Is Local-for-Local or On-Demand Apparel Production Really Happening?

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Take a few minutes to check out this piece in The Sourcing Journal authored by our good friend Ed Gribbin.

Talk about on-demand apparel production or local-for-local production have been trickling out for years now, but in the past year it seems like that trickle has become a stream. Is this really happening in America?While it’s still too early to claim victory for on-demand advocates, there’s no question that the convergence of new technologies, creative entrepreneurs and changing consumer attitudes are increasing the likelihood that we’ll be buying at least some made-to-order clothing, possibly from virtual samples, close to home in the near future.

I don’t know if the farm-to-table movement in restaurants had any impact on what’s happening in apparel, but the opening of Under Armour’s Lighthouse two years ago, along with the first Adidas Speedfactory, brought the term ‘local-for-local’ into mainstream conversation in the apparel and footwear industries.

The idea or vision was that, eventually, most apparel and footwear would be produced in numerous, relatively small, highly automated, production facilities in close proximity to customers with the ability to customize products to customer desires and/or needs. They would be fueled by artificial intelligence driving decisions to make what customers wanted, in many cases, before the customers knew they wanted them. The industry would, in theory, evolve from producing massive quantities of products in Asia with long lead times—only to be discounted ad nauseum at retail to unexcited and disinterested consumers—to producing smaller, customized capsules of on-trend, in-demand products in close proximity to the customer with no need for markdowns.

Because consumers, the industry in general, and the press have not seen tangible progress with those first well-publicized initiatives (even though they may be fulfilling the expectations of their brand owners), there has been radio-silence on the local-for-local front for a while now.

There is no question, however, that an increasing number of industry observers have predicted that we are nearing the end of the “mass market” in apparel as we have known it for the past 70 years or more.

We are entering an era where an almost infinite number of niche brand offerings, each focused on a unique, common-interest tribe of loyalists, is emerging to replace the clothing offerings of the mass retailers (who, by the way, sense the threat, and are responding with innovations of their own: cue Wal-Mart’s Jet.com acquisitions and Store 8, for example).

So, who are these niche brands disrupting traditional retail? The men’s shirt sector has attracted a lot of attention and investment. Stantt, for one, solves the fit challenge by offering 100 sizes, each named after a street in New York City, made to order in the Americas and delivered within days. Proper Cloth offers made-to measure, quick-turn dress shirts. Mizzen & Main offers dress shirts in high-tech performance fabrics that stretch and wick. Untuckit offers shirts that “look good untucked” no matter how big or small or short or tall you are. Most remain small and niche, but if you think PVH—among the largest global retailers of dress shirts—is not watching, learning and innovating on their own, you’d be mistaken. Read More

 

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At the AAPN, we believe that doing business in the USA and the Americas is easier, faster, safer, and just plain better. Sure, if you want to source huge quantities; and you know what will sell way in advance; and you are not worried about flexibility; and you just want cheap; then there are plenty of mega-factories in the world that will take your orders. But if you are looking for a more flexible sourcing model, one that better aligns with today’s fickle, hyper-connected, want-it-my-way-consumer, then you need to look to the Americas.

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