By Polly Chen
The garment industry is one of the largest industries in the world. The global garment market valued about $858 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $1.2 billion by 2025. In this huge industry, Asia is the greatest contributor to it.
Among the 10 largest garment exporting countries and areas in the world, seven of them are located in Asia. Fast fashion retailers are all relying on Asia for manufacturing their products.
However, the competition in the fast fashion industry has become more intense in recent years. Consumers don’t want those highly stacked and cheaply sold garments anymore. They now value garments with speed, precision, traceability and adaptability over bulk.
Additionally, the bankruptcy of Forever 21 shocked every fashion retailer and forced them to think of ways to survive. Under the pressure, garment brands are turning to manufacturers who have a shorter production time and a more sustainable process. As a result, the garment manufacturers in Asia are transforming themselves with technology.
Fast fashion brands on upstream are changing
The shift in consumer demands is reshaping the fast fashion sector. Garment retail giants such as Zara’s parent group Inditex and Uniqlo’s parent group Fast Retailing are investing to improve in-store customer experiences to attract customers.
Also, the giants are building data management and “smart logistic” systems to further optimize their supplier chain networks. Ricardo Perez Garrido, a professor of digital innovation and information systems, said speed and control are keywords to survive: That means designs to serve what customers like, operations to put [products] in the right place, and technology to make it superfast, superefficient and superpersonalized.
Fast fashion brands are finding ways to become “sustainable fashion.” Brands who were long been tied with “waste” and “exploitation” now want to change their image. For example, Zara has announced to use 100 percent sustainable fabrics by 2025.
Asian garment manufacturers on downstream are learning to be “smart”
As the major suppliers to these fast fashion brands, Asian garment manufacturers are transforming themselves to cater to the change and win more business. Tuntex, the supplier of Nike, Puma and other global clothing brands who are based in Asia, can be a good example.
Tuntex invests about $5 billion annually on new technology to shorten lead time. It is now using automated cutting machines and self-driving carts as in-house innovations. The company is also using high-speed fabric inspection machines with facial recognition technology to monitor thousands of meters of fabric every day.
Stanley Kang, the deputy general manager of Tuntex, said they have to learn smart like a tech company: The average lead time went from 120 days to 90 days about four years ago, and now it’s 60 days. … Some manufacturers are even doing much shorter. Automation and digitalization are changing everything, and when things change, we have to change.
Some garment brands are moving their smart factories from the west to Asia to better improve their manufacturing. For instance, Adidas has moved its Speedfactory to Asia to bring more efficiency to the manufacturing process.
In the future, with Asian countries improving their capacity in tech manufacturing, garment manufacturing in Asia will become “smarter.”
The views, opinions and images in this article are purely the author’s own. Global Sources does not own responsibility for what is presented in the article.
Polly Chen is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in Asia for clients in the US, EU and Australia.