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How Digital Garment Printing Moves Fashion From MOQ to OOQ

For apparel and footwear companies to truly be sustainable, many believe good environmental stewardship must intersect with driving healthy profits.

This was the message at a Kornit Exploration Day hosted last Thursday by the Israeli-headquartered digital textile printing company at its campus in Englewood, NJ.

“Not only has our industry been tarred with the horrible stat that it’s the second-most polluting industry on the planet, but it’s probably also one of the most inefficient industries on the planet,” said Simon Platts, who was making one of his first public appearances after stepping down as responsible sourcing director at Asos. “Customers are changing; they want to know more. Legislation is coming in—we’ve got to think about people and the planet, but also the profit… To be more sustainable in how you’re consuming and producing the goods doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be profitable.”

Fast fashion, according to Platts, is the key to sustainable profitability.

“It’s a bit of a scary thing to stand here and say that, actually, I think the only way to do fashion in the future will be to do it fast,” Platts said. “But I’m not talking about more of what we’re doing now. I’m talking about a complete reshaping to find different ways and different solutions, and using all of the innovation and technology that’s out there.”

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Those innovations, Platts said, include product passports, QR codes on digital tags detailing the life cycles of the garment, and digital garment printing.

“It’s gonna be fast, it’s going to be relevant, it’s going to be smarter, it’s gonna be less wasteful, it doesn’t compromise quality, we create the circular economy,” Platts said, adding that if those efficiencies are realized, consumers can still purchase clothing at the rates they do today without harming the environment. “If we were to cut out the waste in the beginning by 30, 40 percent, you can still consume the same amount yet you’ve saved. It doesn’t have to be that we can’t have what we want when we want it, whether it’s carrots or dresses. But we’ve got to do it differently and [consumers have] to behave differently.”

Kornit CEO Ronen Samuel
Kornit CEO Ronen Samuel. Courtesy

Digital textile printing, like what Kornit offers, which is able to create designs and find manufacturers nearest the destination point, printing only the quantities that have already been ordered with little-to-no leftover inventory or waste, was promoted by Bill McRaith, former chief supply chain officer at PVH Corp.

“Get rid of that word,” McRaith said of MOQ, the acronym for minimum order quantity. “The term is totally fictitious made up by manufacturers, like me, to protect myself from people like you… We have to move to OOQs—optimal order quantity. If I have to make a unit order of one, I need one unit.”

McRaith addressed the importance of outside-the-box office-space approaches.

“Everyone working together [at] these collaborative design and innovation centers is where big brands and retailers can come in and actually work with their manufacturers to develop new stuff right next to them,” McRaith said. “This is an amazing model you could have in the fashion industry where you’re actually bringing in startups that could play in the space to solve problems that maybe we don’t even realize we have yet.”

McRaith added that the traditional capitalist model of businesses being so focused on competing with one other prevents the industry from being able to keep pace with rising Chinese brands like Shein. Collaborative efforts like the Eco-Park, he said, are a way of cutting into Asia’s advantage.

“We are so behind on TikTok and that’s why, if you look at Shein, there’s five more brands behind them right now that are all rising rapidly and they are going to dominate the world unless the U.S. steps up and starts to put stuff in place rapidly—read the market, react and produce on demand.”

Another player in the push away from MOQ to OOQ, is the influencer. According to a study from Grand View Research shared at the Thursday forum, the role of influencers in commerce has grown exponentially since the start of the decade, valued at $10.39 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow by a compounding rate of 33.4 percent per year to 2030. As time passes, the model shows, the role of micro influencers and with even fewer followers, the nano influencers are projected to gain a bigger share of the market than macro and megainfluencers.

A model of a collaborative design and innovation center, like the Industry Print Solutions of Arizona Eco-Park Space in Scottsdale, Ariz. Matt Hickman/Sourcing Journal

Kate Blessing, director of operations strategy with Amaze, a Danish agency for influencers and those selling their own goods on social media, said that partnering with companies like Kornit can help quickly realize nearshoring, onshoring and OOQ.

“When we’re plugging in this on demand, we are printing at the point of sale; we’re not sitting on any inventory, our return rate is 0.1 percent, and if I get over 3 percent scrap in the facility, I get excited, so we’re talking about really, really low waste,” Blessing said. “You’ve got work at the front of the press that takes a certain number of minutes to come out of the dryer. You’re packing it out at the end and it’s in a bag and it’s going to the customer—it’s there in two days.”

Blessing said Amaze lets social media retail entrepreneurs skip out on worrying about making excess clothing bound for the landfill.

“So if you want to go on and do a frog design, a gaming design and a yoga design all in the same day, you can do that. And if you find someone to buy each of your designs, we’ll go ahead and make that for you, you get that sale and we split your profit,” Blessing said. “You’re building your brand and not thinking about the supply chain and production and customer experience.”