Blog: Leonie BarrieA deep dive to unlocking digitisation's potential

Leonie Barrie | 18 September 2017

So far, the promise of digitisation in the apparel industry remains largely unfulfilled. But with opportunities for new cheap supplier countries nearly exhausted, it is now seen as offering sourcing executives untapped potential to lower costs, shorten lead times and increase transparency. A new survey takes a deep dive into unlocking digitisation's potential.

As part of its plans to build a business with faster go-to-market speed and greater digital capabilities, Under Armour has opened a dedicated global innovation hub for footwear design in Portland, Oregon. The company says that bringing footwear design and development under one roof will assist its most significant push in the footwear business to date.

And Nike has launched a new initiative that merges digital design with traditional footwear making, allowing select customers to see how custom shoes are designed and manufactured.

The volume of US apparel imports saw a double-digit increase month-on-month in July as retailers stocked up for the back-to-school season – but were marginally lower than the same time last year. The biggest gains were booked by Vietnam, Cambodia and India, but shipments from Bangladesh slipped again.

But over the longer term, trade data shows the two largest apparel import markets in the world – the European Union and United States – are dominated by a comparatively small group of supplier countries. At the same time, fewer types of products are also sold in greater quantities.

Where next for supply chains was among the many topics covered in the latest 'Kingpins Goes to D.C.' panel discussion. Other talking points included NAFTA renegotiations, the Trump administration's trade policy, China Section 301, what's going on with retail, US labelling requirements, and Made-in-USA.

Elsewhere, two exciting technical developments have been achieved in the recycling of post-consumer apparel of mixed or unknown materials into new fabrics and yarns – in what is being described as a major breakthrough in the journey towards a closed loop for textiles.

And several leading names from the global apparel and textile industries are included among this year's top sustainability performers, including Adidas, Li & Fung, Hugo Boss, Burberry, Gap Inc, Hennes & Mauritz and Gildan Activewear.

But as the annual cotton harvest gets underway in Uzbekistan, the group representing US apparel and footwear retailers and importers has expressed its concerns over the International Labour Organization's (ILO) monitoring mission – and the introduction of a new category, "reluctant workers," to characterise labour that does not appear to be voluntary.

New research has also shown that Western European garment industry workers in BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) still earn just half a living wage.

And global unions are calling on more apparel brands to join the likes of Primark, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and Inditex in signing a new and improved 2018 Bangladesh Accord on fire and building safety.

Meanwhile in other news, reports suggest upscale US fashion retailer Nordstrom is nearing a buyout deal with a private equity firm; the non-profit H&M Foundation is seeking applications for its third EUR1m Global Change Award; and Sri Lanka's Brandix Group has been named the country's top exporter for the fifth year in a row.

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