A fruitful association between apparel customer and apparel manufacturer can be established only after several interactions to match each other's objectives of profitability, says G. Jayapal Nair.


Apparel manufacture is rather like life. Benefits can be reaped by both manufacturer and buyer or customer if there is a long-standing relationship of mutual understanding and trust.


Apparel is an essential commodity. Demand for clothes is rising all over the world, so it could be disastrous if the relationship breaks simply because it lacks a win-win scenario. Manufacturing costs are increasing in the Asian region. Manufacturers are eying low- risk domestic markets where the readymade fashion industry is gaining popularity by the day. A real comparative study of the different aspects of manufacture and socio- political conditions, one can predict that Africa, the new manufacturing hub, will take generations to replace Asia's manufacturing might. So, it is imperative for customers to support allied manufacturers and work towards a win-win synergy.


Manufacturers are looking to increase productivity through smart Information Technology solutions, automation, re-engineering and adapting established systems. The main challenge is to identify non-value added processes at the micro level to eliminate or reduce them. Since an assembly line manufacturing operation can be cloned from other assembly lines, micro level savings can combine to form bigger savings.


The buyer can contribute in several ways.

1. The concept sample: This is the initial sample made by the sampling department. Generally, an apparel style sample offered by a manufacturer will have considerable non-value processes such as split operations, unnecessary tacking, non-standard gauge width etc. This is extra work because of the ignorance of sampling tailors or technical persons unaware of advantages or constraints of the manufacturer's machinery. Similarly, unnecessary grading does not make any significant contribution to product appreciation.


The technical package of a trouser style shows the side seam is first joined by a single needle lock stitch and then secured by three-thread over-lock stitch. In most styles, considering fabrication and product safety, this double operation can be replaced by a direct five-thread over-lock stitch to save time.


In the sample of a pant style with the welt (bone) pocket, the customer's technical department will demand pocket placement grading and size grading of 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch for all sizes, say 7-8 sizes. Contemporary factories use automatic pocket welt (APW) machines which need to be marked and set minutely to cater to this need of 1/8 inch grading. It does not provide any advantage to the wearer but causes serious time loss on the production floor. There is no harm if sizes are grouped and given common grading to limit the total number of grading to three or four. There can be dozens of such opportunities to eliminate, combine or modify operations and save time and money.

The buyer's technical team is unaware of high-cost bulk production scenarios, options on modern machines and possibilities of re-engineering certain operations to reduce work content without affecting the required style. They generally depend on an earlier data bank while making samples by tailors who have no exposure to bulk production. Similarly, the tech pack is prepared by simply reproducing earlier styles from the data bank.


Technical departments of some customers will be adamant about their samples and tech-packs and never allow changes while making samples for approval. Subsequently, bulk production has to follow those extra operations. Several manufacturers are scared to discuss style simplification opportunities with buyers even though these would make production easier. So, these non-value processes are performed unnecessarily by engaging workers in bulk production. An expensive machine or folder may lie idle as the gauge may not be compatible with the approved style. Even if there is just 1/8inch difference in seam width, it is a loss to the productivity of the manufacturer, with no advantage to anybody. Each manufacturer has different machine skills or process skills, and they can get over this hurdle if they brief customers.


2. Supports from buyer to the manufacturer: The buyer should allow the manufacturer to make a style simplification study based on the advantages or limitations and process ideas considering the following aspects:

a) It does not affect the fit, fall, aesthetic or salability of the garment.

b) It does not affect product safety requirements.

c) Simplification of inner seams should be allowed liberally by considering product safety aspects only (customer wash effects) since it does not affect garment aesthetics.


3. Opportunities for manufacturer: Considering the above parameters, style simplification and product engineering should be a prime objective of the industrial engineering department. Brainstorming with the technical department and considering the machine specialties, the Industrial engineer can suggest better alternatives to reduce manpower or deskill the operation for easy production and achieving quality. Similarly, the pattern master can modify patterns of inner sections to save fabric consumption and sewing operations. The factory should convince the buyer who is flexible, by submitting required sketches and mocks of these modified operations. These changes, approved by the customer, can be incorporated while making fit samples for final approval. Later, bulk production can enjoy these advantages.


A second saved is a second earned. Elimination of such non-value processes can reduce the garment making time (SMV- Standard Minute Value) reduce the number of workers and engage expensive machines available with the factory to get its return on investments. If one assembly line can reduce the work of five people, 10 assembly lines can save the work of 50 people. This enables the factory to start another assembly line.


The manufacturer can thus save with the support of the buyer while maintaining the quality of the product.


About the author:

G. Jayapal Nair is B.Tech in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Mar Athanasius College of Engineering, Kerala.


He is a professional with more than 2 decades of experience in apparel manufacturing organizations and has successfully held varied portfolios in the Senior management cadre both in India and in the Middle East. Currently, he is working as a Management consultant and has the credit of publishing few management articles in the national journals.