More on fashion industry manufacturing

By Maureen Aylward

We posed questions to our Zintro experts about the use of small batch manufacturing in the fashion industry. We asked the experts to outline what products fit into this category and where small batch manufacturing is happening around the globe.

D Martin, a fashion designer and consultant, says that due to the economic downturn, many retail stores and boutiques are not willing to invest the dollars needed for mass production in smaller fashion companies. “Buyers are not as confident in the return on these products and feel small test runs would work much better to give them a better idea of how to proceed with smaller fashion companies or new design lines,” he says. “Small batch manufacturing ensures that quality standards can be adhered to and timelines/deadlines are easier to meet. Customs and shipping issues can be addressed in a more timely fashion, which translates to an easier way of doing business with the buyer and designer/fashion company.”

Martin says that products that fit well into the small batch manufacturing concept are:

  • dresses, such as special occasion, bridal and designer level dresses because more dollars are spent per each item and the fashion company takes most of the risk;
  • urban wear (for new lines),
  • t-shirt lines,
  • new lingerie lines,
  • specialty apparel on the designer or contemporary scale, such as sportswear that are eco-friendly,
  • hard to source items like handmade leather pieces and accessories, and
  • designer-level sportswear along the lines of Proenza Schouler.

“These sorts of lines require more quality control and more overhead, so it’s easier to control a small test run of three sizes per style and maybe two color ways to test the waters and gauge the end customers’ response to these new lines,” says Martin.

Small batch manufacturing is happening overseas, such as in China; however, countries like India are opening up small sewing rooms that can handle a few pieces at a time. Other countries are getting in on the game as well, but an influx of small sewing rooms or a network of sample sewers (who are paid per piece) are starting to crop up in the US. “This helps fashion companies cut down on shipping/freight charges and transparency in translation,” says Martin. “Boutiques are delighted to offer customers limited run pieces that were made in the US, something you will be hard pressed to find in even upscale retailers like Barney’s.”

The turn to small batch manufacturing is a positive, Martin points out, because it can help stimulate the economy by employing people who need work. The added benefit is helping small fashion companies/designers create a name for themselves without the large overhead usually associated with starting a fashion line and getting it produced. “Boutiques can offer new hot products with shorter turnaround time and limited availability without all the hassle of the usual risks,” he says

Chris Moon, a visual merchandising consultant, thinks that small batch manufacturing is the future in the fashion industry. “The days of churning out prescribed fashion by the container load are coming to a close. I believe that this is mainly due to the ability of people to link, talk, and associate with other people from around the world,” he says. “People with similar, independent likes and dislikes connect through the Internet. Folks no longer feel the need, or want, to be dictated to about what they should be consuming, wearing, listening to. They now have the ability to seek out and satisfy their direct need.”

Moon feels that manufacturing will shift towards more direct contact with the customer. “There will always be a need for the basics to be made in bulk, but there is also a need for customization, trimmings, and accessories to cater to the diversity of different markets. A lot of this customization comes from home industry or small enterprises that have the ability for a quick turnaround,” he says

Kipenzi, a fashion and PR marketing specialist, says that the toll the economic downturn has had on businesses across the globe has made small batch manufacturing almost a necessity for a business of any size. “Companies are finding that producing large quantities of new designs are just not a smart business decision, especially with the uncertainty of whether or not the item will sell,” she says. “But, the concept of small batch manufacturing does vary from one company to the other. In the case of a more established company such as Tory Burch or Ann Taylor, a small batch may be 100,000 of each SKU from their new line, whereas for a new comer this could be as little as five SKU’s per design for a new line.”

The fast fashion sector is already using small batch manufacturing, says Kipenzi. “Giants, such as Forever 21, H & M, and Zara, thrive on the advent of small batch manufacturing. In the case of Forever 21, they are cranking out designs like they are fashion Pez dispensers. While small batch manufacturing was instituted as a way for companies or individuals to have sample lines made with minimal cost, larger companies are taking advantage of this process.”

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