At the start of her career, Suuchi Ramesh worked in predictive sciences and analytics to improve the efficiency of retailers’ supply chains, based on data. Today, she’s CEO of a rapid-turn apparel design and manufacturing company, Suuchi Inc., that is growing at a supersonic pace – as fast as fashion trends come and go. In under 2.5 years, her turnkey service for fashion brands, retailers and Fortune 500 companies grew from 3 to 70 employees, and from 1 to over 100 enterprise customers. From her vantage point as a “Made in USA” retail manufacturer, Ramesh shares the five tech trends she sees disrupting the apparel industry.
For years, the writing has been on the wall for clothing designers. Brick and mortar is vanishing, and millennial and Gen ‘Z’ers want a unique product — and they want it now. The chances of survival for retailers, apparel retailers in particular, depend on their adoption of nimble supply chains that can cater to custom orders at the speed of light. Supply chains need to be brought to life through manufacturing plants that seriously leverage technology and automation.
While software and automation have massively altered the norms of every industry, there are five tech trends that will continue to disrupt the apparel industry of tomorrow:
1. Soup-to-nuts integration
Any rapid time-to-market concept will not function unless all components of the supply chain are communicating and cohesive. From materials sourcing, creative and technical design, samples, production and shipping — first, all these departments will run under the same roof. Second, the teams have real-time flow of information to ensure everyone has access to the same data and one version of truth.
2. Made-to-order and made-to-fit
A world where shirts are made with purple cuffs, orange buttons, XXL chests and 60 inches in length –what the customer desires, he gets, in real time. Millennials are constantly changing purchasing tastes, so setting up a workflow that makes items only and as orders are placed is critical for fashion brands’ success.
3. Sketching in the third dimension
When a new garment style is introduced, it must undergo a painstaking process to find the best fit. A snug fit, maybe, long or short sleeves, pointed or curved collar? With 3D rendering, this tortuously expensive process has been dramatically enhanced. Flat sketches and technical patterns morph to simulated 3D renderings, allowing us to cut the sleeve, loosen the fit, sharpen the collar, all in real time.
4. Imagine, customize, produce, repeat
Dye sublimation and digital printing have afforded the ability to endlessly customize. A consumer’s vision or idea can become reality swiftly and cheaply. This leads to a world where instead of manufacturing an A-line dress in one print, we could manufacture the A-line dress in custom prints for each our brand’s consumers.
5. The robotic seamstress revolution
Where it is possible to eliminate manual intervention, reduce quality issues and increase speed and consistency, we invest in machines. It is not about eliminating jobs, but about replacing old with new skills. It is about making smarter workers.
Sewing machine innovations have reached a gorgeous climax with laser cutting machines, fusing machines, button hole machines and much more. At Suuchi, we have over 100 types of machines to smooth and speed up the production flow. Indeed, this is capital intensive. The art is to focus and transform the workflow before investing in expensive machines. Work flow first, machines after — that leads to the best investment return.
These five transformations are possible only through and because of a local American supply chain, in your backyard, where any minor increase in labor costs, if any at all, is more than offset by the gain in speed and quality. Consumers feel good about a purchase that’s been designed and made in the USA and there is a real profit in quantifying this feel-good factor. But all quantification aside, this revolution is bringing manufacturing back, closer to home.