quantity. But you have to make sure you're vetting those smaller shops to make sure that the workers welfare and everything is there. But I think countries that that, that have a variety of factory sizes can help to do that factories that are, perhaps more are more experienced with European production. And a lot of cases, European brands buy less quantity than some of the giants is already excluded for sure. And H&M but I think, you know, there are a lot of those factories that kind of are in this orbit of these smaller brands that understand that. And I think places like Turkey, have some good manufacturing capabilities. We were on a government trade mission to El Salvador. And I think there's some opportunity for for a country like El Salvador, with smaller factory bases and proximity to the US to play a strategic role in kind of this evolution of brands in the US. 

Emily Lane 20:58 

There is so much to consider in this space. Do you have any other kind of final thoughts to share in today's conversation? 

Bret Schnitker 21:08 

I think manufacturing and sourcing is not an easy process. And I think partnering with a reliable manufacturing source or someone that's embraced the world over a number of years is really important. And, again, as we deal when we talk about transparency, and so much of this stuff, really understanding the transparency in the supply chain is equally important. 

Emily Lane 21:32 

Well, thank you. That is a great tie in to Episode Three, where we talk about vetting factory partners. Make sure you check it out and subscribe so you don't miss any of these insightful conversations. 

Bret Schnitker 21:44 

Thanks Emily. 

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Responsible Production Decisions in Turbulent Times