Interview with Han Bekke

Han Bekke
Han Bekke
International Apparel Federation
International Apparel Federation

How can automation and technology reshape the global clothing industry?

Automation is reshaping the industry in many ways. 

Digitising the product development process and doing away with physical samples will not only save costs, it will also enable a much faster and more flexible supply chain, which in turn will improve profitability. A digital sample of a product can be shown to potential customers very quickly after the product is created, and if the consumers don't like the product, it need not be produced at all. But this is only one example of the way digitisation improves operations and creates a balance of power in the supply chain. For instance, we now also see the quality control process being partly digitised, enabling self-assessments by manufacturers to be verified in a digital environment.

And then of course, there are the developments in robotisation, which have the potential to change the structure and the geography of the industry. But in the near and not-so-distant future I do not foresee a large percentage of the global apparel production being made by robots. 

Where is the adoption rate of Industry 4.0 higher: sourcing, designing, development, manufacturing, distribution, or retailing?

If we look at industry 4.0 in the narrow sense, as driven by IOT (internet of things) then in manufacturing, where sewing machines are becoming intelligent, the adoption rate is picking up. We see a positive impact on productivity and flexibility caused by the enhanced functionality of machines.

What is the future like for second-hand clothing and new clothing?

There is a consciousness among a growing group of consumers that part of the global environmental problems is caused by over-consumption and over-production. More and more stories are emerging about huge stockpiles of unsold clothing. By buying second-hand clothes, consumers alleviate their guilt about their negative impact on the environment. But second-hand clothing is only one manifestation of circular fashion. I believe circular fashion, including an increased use of fabrics from recycled sources, will be a theme of fast-growing importance.

What initiatives have you taken to improve the image of the apparel industry?

The adverse impact of apparel on the environment-in some cases on workers-and also a deteriorating perception of value caused by price races to the bottom are creating image problems for the industry. A negative image of an industry is really the largest threat any industry can face collectively, and can also only improve collectively. Industry associations, industry initiatives and global federations such as IAF, ITMF and WFSGI are in a good position to play this collective role. IAF, mainly using its World Fashion Convention platform, is a strong advocate of global collaboration to create smarter, stronger and more sustainable supply chains. Through projects, we support better collaboration between buyers and suppliers, we help reduce audit and standard fatigue and to improve their effectiveness, we support global schemes to increase the share of circular fashion, and we strive to better connect the worlds of large brands and retailers to the millions of small and medium-sized businesses in our industry.

With the US losing interest in buying new clothes, what is the future for apparel manufacturers?

I do not see US losing interest in buying new clothes. The issue there in my view is whether these clothes can be imported duty-free or not. There is NAFTA and we know that China is dominating the apparel market in the US. We have to see whether (Donald) Trump's trade policy will also affect our sector. So far, there are no signs this will happen, but uncertainty is key here. IAF is in favour of free but fair trade. Import duties and non-tariff barriers disturb the world trade in clothing and textiles and in that sense will hurt all companies working in our sector, not at least the consumers we want to serve.

What will be the effect of China's One Belt, One Road Initiative on the apparel industry in Asia?

It is hard to overstate the impact of this initiative, which is really going to have a fundamental impact on the global apparel production map in the coming decade. The investments made as a result of the initiative are boosting the development of the apparel industry in a large number of Asian and African countries. Following the hard investments in infrastructure and in machinery, next is the softer investments in people, their skills and in the management. Investments are needed to improve our industry in a more structural way; so, potentially this is a good development. I envision that IAF members and IAF's Chinese member CCCT will be working together more intensively in the coming years on all issues surrounding industrial development as a result.

What is the agenda of the upcoming World Fashion Convention?

The theme of the 34th IAF World fashion Convention from October 8-10, 2018 in Maastricht (The Netherlands) is "Building a smart future for fashion". In a world where prices cannot drop much lower, boats cannot go much faster and people cannot work much harder, improvements are made only when the business is made smarter. Sessions will be held on smart raw material use, smart supply chains, smart new business, smart manufacturing and smart retailing. This convention will show many inspiring examples of a smarter apparel supply chain.

The IAF Convention caters to apparel industry leaders from across the supply chain, from all continents. This convention is a unique opportunity to gain the insights necessary to understand where our industry is heading. Top speakers from across the globe cover the width of the supply chain, from raw materials to apparel sourcing and from production to retail trends. On top of that, the convention provides an excellent opportunity to meet the global industry in one location in a few days time. (RR)

Published on: 16/05/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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