Detailed planning and effective supply chain partners are among solutions for avoiding disruptions

Detailed planning and effective supply chain partners are among solutions for avoiding disruptions

Forward planning; managing supply chain partners well and staying on top of potential regional issues such as changes in weather or currency values can help apparel and textile companies avoid key supply chain disruptions such as out-of-stock situations, eroded margins and missed market opportunities.

Companies should focus on effective management of supply chain partners such as manufacturers, agents and importers, says Guido Schlossmann, president and CEO of Thailand-based sourcing specialist Synergies Worldwide. For larger companies in particular, "it's important to consolidate the number of partners, and mix it in the proper way. You can't just focus on one partner." He adds that such partners can help better organise a supply chain and simplify processes. 

Companies need to work on "spending time with [their partners], in order to trust them and ultimately share information. It's about communication and flow of information." He stresses the importance of companies meeting physically with supply partners on a regular basis rather than using phone or video conferences.

Planning ahead is also essential, explains Schlossmann. "Pre-organise your supply chain. You can avoid out-of-stock situations because it enables the supply chain to react quickly and avoid missed opportunities. If you have the right product, you don't erode your margins," he adds. 

For instance, in the design process, companies should not only focus on designing to cost (as opposed to designing "what is nice to have," says Schlossmann), but also designing products that can be easily and quickly adapted to market demands.

For instance, some successful fast fashion companies design apparel that is assembled and can then be easily dyed according to the latest colours and designs. Schlossmann points out that when designing a product, consideration should also be given to the finishing or dyeing process that will enable the supply chain to deliver in the fastest possible way.

Products are also often delayed because small inputs such as imported trims arrive at the factory late, Schlossmann adds. "Entire production stops because of a component that is negligible in cost. Companies who are really good at this allow local trim sourcing [for instance]," he says. 

Companies could also keep some key, versatile base fabrics permanently in stock that can be used in multiple products – such as denim – which can be used to create a range of visual effects by applying different finishes, he says.

Tools to help

While such planning can be more challenging for smaller companies, specialised software can help. For instance, Canada-based Source My Garment – a sourcing consultancy specialising in ethical garment manufacturing – is creating a business-to-business tool to help designers and small-to-medium sized companies manufacture responsibly overseas.

The subscription-based service helps firms track every aspect of a product's lifecycle including time and action calendars, work flows and sample approvals, and is designed for people with little or no experience in such technology. "It connects you directly with the factory and all the back and forth is contained on the platform. When you're communicating offshore, there can be communication issues," says Adila Cokar, founder of the company. 

Users can, for instance, use a sampling approval tool where they can upload images of a sample and make comments directly on the image, catching any errors before the sample is even shipped. There is also a step-by-step process to create a tech pack in which a user simply inputs information into the given fields, reducing the risk of missed information.

"We're in prototyping right now and we're testing [the platform] in about a month with my clients," says Cokar. 

In addition, companies may be able to actively improve conditions at their factories, encouraging good work. Cokar says her firm is working on a system in which buyers would have a choice of programmes that they can help fund and implement at the factory, depending on the size of their order. These programmes could include providing free meals or a water cooler, for instance, for the workers. The factory would then carry out the programme and send back pictures showing how they have implemented it.

"The goal for this platform is responsible manufacturing and so our end goal is to help create a better work life for the workers overseas," says Cokar. 

Clearly-defined strategy

However, Jeff Leake, managing director of global supply chain practice for US-based TBM Consulting Group, notes companies should not rely too heavily on technology.

"I believe the best remedy to the disruptions is ensuring you have a clearly-defined strategy within a region and have significant working knowledge of the culture and trends. In some cases technology can be an asset that helps in compressing response times but is not a 'silver bullet' to problem resolution and most importantly early problem identification," he says.

For example, apparel companies should also carefully consider the location of their supply chain as this can affect potential disruptions. "I suspect the potential disruption opportunities are more based on regional impacts due to currency, weather or geo-political concerns."

To read other articles in our briefing on 'Reducing risk in the apparel supply chain,' click on the links below:

Reducing risk – Why preparation is key when switching suppliers

Reducing risk – The hidden costs of emerging sourcing locations

Reducing risk – How software can help supply chain visibility