Yvonne Heinen-Foudeh (YH-F): The apparel industry is facing a paradigm shift. Technology is enabling new business models, such as on-demand manufacturing - instead of blatant overproduction - to name just one trend. In your professional opinion and assessment, where will the fashion and apparel market be in five years from now?
Michael Ernst (M.E.): The industry is in a permanent state of flux and has to constantly reinvent itself due to the ever faster changing social conditions. On the other hand, this industry is still one of the most tradition-conscious and often stuck in the past. The structures of product development, with increasing outsourcing that began a long time ago, cannot simply be broken up. This poses a major challenge that is difficult to master as soon as it comes to implementing groundbreaking technologies – especially if such innovations can only be used in a truly synergistic way across the organization.
Personally, I do not believe in a return to traditional structures with domestic production – at least not for the German-speaking markets. Nearshoring can probably be implemented in rudiments – and is to be expected in the years ahead.
Also, I don't see a return to classic CMT decoupled from so-called FOB (full on board) structures. "On-demand" also means deliverable within a reasonable time – otherwise, the customer usually loses interest in the product or has already discovered the next favorites due to the daily flood of offerings. A scenario anyway leading to major problems in product development as well as in production. After all, an international process chain has to be triggered to enable supply for the particular product.
YH-F: In your view, what role will the end consumer play in the upcoming change in apparel supply chains, in the necessary shift towards increasingly sustainable concepts in every respect?
M.E.: Indeed, the change will be determined by a much stronger mindset shift on the side of the "consumers". This is in terms of value and appreciation for the products. Up to now, it has mostly been the price that has counted in modern times. As long as a blouse, for example, is available in a brand-dependent range from $5-$3,000 while the feeling for the quality of the materials, the workmanship, and the fit does not (re)penetrate into the consumer's awareness, nothing significant will change. Even the so-called micro-factory principle will not reverse this so easily or permanently.
YH-F: And what role do technology applications play in this scenario?
M.E.: Particularly due to the pandemic, virtual product development has gained enormous momentum. Digital technologies have long since found their way into companies – but 3D technologies, in particular, are having a very hard time. On the one hand, this is due to the constant critical scrutiny of further developments. On the other hand, the hesitation reflects the fear of the new, the change, and the certainly well-founded fear that a profitable implementation in particular requires a rethinking of the processes and ultimately their conversion. In particular also in respect of international partnerships along the entire chain.
Unfortunately, many companies then started to put the cart before the horse – in the vision of seeing high-end rendered images for marketing and retail in the first place. This is also directly related to processes.
However, if only nice images and body measurement tables are sent to suppliers – where should the 3D simulation of the product come from? Should it be outsourced right away as well and simply requested?
This makes a bad start for 3D product development, because before outsourcing, perhaps the debate should first take place within the company. The first thing to do is to build up in-house expertise.