The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digitisation in the apparel industry as the focus from businesses on lowering costs and waste increases, according to a new white paper from YCP Solidiance, an Asia-focused strategy consulting firm.
According to its 'Digital Transformation in the Apparel Industry: How to Improve Efficiency in Apparel Factory Supply Chain' report, which has been developed alongside Brother Machinery Asia (BMA), clothing retailers forced to shut up shop as a result of government-imposed lockdowns across the world meant factories were also required to close due to lack of orders. The apparel industry lost over 70% of functions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with total sewing machine operating hours in four countries: India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia, falling to 27% in April 2020, less than half of those in February, says the report.
Many factories used the downtime to explore the adoption of digitised processes. Benefits of this adoption, the report says, are that plants with a higher digitalisation level can show better flexibility on order changes, allowing brands to amend their strategy and place new orders immediately. In addition, better management of resources would help brands understand the feasibility of their suppliers and further amend the strategy and number of orders to avoid big losses and unnecessary waste.
"Covid-19 speeds up the digitalisation process in apparel, following an increased awareness among brands and manufacturers. As many factories have been forced to shut down, this challenging period should be taken as an opportunity to adopt digital transformation in order to alleviate long-term future costs burden while also improving efficiency," says Satoshi Kuriga, partner at YCP Solidiance.
As business strategies are harder to maintain, and the Asian labour market is no longer the cheapest, apparel brands see potential in digitalisation as the approach to save costs in the long run. In addition to hardware technology advancement, using integrated IoT systems has increased 5% of apparel production and cut time and cost by 88%.
Gen Kimura, general manager at BMA explains: "Digital transformation journey in the apparel sector starts from automated machinery, passing the IoT integration and aiming at ecosystem coordination. This process aims to maximise the power of data and further enhance the efficiency of the manufacturing production, toward which the apparel industry is currently moving."
The report recommends manufacturers mulling a digital transformation consider the following points:
- Understand the needs: Realise the current problem and how digital transformation will resolve those problems.
- Make initiative prioritisation: Evaluate the needs and the urgency of prioritised problems, and identify feasible solutions.
- Implementing IoT and data visualisation: Implementing the software and hardware must have visualised data to proceed to the analysis step.
- Data analysis and action: Help manufacturers understand what needs to be improved.