5 Major Challenges in Global Apparel Production

Apparel manufacturing is labor intensive, which is characterized by low fixed capital investment; a wide range of product designs and hence input materials; variable production volumes; high competitiveness and often high demand on product quality. The garment manufacturing process evolved as an art and underwent several technical changes. The technological advancements in the apparel industry include the use of computerized equipment, 3D scanning technology, automation and robotics, integration of wearable technology and advanced material transport systems. Apparel products are manufactured in a wide range of design and style variations, which increases the complexity of the manufacturing process.
Like any other manufacturing industry, apparel industry is a dynamic one. Clothing is a basic human need. But present time clothing is not worn as basic need; it is also element to express of fashion and showing social status. So apparel production grows rapidly, occupying more and more regions of the world. And just like any growing industry, at one point or another, apparel Industry has to face challenges as well. In this article I will discuss on important challenges in garment production.

Major challenges in apparel production:
  1. Consumer choice and demographic variability
  2. Challenges related to supply chain
  3. Challenges in design and production
  4. Stiff competition
  5. Environmental or Ecological challenges
Above points are briefly described below:

1. Consumer choice and demographic variability
Apparel manufacturers have to produce a diverse product mix as consumers are difficult to understand and predict. Their choice is unstable and unpredictable, and there is wide variation in their demographics and physiographics. In addition, consumer’s age, household income, education level, occupation and ethnicity also affect their choice. Consumers of recent times are becoming more selective, multidimensional and complex due to increased awareness and readily available information on the products and designs. Consumer’s choice is shifting from traditional designs towards luxury high-fashion items.

Consumers’ choices and expectations widely vary within a target market. Almost all demand both moderate pricing and frequent style changes, but some prefer to follow the latest fashion trend whereas others desire to purchase investment clothing. However, a manufacturer cannot directly transfer consumers’ choice and preferences in different product styles to satisfy their needs. Consumer demand for fashionable items and frequent style changes has necessitated reduction in the design and product cycle time.

2. Challenges related to supply chain:
A complete garment is fabricated from various components. For example, a man’s casual shirt consists of cotton or polyester/cotton fabric, different trims and accessories like as nonwoven interlining, woven or printed care labels, polyester embroidered brand labels, buttons or snap fasteners and sewing thread. As each component is manufactured by different suppliers, the non-arrival of any single component can cause delay in the production.

The apparel supply chain is complex and demanding due to global outsourcing, longer lead times and shorter seasons. It is extremely difficult to forecast the changing styles, and the supply chain is complicated by hard-to-model constraints, costs and lead times. The major aspect of the supply chain is responsible sourcing, which takes into account factors such as sustainability, compliance, chemical safety and product safety. In modern clothing manufacture, the emphasis on quality is increasing and more intelligence and agility in the supply chain is expected. Retailers are managing with smaller inventories and rapidly reacting to consumer needs. There are always efforts by the retailers not to increase the retail prices in proportion with the rise in the cost of inputs. Hence, the recent pressure on the profit margin is greater than ever.

The apparel retailers are facing challenges from Internet or online sales, which continues to upend the apparel sector. Brick-and-mortar companies are brainstorming to harness the power of Internet sales. As the proliferation of Internet-only companies continues, there will be stiff competition among them.

3. Challenges in design and production:
An apparel item such as a pair of jeans looks simple compared to a vehicle, which may contain about 15,000 parts. However, the former is involved with enormous design changes in a season whereas the later undergoes few changes even for many years. Therefore, the apparel manufacturers have to handle an extraordinary amount of design changes. Traditionally, the apparel manufacturing process has been performed by production workers who perform the cutting, sewing and other operations in an assembly line. In spite of the technical advancements, the apparel industry still remains as a labour-intensive unit. One of the major global concerns in apparel production is rising labour cost.

4. Stiff competition:
Apparel manufacturers and retailers always state that apparel manufacturing is highly competitive. An apparel competitor sells similar clothing items to the same market segment, consumers or store types. The globalization and post-MFA conditions have accentuated the competition. Merchandisers perform comparison shopping to analyze the price, quality and service of their competitors.

5. Environmental or Ecological challenges:
One of the biggest challenges in the world for the entire economy is sustainable development. The unsustainability of the production, as mentioned, is a relevant problem for all industries, but the textile industry overall has its unique place within the whole matter. The Apparel industry pollutes the environment in significant amounts of natural resource usage.

The major environmental threat involved in the textile manufacturing process is contributed by wet processing, which pollutes water. The toxic effluents that are harmful to aquatic lives as well as to humans are directly released into rivers. Due to the action of dissolved oxygen in water, the pollutants are broken down chemically and biologically. Hence the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water is reduced, creating difficulties for the survival of aquatic life.

Generally, a piece of clothing is rejected when it fails to provide its intended service or goes out of fashion. At the end of their life, clothing items are either recycled or thrown out as general waste, which often goes into landfill sites. For a number of reasons, landfill is recognised as the least attractive option for disposing of the waste.

Landfill materials have the potential to pollute the air or enter the water, causing environmental threats. Hence, to reduce the threats, environmentalists’ watch words ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ should be used in clothing production.

The global trend in apparel manufacturing is moving towards the use of recyclable materials and reduced chemical finishes. The demand is shifting to develop eco-friendly products from materials derived from sources other than petroleum, which is a limited resource. However, several clothing items are manufactured as blends of natural and synthetic fibres (such as polyester and nylon). Although the natural fibres are biodegradable, the major concern is caused by the synthetic material.

The concept of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals requires manufacturers and retailers to take responsibility for the environmental concerns. Strict legislation by federal and state governments can help in achieving this target. Although this may be hard to achieve, it can help to substantially reduce the waste level and hence environmental pollution.

Consumers around the globe are becoming more aware of environmental concerns and the potentially harmful effects on human health from the toxic chemicals and ingredients in clothing and food items. The textile industry, especially wet processing, uses many chemical pollutants, allergens and carcinogens. Strict legislation is required for the manufacturers to make their products safer by minimizing the use of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals. The chemicals that are ecologically safe should only be permitted. The textile plants should also address the problems of direct disposal of wastewater containing toxic chemicals into waterways to reduce water pollution.

There is no industry is guaranteed from challenges and problems. But challenges exist to overcome them. Hence, some innovative ideas within the Apparel Sector are being developed and implemented to keep a sustainable future for the overall apparel production.