Wednesday, January 2, 2019


The time has come to shift the focus of the apparel trades from developing new manufacturing technology to the adoption of today’s technology in a new paradigm of sourcing. 2019 will be a critical year in the adoption of digital textile printing. Hundreds of companies have spent countless millions of dollars developing high-speed digital printing, visual textile cutting, sophisticated production software and now we are even seeing the initial entry of robotic sewing. Although, these companies have reached new heights in technology and sustainability they have done this by climbing the innovation stairway in their own silo. Few of the innovators are concerned with the fact that knitting, weaving, coloring, printing, cutting or sewing are just part of a complex choreography of different technologies required to produce a finished textile or apparel product. Because of this isolation, the companies have often failed to create the integration needed for a complete supply system. Building these significant technological machines and then failing to connect them is much like a village without roads or communications. This lack of internal connection whether in the form of a demand micro-factory or a mass-producing digital factory is but one of the major roadblocks that need to be faced in 2019.

Companies need to seriously invest time and people power in using their attendance and participation in the glut of technology shows and the show-and-tell conferences to talk to each other about seamless integration. Creating communication standards and compatible software along with a holistic view of the entire manufacturing process will allow potential customers to visualize their entire expense and the huge profitability that is clearly on the horizon. Over the last 26 years of advocating demand-based production for individual consumers or replenishing products sold at retail I've seen hundreds of entrepreneurial dreams crushed. Potential customers were sold a piece equipment or software that was not compatible or didn't match their specific plan. There is no blame to attach to this problem companies need to sell what they make but, they must recognize that these products do not stand alone they need to interface in an entire system. Because the technologies at each station in the complex track of production are different, companies need to use shows and conferences as points of cross-communication. Failure to strategically understand this market will extend the time required for companies to realize the return on their investment in digital technologies. Companies that understand this requirement for mechanical integration and the seamless transfer of digital product information will be the first adopted by the industry. Whether companies take this path through M&A or through the much less costly approach of education and cross functional analysis and partnerships, the goal for 2019 is clear, the industry must focus on adoption of digital technologies and it's functional partner of demand manufacturing.

 A second roadblock in the path to adoption is that there is no road to the source of funds. The technology companies have built a beautiful edifice focused on manufacturing, but there is no road for the brands or the retailers to approach this paradigm changing structure. In fact the retailers who deal directly with consumers that generate the funds have been left out of this technology revolution that offers so much promise for the manufacturers. This is more than just a technology disconnect, the players don't even speak the same language. The printer manufacturers are still keeping score in square meters per hour while the retailers only want to hear about sales per square foot. Although consumers have access to inventories through the Internet much of the visual and virtual capabilities of the new technology are not connected to the retailer or e-tailer at the B2C level. If one tenth of the funds that have been expended on the technological developments of digital color, visual recognition and repetitive automation had been spent on AR for the consumers or AI for the buyers, apparel retailers would be thriving today. This year shows like SOURCING at MAGIC will begin the difficult task of bringing together retail, brand and manufacturers to demonstrate the use of AI and AR in integrating demand manufacturing, demand sourcing and demand merchandising to create a profitable domestic enterprise. Our country can only reconstitute domestic manufacturing and revitalize domestic retail by creating more profits in the apparel trades. This will not be accomplished through a focus on finding cheap labor and lowering cost of goods. That can only result in lower quality, poor working conditions and more pollution. The US is still a nation of consumers whether in-store or online the key to greater profits is to make what we sell and sell what we make. Today we risk guessing what will sell 12 months in advance and then selling only about 25% at the retail price projected. There is no way cost-cutting will solve this endemic structural weakness. Import, discount and dump is not a viable business plan. We need to spend dollars and time connecting what sells directly with what we make. The focus needs to be on including the consumer in the visual experience of choosing garments then using AR to try on their choices. This information and the ultimate purchase can be much more accurate than 12 month projections. Feeding an AI system real-time sales data that drives a network of demand manufacturing that produces targeted replenishment is much more profitable than clearance discounting. This is not a dream far off in the future our actual tests show a small micro-factory could deliver five day delivery to replenish the actual sales of licensed printed children's sleepwear to over 200 stores. As the bulk of our clothing gets more casual and more colorful we are at a crossroads to decide whether import, discount and dump or targeted demand merchandising driving demand manufacturing is the path to a sustainable future for this recoverable segment of our economy.

Some companies are trying to bridge the gap between technology silos and a few are even reaching out to add merchandising into their portfolio. Some like EFI and Dover are adding by M&A. Others like Tukatech are building from within and focused on designers and service centers. Gerber Technologies is using both M&A and technology partnerships to connect with both printing RIPs and consumer online software. Retail and brand customers will see some of this merchandising and adoption technology at SOURCING at MAGIC, February 4-7 in the South Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center.