To thrive in a fast-changing world, apparel stakeholders must make cutting-room processes the center of their business.
At Texprocess Americas in Atlanta, Michael Rabin, president of textile industry technology firm Morgan Tecnica, said the days of cutting thousands of pieces of a single style have given way to cutting rooms that could be executing apparel one moment and tackling an automotive project the next. “I know more apparel companies touching automotive and even some aerospace today than 10 years ago than you would ever think,” he explained. “They recognize the level of diversification you need to have in order to survive in this industry.”
Today, the modern cutting room is not just about spreading and cutting fabric but rather the “hub where everything comes together” and managing every aspect of the process starting from design phase. With customers demanding a fresh supply of products at a dizzying rate, manufacturers no longer “have the benefit of extra time, of mistakes, and of errors,” Rabin said.
And with the cost of raw materials soaring upward, manufacturers must come to grips with a completely different landscape than even five years ago. On top of that, applications and finishes tack on additional expenses, propelling raw materials to as much as 80 percent of the cost of finished garments.
Though raw materials alone bring their own concerns, Rabin said companies must manage them in concert with labor in order to yield the greatest efficiencies given fragmenting production models. Cutting made-to-measure denim is one matter—but what about the accessory fabrics and materials, such as pocketing materials, required to complete the final product? Delivering on new customer expectations requires significant and careful planning and process consideration. “Talking about being in sync is talking about planning,” Rabin noted. “You can’t afford to cut fronts and backs, and you’re waiting for other components.”
The trend toward microfactories that can accommodate demand based on small runs and customized orders poses yet another challenge for manufacturers, according to Rabin, who said these facilities are making “onesies”—or one-offs—across myriad apparel categories. What’s more, American and Canadian manufacturers still grappling with competition in Asia now face increased competition for bulk production from nearshore factories in Mexico and Central and South America, thanks to the shoppers who increasingly prioritize speed to market as trends emerge quickly and fade even faster. The vast majority of consumers shopping online, Rabin said, are looking for products that can be designed, produced and received in-hand at a rapid clip.
Though he wasn’t convinced by 3-D sampling in its early days, Rabin said that the technology has made leaps and bounds and can produce ultra-realistic simulations. “Maybe at the end of the day you’re still going to make those final one or two samples, but you can reduce prototypes by 60 percent to 80 percent,” Rabin said. “Sourcing plays an import role in the 3-D concept. Some say you should start with fabric before concept, but they’re kind of intertwined.”
Despite the many advances happening in cutting rooms that are more cloud connected than ever, Rabin said the real differentiator lies beyond the scope of technology. Having the “best equipment in the world” will only get you so far if your end-to-end plan falls short.
“You can upgrade efficiency,” Rabin concluded, “but you’re not going to have great optimization.”