Streamline the Clothing Manufacturing Process


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


April 18, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:17 

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward 

Emily Lane 00:21 

and discuss solutions to real industry challenges. 

Bret Schnitker 00:24 

Clothing Coulture is brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience. 

Emily Lane 00:35 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. In so many of our conversations, we have talked about how we live in a microwave society, people want things fast, they want it now. And that is certainly no exception to that in the garment industry. We have clients contact us every day saying how quickly that can I get this even knowing that we're still living through this kind of post pandemic phase, where there's more complications than ever to navigate this. However, when looking at landscape of manufacturing, there are some key considerations that can be made to streamline the process as much as possible. And so that's what we're going to be talking about today. 

Bret Schnitker 01:16 

I think I think generally good morning, I think there are things that we should consider that are in our control today. And things that aren't in our control today. Certainly logistics, the whole supply chain logistics issues all over the news. Hopefully that will go away sometime in 2022. But today, it's just a mass, you know, lead times from China to the US traditionally are 1118 days. I mean, it's 60,75, 90 days with port delays and issues like that, I think a lot of conversations that you've heard on the news, they've said, Hey, abandon all hope for fast turn, things like that. But there are certainly some things to consider when you're going down the path that are in in your control about production. Globally, there are decisions you can make geographically, there are decisions that you can make on a factory level. And I think that's what we're looking to explore and dialogue about today. 

Emily Lane 02:09 

You know, as you as you mentioned, the considerations can vary country by country. But it can also vary based on the component of manufacturing that we're we're talking about. manufacturers aren't all self contained, right. And there are so many components of the process, let's just start by kind of going through a quick breakdown of what are all the components that we can really look at exploring for, you know, efficiencies? 

Bret Schnitker 02:34 

Sure, yeah, I think, you know, there are, I wouldn't say that there's a vast majority that share this ideal, but you've mentioned that, you know, some of the people that are just kind of entering the industry, they sort of feel like, hey, there's a there's a factory out there, and I'm gonna go to Bob the manufacturer, and he's got fabric on rolls and materials and sewing thread in house and all that matches, he's just gonna pull the fabric off and go make a garment. You know, the ecosystem of manufacturing is certainly more complex, and it can be more complex country by country, you know, certain considerations have to be made based upon the particular category of manufacturer, that you're dealing with key major components of this ecosystem, if you will, are, you know, the raw material supplier, the spinning mill, the weaving or knitting mill, the dyeing mill, and then this CM facility, cut and make facility, the manufacturing facility. And so, you know, as we kind of look through each one of those various components, there are ways to understand that ecosystem, that distance between each one of those facilities, the ability to to utilize those facilities more efficiently, that at least can speed up that chain within certain countries. 

Emily Lane 03:49 

Well, let's start kind of at the beginning, let's start at the raw materials. 

Bret Schnitker 03:53 

Yeah, I think raw materials, you know, certainly there are a number of key raw materials today that people are working with. So poly nylon, cotton, you know, these type of materials. And so, some countries specialize in cotton production, they have their own crops. Therefore, by having their own crops, they have the availability not only to the raw material, cotton, but also the varying qualities of that perhaps so even within cotton, there are qualities, you know, short staple legs, lesser qualities, longer staple links, better qualities. And so for instance, when I was in Ethiopia, they certainly had their own cotton crop. However, the cotton wasn't really fully formed that that industry wasn't fully formed. So the staple length was very short, therefore the quality would be low, we had to import all of that from other areas. So you know, having to import that from another country can certainly expand lead times. 

Emily Lane 04:50 

Yeah. So you know, really what I hear there, it's understanding the qualities and what you want out of your production and then really making sure that that's available. And if it's not, how long is it going to take to procure that? Yeah, and 

Bret Schnitker 05:05 

as part of your decision making process for efficiency, understanding which country has that in the availability in a quicker time than others. 

Emily Lane 05:14 

So we've got, you know, sourcing our fabric. And then we also have dyeing mills. 

Bret Schnitker 05:20 

Yeah. So after you move through those kind of raw materials, and then you're gonna go into weaving and knitting, and there is kind of a general vicinity conversation, you know, about weaving and Knitting Mills and moving into dyeing Mills, and or printing Mills, that those are generally relatively close together. And today, you know, it's not a commonplace for knitting and woven Mills, to stock piece goods, they work on pretty tight margins, if something isn't turning and moving quickly, in terms of an order placed and manufacturing done and shipped out, you know, they can, it can affect profitability for a knitting or weaving mill. However, because of what's going on, in our industry, the desire for things to move quicker, certain mills in certain countries are certainly taking stock positions more readily than they were in the past. And so for instance, if you are making decisions about a various, let's say, woven fabric, in this case, looking to a mill that might carry a certain quality of woven twill fabric or whatever that you might want, couldn't can make a difference between, you know, that fabric taking three to four weeks as it works through the chain, to having it readily available, and going directly to the dyeing mill, which can take a week to two weeks to dye, you know, again, assuming that you don't have it blocked, and they have to fit other customers in. So that particular component of, you know, the manufacturing can have a pretty wide ranging timing. And so really understanding, you know, the detail of that aspect can have a pretty profound effect on your lead time. Every week counts every week counts. Yeah, for sure. 

Emily Lane 07:01 

And then you can talk about kind of some of those value added treatments. 

Bret Schnitker 07:06 

Yeah. So, again, I think those are within those general echo systems where you're talking about printing, you know, depending on the substrate of the fabric, if it's synthetic or poly, you know, are there sublimated, or, you know, facilities to be able to do that, if it's cotton based? Do they have reactive or pigment printing? Those things all kind of fall into, you know, that general lead time and, and understanding if, if all of those are in a general area that can make an impact on your lead time? 

Emily Lane 07:36 

Let's talk about trim suppliers and that resource checklist. Yeah, that's 

Bret Schnitker 07:40 

kind of a hidden surprise factor. When people are talking about lead times they they don't really think consciously about trims and trims for our conversation today for those that might ask the question, you know, our buttons, labels, zippers, snaps, hang tags, sewing, thread fusible, all those type of items and that really 

Emily Lane 08:01 

kind of make it all come together. 

Bret Schnitker 08:03 

And I think that that is kind of the last thing that people think about but I can certainly tell you one particular categories zippers has a has a wide timeframe difference on the ability to affect production 

Emily Lane 08:20 

is that because of demand or 

Bret Schnitker 08:22 

cases it is it is a component of demand and it's a focus demand there are certain zipper companies in our industry YKK you know that there is a significant demand because YKK is created very high quality zipper, they've patented that process, they have a certain amount of production and there's a lot of demand that goes into that production. So lead times for YKK that has been one of the biggest I think challenges for zippers in the industry where y que que can take up to eight weeks to get zippers it just it takes a long time. So the factory of production needs to plan for that lead time and zippers Today, however, 

Emily Lane 09:02 

do factories excuse me, I've got to ask though, do factories just ever keep that in stock? Or do they procure it based on the programs that come in 

Bret Schnitker 09:10 

absolutely procure it based on production that comes in because you have various lengths you have colors finishes, things like that. So that's generally you know, ordered based upon need once they calculate sizes and quantities etc. However, there are today a number of choices other than YKK that I think present very acceptable great qualities in the industry. They might not be that particular patented zipper style that YKK has, but YBS, Ideal, Talon. I mean, the list goes on and on. And I think that that they searching through the entire system of trims and accessories particularly in this conversation zippers can provide a wide degree of timing that can speed up your production. 

Emily Lane 09:58 

You know, one of the things that Um, I see a lot with with our clients is sampling, you know, and what, what that can add to the process? Yeah. And so can we talk a little bit about and looking at sampling ways to kind of expedite that process? 

Bret Schnitker 10:08 

Yeah, I think technology today is, there's a lot of conversation about technology aid speed in terms of getting through some of those pre production steps, you know, certainly 3d design, and not just 3d design, from a aesthetic point of view, 3d design, from a technical point of view is occurring all the time, you can actually in a virtual environment, make fit decisions and some of these software applications that exist today, and speeding up that certainly can affect your overall lead time before it gets into some of these production things that we're talking about. Yeah, that's 

Emily Lane 10:50 

true. And then it also has the added benefit of, you know, reducing waste and things. Oh, for sure. Yeah. So now that we've kind of made it through our, you know, our samples, and protos, and all those things, let's talk about assessing an actual factory for the production side of things, taking a look at that making sure that they're operating with maximum efficiency, what are some things that you would recommend taking a look at? 

Bret Schnitker 11:15 

Yeah, so again, worldwide, I've been to 1000s of factories, and I would say, 

Emily Lane 11:21 

just 1000s, I would say, 

Bret Schnitker 11:25 

it's been a lot of years and a lot of factory. But, you know, it's surprising even factories that you would say, that have been around a long time that have some notable things, you know, it comes down to the just like a company being run efficiently or not, it comes down to the management and the philosophy that that a factory has, it also comes down to sort of where a country sits along that production cycle, you know, again, relating back to Ethiopia, that was kind of my pioneer days and manufacturing. But you know, Ethiopia, had been moving from an agrarian to an industrial economy. So they didn't measure things in seconds or minutes, they measured them in weeks and months, based upon, you know, planting season. So that mentality kind of filtered down to even the production lines, even though cost was very inexpensive in the country per person for, you know, labor costs, efficiency became a very integral component to consider, you know, there, if you just look at overall labor costs country, by country, it's a very small fraction of that overall conversation about the cost that and the efficiency in terms of which a garment is manufactured. You know, China, for instance, moves very quickly in lines and production lines. So even though labor cost might be more expensive, on a monthly basis, per worker, the efficiency at which they so the final result will indicate a cost that might be less expensive than a country where you see a labor costs being very low. But efficiency being also low. 

Emily Lane 13:05 

Would you attribute that success in China to the fact that they've been in the industry for so long? How do you? Is it is it technology? What is it that makes them so good at maximizing their human power? 

Bret Schnitker 13:21 

I think it's a combination of factors, certainly, as you as you're in the industry, a long time you make a commitment to the industry skill set becomes better, and therefore efficiency becomes better. But it's also mindset. I think that you know, as a, as a nation, the mindset for China and all aspects is how do I maximize efficiency and improve productivity, they supply the world. So from a mindset, regardless of sector, they're looking at ways to improve efficiency all the time. And at one point when labor cost was low, and they certainly have a very large labor pool, maximizing human efficiency was critical, because with low cost labor and maximum efficiency, you get some very advantageous costs as labor rates climb, as their economy has moved, really, from what we would consider, you know, first level industrialization many years ago to really being second to the United States in terms of a, you know, an overall economy, you know, they've moved, you know, life style, you know, quality of life costing, all of that has gone up. So now they're certainly aggressive at adding technology into all of their sewing lines to further improve efficiency. At one point, from our perspective in apparel, you know, they might not be the best choice for a country of manufacture because their labor costs will just get too expensive for apparel. They've moved aggressively into technology and all that stuff where that labor costs can be more efficient. 

Emily Lane 15:01 

Yeah, looking at production a little deeper, I mean, there are things to consider even just with production line layouts 

Bret Schnitker 15:08 

for sure. Absolutely certain line systems and how you set up line systems, the distance between even cutting, bundling and assembly lines can make a significant impact in time, you know, we, we talk about, you know, all these different metrics that exist. And I think improving metrics, improving efficiency along the process is really important. This thing called SAM, standard allowable minutes is how our industry in factories allocates what is a good industry time to sell a garment to manufacture a garment and watching those SAMs and understanding how those change country by country are an important dynamic and understanding efficiency. 

Emily Lane 15:56 

Okay, I was that was gonna ask you, I'm sure there are some formulas out there. There's tons. Okay. Are there any other considerations to look at when you're looking kind of in that inside the factory line? You know, communication or any other things like that, that you would go? You've got to make sure and take a look at this before you make your decision? Yeah, I 

Bret Schnitker 16:21 

think that general manufacturing, again, we like to simplify it. But there are a lot of complexities and a lot of variables, depending on the category of manufacturer that you're dealing with, you know, certainly SAMs help indicate, in a sewing line, how quickly things move, and you can calculate those country by country, you see efficiencies, that there are things within lines about how, how a sower is correctly sewing with efficiency, because you can sell faster, if that's so or can't come sell faster, but all sudden, you have a lot more failures or errors. reworking those errors, slowdown align, they increase cost and can mess about with efficiency. So again, there's all these little variables that you look at in a line, if you're seeing a lot of rework going off how a line is set up for you or for rework, there will be errors and sewing but how a factory sits down and identifies that can have big impacts on efficiency, it 

Emily Lane 17:18 

almost seems like there needs to be some sort of big checklist that you go through 

Bret Schnitker 17:23 

a big checklist. 

Emily Lane 17:24 

That sounds interesting. 

Bret Schnitker 17:26 

Yeah, I think that you know, understanding your factory partner can be really important today and understanding you know, how efficient and how well the factory is run has a you know, when, when today we have so few we have such little control over are shipping and logistics, and it is just nightmarishly long today. Yeah, you got air freight is super expensive. Yeah, got to look at all these other components and then make some decisions on on on the parts you can 

Emily Lane 17:57 

your transition to that shipping list as logistics is perfect. Right now, as we talked about, there are just things that we can't control right now, especially in that segment. However, it's still a part of the equation. So what can be done in that side of manufacturing, the logistics, 

Bret Schnitker 18:15 

again, depending on on category of product, you know, we tend to really look east and west in the United States, we generally don't look often north and south. And so you know, there's there's manufacturing in Canada, depending on the level of product that you're doing this whole nearshoring instead of onshoring nearshoring is a whole conversation so Central America, you know, and South America, there's there's countries of manufacture, that the lead times on boats are significantly less than we're seeing from China, for instance, we've mentioned that, you know, China has really long lead times today, it's not because the boats are moving slower. It's because the system itself is bottled up, you know, as it's difficult to get things on vessels. Once they get on vessels, vessels sit in, you know, the ports waiting to clear, and they're outrageously long if we look at Central America, but lead times are two to three days, certainly shorter already than they are out of Asia or India which can be 26-28 days, just vessel lead times. But they're also going into ports that may have a more fluid dynamic than some of the main ports today. So the overall lead time could be I don't know 10 to 14 days, let's say into Miami where from Central America where that can also have a major impact on your overall lead time. 

Emily Lane 19:42 

You know, and let's face it, even if you are in a very rushed situation to the two to three days shipping that definitely improves the equation but knowing that air is so expensive, at least if it's closer in theory, it would be a little less expensive, right? 

Bret Schnitker 19:57 

Yeah. Anytime you air your understanding your abdicating a considerable amount of profit and cost can go up. And I think, really trying to be a little more proactive today to all these other steps, you know, helps companies stay profitable through this time and provide production because demand really hasn't subsided. 

Emily Lane 20:21 

Well, in the end, it really is kind of important to understand, you know, what are the key elements where value is perceived? What are the key priorities of the program? And, you know, understanding what fast turnaround time but that really looks like today. What kind of quality you're wanting all of these things are really fundamental and making decisions on on where to go for production. 

Bret Schnitker 20:48 

Yeah, we live in a big world. There's a lot of conversations, there's a lot understanding how to lay out the questions, understanding what you need, particularly from all the aspects of production, help someone that is educated on global manufacturing plugin and fill in the blanks and walk walk this production through efficiently. One 

Emily Lane 21:07 

of the things that I hear you say so often is not every country does everything well. And so understanding, maybe, strengths, country by country, I think would be a really great place to start. So maybe you can help me create a document that we can share as a part of a takeaway on this on this episode. Would you be up for that? 

Bret Schnitker 21:30 

Certainly, I think, you know, that's always a fluid conversation countries evolve in terms of their efficiencies. But we can we can do a document that kind of gives some general strengths and weaknesses by major countries of manufacture. 

Emily Lane 21:43 

Sounds great. Well, thank you so much for giving us some insight on this very complex world of production. Until next time, make sure to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture 

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Streamline the Clothing Manufacturing Process