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When we look at the vast majority of the Chinese textile & clothing industry, we notice a general lack of consistent management at almost every level...
Constantine Raptis, President of Werner International speaks about the various management issues faced by textile and apparel industry in an interview with Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Manushi Gandhi.
Established in 1939, Werner International is a management consulting practice specialized exclusively in the fiber, textile and fashion industry. It operates globally and provides support for setting-up, improving and restructuring textile and clothing manufacturing operations to strategy and marketing services for new market entry, new product development, supply chain management, branding, retailing, partner search and future strategies build-up.
Constantine Raptis is the soul owner of Werner International since the year 2000. From 1997 onwards he was President and COO - responsible worldwide for all assignments undertaken by Werner International. He joined Werner International as a consultant in 1975 and was quickly promoted to Supervisory Consultant with the responsibility for a team of consultants. Mr. Raptis first began his studies at the Economic College in Greece and continued with textile engineering at the Industrial Institute of Textile Technology in Naples, Italy.
Werner has an international clientele. Challenges faced by a company in one country may be very different from another company located in another region. How the Werner is able to look after them efficiently?
You are right; challenges are very often different depending on the regional location. However, we need to distinguish between two different types of challenges:
- On the micro-level: challenges inherent to the manufacturing of textiles and clothing and the internal capabilities of design, innovation and marketing.
- On the macro-level: challenges created by the economic environment in a specific country or region. These are very often governed by governmental trade policies and general economic conditions and policies within a country.
Werner International is active on both fronts: the most important for us is the management and technical consulting we provide to textile companies in order to manufacture textiles and clothing at the highest competitive level. This does not only include optimal efficiency and productivity levels, but equally premium quality, minimal waste, innovative product development, etc.
On a macro-economic level we advise our clients (that includes governments, investment banks, federations and the like) on what their actual and potential future position is within the global supply chain.
What are the most common management problems faced by the textile / apparel companies based in Asian region? How can those be dealt with?
When we look at the vast majority of the Chinese textile & clothing industry, we notice a general lack of consistent management at almost every level in the manufacturing chain. There has been no culture, and very little external pressure, for competitive manufacturing. Access to cheap finance with little requirement for profitability, cheap labour costs and availability of raw materials have resulted in an industry where management was more likely seen as starting up new production facilities and producing at low cost with little attention to efficiency levels, return on investment, quality and waste levels - areas which are of prime importance in an open production competition.
Consequently, there is a huge lack of well-trained middle management in the textile industry. To a lesser extent, this is true for foreign owned companies in China. Since the financial crisis in the Western world and the increasing manufacturing costs in China, we have seen a first move towards more competitive pressure in China. One of the characteristics is that countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, where labour cost is lower, are now forming an essential part of the Chinese supply chain. Of course, as a result of the Chinese textile policy, half of the global textile and clothing production now originates from China. And this has been achieved in no more than ten to fifteen years. It will be difficult for any other country or region in the world to do the same.
On the other hand we see countries like India, where textile and clothing companies are more subject to open competition. Here management levels are good and there is a well formed structured of trained middle managers and supervisors. For them, the same conditions apply as for Western companies - the need to produce innovative and commodity products at the best possible cost with optimal efficiency, productivity and quality levels and minimal waste.
When it comes to taking risk and spending a huge amount on product innovations, which are the countries that are there on the fore front?
When it comes down to innovative manufacturing, textiles and clothing are no exception to other economic sectors. Within Europe, Japan and the USA, a lot of emphasis is put on innovation and innovative manufacturing. But if we look closer at the global and regional supply chains, we see that in all of the above three major regions, representing around 60% of world consumption, more than 90% to 95% of textiles and clothing is being imported. Innovation will be a key driver for the remaining production facilities within the developed world, but volume wise and in terms of employment potential, they are minimal. They can only remain here because of certain technical requirements, supply chain characteristics or spearhead research. Their only survival strategy is to invest in product development and innovation. That is also why governments in these countries are heavily supporting innovation. But as with traditional textiles and clothing production, continuous pressure will build up from regional supply bases like Turkey and from global suppliers like China. The innovative textile base in Europe is concentrated around Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, ... Countries that gave up textile & clothing production (like the UK, the Netherlands) have very little production left, the same for countries that were focusing more on clothing and household textiles (like Italy, Portugal).
China’s textile export growth rate has slowed down from Jan 2014 to May 2014. In your opinion what are the reason for this?
The reasons for this, I think, are quite obvious. The competitiveness of the Chinese industry is dropping and at the same time the consumption in the Western world is stagnating. Now, this is not only a result of the financial and economic crisis, it is equally related to the fact that almost the entire markets of the developed world is now open to global competition and dominated by exports (until ten years ago still regulated). In countries with a high per capita consumption of textiles and clothing there is a natural and long-term trend towards a stagnating (if not lower consumption) of textiles and clothing. Future growth in textile and clothing consumption will come from a growing world population, but this growth is reducing, and will most likely stagnate, after 2050.
Further growth will only come from countries where the level of development is increasing, mostly in Asian and African countries. Also, this growth in consumption will level off at an earlier stage and a lower level when compared to developed countries. As a result, the textile and clothing industries will face a new reality in the decades ahead: a globally saturated consumer market.
What are the transformations the industry has gone through in the last 3 years? Which are countries that have benefited maximum from the textile and apparel business?
In general, there are not many significant transformations taking place. Relocation trends have been confirmed, technology improvements are marginal, IT applications are numerous - but small scale. Knitting is gaining ground compared to weaving; probably the most important developments are made in the fiber industry with the continuous improvement of synthetic fiber characteristics. Yet, it is true that the last major breakthroughs of new technologies are now decades behind us.
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