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What This Award Says About the Future of Fashion Manufacturing

Every year the Business Council of Alabama and the Alabama Technology Network honor in-state manufacturers that have earned high marks for their leadership, top-notch performance, profit levels and a positive track record with staff. On May 1, these two business groups made an unprecedented move: for the first time, they selected an apparel manufacturer as one of three award winners.

Florence, Ala.’s OnPoint Manufacturing received the 2019 Alabama Manufacturer of the Year award in the small manufacturer (99 or fewer employees) category, chosen for its innovative use of computer-directed manufacturing. Operations inside OnPoint’s factory, which employs about 25 workers, is a highly automated affair, enabling the company to make on-demand manufacturing a reality for brands and companies embracing a forward-thinking business model that eschews the conventional inventory-holding approach. OnPoint developed its own customized workflows, a key component to executing on a production model that keeps supply chains lean and nimble.

OnPoint chairman J. Kirby Best told Sourcing Journal that it’s especially exciting to see the award committee looking at the factory more as a computer company than as an apparel maker.

“For an apparel manufacturer to be awarded this honor in a state often referred to as the ‘Southern Silicon Valley’ is truly significant,” Best shared in a statement. “We’re proud to be recognized for our accomplishments in the apparel industry, an industry that is not necessarily associated with the state, like aerospace, aviation and automotive have become. Florence, Alabama was once the T-shirt capital of the world, and now it is the center of software and manufacturing innovation in the garment industry.”

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OnPoint arrived in Florence in 2014 and focuses on made-to-order women’s wear because “the men’s market is so well served on the custom side,” Best explained. The factory works closely with Purchase Activated Apparel Technologies, International (PAAT), a sort of sister company that serves as a laboratory where OnPoint “gets to experiment,” he added. PAAT tackles the software and communication challenges that hinder apparel brands from achieving greater efficiencies and sustainable operations. PAAT partners include Alvanon, FIT, 3DLOOK, MorganTecnica, Cotton Inc., and FIT3D.

PAAT and OnPoint recently worked with FIT to launch Unique.Fashion, an innovative platform that will help students at the school design and sell collections that will be produced to order at the Florence factory.

Among OnPoint’s newest clients is Robert Stolz Clothing, a high-end brand specializing in Austrian boiled wool apparel. The factory is producing women’s and men’s outerwear, and Best said OnPoint decided to manufacture men’s as well because the silhouettes are so similar.

Apparel factories are beginning to see technology and automation as a gateway to future survival, especially with the advent of Industry 4.0. Years ago OnPoint lost out on the Alabama manufacturing award to defense contractor Raytheon, Best said, which makes this year’s recognition that much more meaningful.

“I hope they’re realizing that technology comes in all sorts of forms,” Best said of the business groups’ award.