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China Sourcing Apparel in the Next Decade
Everyone wears clothes and the fashion business is about a $ 1-Trillion a year industry. All of these clothes need to get sourced to China manufacturers somewhere, somehow. China Sourcing has been at the heart of the business since the dawn of the business. 2010 is coming to a close and we are about to enter into the next ten years of the new century. What has changed since 1999 in the sourcing business?
First of all, go back in your mind to 1999. We were all worried about something called Y2K, Prince seemed almost prophetic, and technology still seemed fresh. There was not the completely ubiquitous use of technology strapped to your hand 24/7 like there is today. People ate lunch without checking a social network or their email every 3 minutes.
Sourcing back then involved a lot of faxes, lots of samples, lots of printing, and email was starting to become heavy. But online communications even ten years ago wasn’t anywhere near to what it is today. China Sourcing today can harness technology that you couldn’t (or didn’t) even fathom only 10 years ago while you were listening to the remake of Lady Marmalade.
Today you have an almost instant capability of discovering new sources of manufacturing online. You have the ability to source apparel online, to get art boards and techpacks made online, consolidate trend information, and the ability to communicate and engage with your Chinese factories online like never before. Back in 2001, you still sort of had to do a lot of your digital stuff manually.
Today you can just upload a techpack to an online platform on one end of the world and a factory on the other side can instantly see your work and respond to your needs – from pricing to sampling to design updating on the fly almost.
What will the next 10 years bring for those in the apparel sourcing business?
First, you will see a consolidation of Chinese supplier bases both on the brand level and the country level. On the brand level, sourcing managers are going to want less sources but better relationships, performance, creativity, and security from those sources. Brands that have 400 Chinese factories are going to want 200 Chinese factories. Those with 20 Chinese factories are likely going to want only 10 or 15. Why? It’s just easier to deal with and manage tighter supply chains and smaller stables of Chinese suppliers. With all of the compliance issues and sustainability concerns, this even makes it more of a reason to consolidate.
We are going to see more countries that want to get production business from the Buyers start to build more clusters of Chinese factories in key cities. Regional governments and industry from Vietnam to Colombia will set up and strengthen the “clusters” of manufacturing they offer as they compete for production business. Different kinds of Chinese factories will physically consolidate geographically close to one another so that sourcing managers that need a variety of production (knits, wovens, hosiery, outerwear headwear etc..) will be able to more easily manage everything. It’s hard on a sourcing director at a brand when they have to make one product in China another in Peru and another in Turkey. Brands will start to look for ways to consolidate their go-to manufacturing base in tighter regions worldwide.
Lastly, we will see more sourcing managers utilizing the web for their sourcing activities. These are people that move around the world a lot. Having the ability to go from ideation to trends to designing to techpacks to sourcing to ordering to shipping to delivery to retailer more efficiently represents huge costs savings and agility to respond to trends. Web-based interaction will become more much more important for textile sourcing professionals as the most logical way for them to manage all of these spinning dishes. The novelty of the web is over for textiles supply chain management; the utilization of the web for sourcing people now will go full force in the next decade.
Neil Lifeson is a freelance writer for the sourcing industry. Recommended Apparel China Sourcing Resources: Mfg.com Textiles and Mfg.com China Sourcing for Chinese Manufacturers and China Sourcing Professionals.