Responsive Production – The Trend for Retail and Producers
The bane of modern apparel manufacturers is usually the struggle to turn dedicated production systems on a dime and create compelling, fresh lines with real market appeal which are trend responsive for their partners. As brands and their manufacturing partners have chased profitability by outsourcing to China, India and elsewhere in the East, the operational snag they often seem to hit is inflexibility and the slow turnaround times for fashion production lines located outside of the Americas. Although this strategy was geared towards profitability, what has emerged from it is a market which values responsive production partners, giving retailers the ability to “tune into” an emerging trend, allowing for both agile and rapid production.
The ordinary brand retailer or boutique apparel producer, can face anything up to six months of concept, design and production time before a finished product can hit the racks ready for retail. Half of the problem is in the old cliché that good design takes time, the other half is that production lines require fine tuning, especially for private label and responsive creations which aim to connect with market trends but which may not be seen as the most practical or profitable exercise for manufacturing partners. With this said, it is gratifying to learn that certain manufacturers in both North and Central America seem to be trying to emulate the brutally fast turn-around times best exemplified by legendary Iberian fashion and design powerhouse ZARA, which boasts speed to market windows of around two to four weeks in some cases. The trick? Partnering with responsive manufacturers that understand ZARA’s particular design and delivery requirements and which are close to local markets to ensure fulfillment.
Enter the recent emergence of apparel manufacturers in Central and South America who seem to be trying to adopt a similar model of rapid turnaround and delivery. True, there are certain advantages to “Americas-based” apparel manufacture which are immediately obvious and financially attractive to mainland American markets—particularly the shorter lead times on offer as well as their optimal location, making most destinations in North America reachable within a day or so. This bodes extremely well for attacking the latest trends which may burn themselves out before garments can be produced and retailers are able to capitalize on them. Returning to the example set by ZARA, it seems they have a finger on their customers’ pulse and, with reduced lead and turnaround times, are able to move quickly and responsively to anticipate trends, capitalize on these market shifts and then move on to the next big thing without the horror of endless markdown sales due dead stock and missed opportunities.
Although these new manufacturing concerns in South America are beginning to boast success stories of their own, this model was originally pioneered a lot closer to mainland USA, through SpectraUSA’s dynamic design and production team. Anticipating the needs of a fast and fickle fashion market Spectra gave up on the prospect of creating an effective supply and production line located outside of North America. Proximity to the marketplace was critical, not only for distribution and accessibility by customers, brand heads, trending designers and manufacturing partners, but also for the favorable tax breaks for retailers and suppliers. SpectraUSA created a truly responsive, vertically integrated production line capable of rapid deployment and geared for anything from private label needs without the impractical lead times to reliably hammering out quality inventory for massive marquee brand orders. Taking ZARA’s model one step further, Spectra chose not to off-shore to the Caribbean or Central America, instead they built their base of operations in the Untied States, nestled in the huge distribution hub of Chino, California. From here they drive at accelerating both fulfillment and production times beyond what most people in the industry think is possible from such a large and established apparel manufacturer.
“It’s about breaking the mold and trying to innovate with every little detail, every single day,” commented Brian McLaughlin, one of the senior partners behind SpectraUSA’s meteoric rise. And he’s right, this responsive model with quick turnarounds and reduced lead and delivery times adds real value to retailers. With most of a retailer’s capital tied up in their inventory it is refreshing to know that inventory can be on-trend and on the shelf at the same time, to maximize profitability and reduce cash flow headaches. Offering their customer the ability to receive merchandise quicker and sell it faster is the goal at Spectra and, it seems, they are already addressing the needs of a fickle market with a voracious appetite for the next new thing. The ZARA model is a triumph of agility and responsive production in a market which gives preference (and profit) to the retailer with the quickest speed to market. SpectraUSA’s model takes this to the next level by offering the same level of agility with an even more dynamic fulfillment and production service geared for a broad spectrum of marquee brands, rather than focusing on one, as in ZARA’s case. Where the fastest Central American turnaround times can range from anywhere from eight to twelve weeks, USA-based SpectraUSA prides itself on an average of one day for inventory and one to six weeks for custom/private label development, with short lead times and low run numbers, resulting in the realization of the ultimate goal of bringing value back to the retailer.
An incredible amount of focus is being brought to bear on the relationship between the retailer and the consumer and with it, a brand new pressure to perform which some retailers are simply not equipped to cope with. Leading examples of this can be found in the footwear sector where giants like Nike, Adidas, Converse and Vans duke it out in online retail experience, working hard to win customers with their ability to create responsive custom items and almost one-of-a-kind, highly personalized apparel with the same reliable pedigree these brands are renowned for. The pressure is squarely on the retailer who has the tough choice of adjusting to the new market trends and partnering with an agile development and responsive manufacturing partner like SpectraUSA—in the same way that ZARA has done with its own partners—or to face the cold, cashless shoulder of a market which lacks the patience to wait for offshore goods to hit the docks. Time and trend it seems, wait for no man, woman or retailer anymore.
The trend for the future seems set on agile, responsive manufacturing and design and supply with pin-sharp focus and delivery. A trusted and able partner in this market trend seems to be the deciding factor behind the success of capable brands like ZARA, and with responsive partners like SpectraUSA with mainland distribution networks, reduced lead times and agile, vertically integrated production, this future, seems possible for everyone.