Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Product Development in the Apparel Industry

What is Product Development?
Product development is defined as the design and engineering of products that are serviceable for the target consumer, marketable, manufacturable, and profitable. 
 
If we express in broad sense then we can said, product development is the process of setting up the goals for the season, conceptualizing, producing, carrying out market and trend research, introducing and delivering new products and services to consumers (new product development), or improving on the old, developing product styles using the technical design process, making samples of the products to finalize product styles with standards, selling the product line, and sourcing and manufacturing the line. This process is also involved in functions such as material requirement planning, inventory control, production planning and scheduling, quality control, logistics, and finance. 
 
Product development also provides fresh user experience, addressing a need, providing solutions to problems, increasing customer base and market share as well as driving increase in sales and profit for a given company.

Even though the historical approach was to have the product development (PD) and production in house for many manufacturers and brands, today it has quite become decentralized. The globalization of garment production has resulted in a tendency to split elements of the PD and production processes between different countries. The rapid development of PD technologies and communication technologies has enabled people at multiple locations around the globe to seamlessly integrate, collaborate, communicate, and manage the product development process. Also, it is apparent that not only apparel manufacturers but also apparel contractors, subcontractors, and specialty contractors have launched design and development units within their organizations for the retailers and brands to select designs from without spending time and effort in product development.

Apparel Product Development Process:
From the above discussion we have learned that the main purpose of product development process is to ensuring customers satisfaction and minimizing customer returns. With the increase in competition, the apparel industry’s focus on measures to monitor the PD process has increased. These measures can be used to benchmark with competitors or to adopt best practices. In apparel industry the product development section is a window for new buyers in term of pricing, sampling and information collection. Product development in garment industry is very complex and lengthy process. In this article try to give all process with shortly. Now we will discuss a more general apparel product development process considering the functions from designer’s idea or the initial design concept to make the product ready for final production.
Product development in apparel industry
Fig: Product development in apparel industry
When developing products, it is important to know the business model (such as wholesale brand, private label, store brand, customized product, etc.) and if the product is a new design or knock-off, so that the functions in these stages can be tailored to the business model’s product situation. Product development strategies and processes for apparel industries vary as much as the number of companies in this field, as well as the complexities and simplicities; values and visions; market share and penetration of each company, but for the purpose of this essay, I will summarize these processes into the basic steps that are essential for the actualization and success of any product development endeavour within the industry in focus. 
 
Here we will discuss the product development process considering six stages:
  1. Line planning and research,
  2. Design concepts: line concept through research,
  3. Design development: line development,
  4. Line presentation and marketing,
  5. Production planning: pre-production and
  6. Line optimization.
1. Line planning and research
The product development process is a team effort by a number of people involved from a number of departments in an apparel organization. The initial step of this process is planning a line of products for a particular season or particular time period, depending on the company’s selling seasons or selling practices. The PD team is generally comprised of several people from designing, merchandising, research and development (R&D) and/or raw material development, technical design or product engineering, sales and marketing, finance, graphic design, sourcing, operations, planning, and quality assurance.

The PD team uses the information from research on trends, colors, materials, previous successes or failures, past sales records, experience from previous lines, and mark-down reports, etc. to brainstorm a plan for the new line. The information from this effort will assist the designers and the PD team to formulate a plan for the new line with a positive (brand) image to influence the consumer segment that the company is targeting for its sales.

2. Design concepts: line concept through research
After planning, the PD process begins with the design, which is a critical component in the development of fashion products. The design process begins with a line concept, which explains the mood, theme, and other key elements that contribute to the identity of the line. To develop the line concept, the designers obtain their inspirations for designs by conducting research. This involves market research and fashion research, from which they interpret findings into styles considering the brand and the target consumer. The market research provides information that helps the company to understand consumer demands. This is done by investigating the target consumers and their behavior, their preferred product designs and characteristics, and the general market trends. The fashion research provides trends for the season as silhouettes, design details, colors, fabrics, and trims.

Designers play a vital role in bringing the textile design ideas. Textile designers get their inspirations from mood boards from the design team, catwalk reports, print suppliers, and observing other fashion manufacturers or retailers.

The companies that conduct trend research evaluate what has occurred in the past and project what may happen in the next season, tracking economic trends, social and cultural trends, technological advances, and political influences, which may all have an impact on the product design as well as on consumer behavior and spending.

Collaborating with the designer, the merchandiser will review the trends, analyze previous sales, consider the budget allocated and projected sales for the department or account, and come up with the line plan. With the product designs for the line finalized, the design-development process begins.

3. Design development: line development
At this stage the designers interpret the research findings and translate the line concepts into styles considering the sales potential, appropriateness for the brand, target consumer, and product line. The activities involved in this stage are raw material development, testing and approval, color testing and approval, acquisition of sample yardage, pattern-making and fit approval, style evaluation and approval, wear testing, and preliminary costing, leading to finalizing sample specifications and translating the line from sketches to actual product line. Merchandising, marketing, and PD teams will review samples to make decisions on final line adoption. Merchandising team identifies the assortment, makes volume decisions, and establishes pricing and gross margins.

4. Line presentation and marketing
The styles to be adopted in the line are reviewed in the line review meeting attended by executive decision-makers from sales, sourcing, finance, operations, planning, and manufacturing. PD team will order raw materials for more duplicates. Production planning and control division will carry out detailed costing and develop product specs. Marketing and merchandising teams will develop promotional materials for sales reps. Line is presented at markets to retail channels using sales samples by marketing team.

Marketing and merchandising teams will review retail orders, compare with sales forecast, and add/drop styles, colors, and sizes to come up with the final modified line.

5. Production planning: pre-production
During the production planning stage of the PD process, sourcing decisions are made to identify which production facility will produce the approved styles in the line. The functions at this stage of the PD process will depend on what type of contractor will be used for production of the styles. Translating the decided prototypes and first patterns into complete size range for final production. PD team will finalize quality, production, and process standards for manufacturing. Production planning and control division will manage grading, marker making, planning, and sourcing of both material and production. Quality, material, and engineering specifications will be finalized by merchandising and production planning and control division.

6. Line optimization:
Merchandising team will review the final line against orders, drop styles with inadequate orders, and replace with new styles, colors, and sizes to optimize the line for profitability. If changes are made, the model will direct to previous phases as appropriate. This phase will continue while production is in progress.

Conclusions:
Product development process in apparel firms is growing. Companies concentrate on improving the cost-effectiveness of the process by streamlining and shortening the PD cycle using the latest technologies and improving the market responsiveness. The digital PD process using virtual technologies provides the opportunity for companies to shrink the product development cycle time from months to days. Communicating the standards and specifications among supply-chain partners using tech-packs that were developed during PD, provides the opportunity for quality assurance and control in the garment manufacturing process. Actually the success of a product in apparel industry is determined by the interaction and integration of value, time, cost and quality.