A look at items that are produced by the tens of millions on a weekly basis by sewing contractors around the globe.

I touch on Sport Apparel (fitness clothing, athletic apparel, activewear) in this article but its not limited to sport apparel, it also applies to fast fashion, sportswear, streetwear, young contemporary, and outdoor.   Now even more as one item can cross the boundaries and have influences from different product categories.  As sport apparel goes beyond the gym and starts to enter the runways of high fashion brands (Prada, Fendi, and Valentino, to name only a few).   The activewear industry is growing at an amazing rate and everyone involved in fashion is taking notes or getting involved:

Apparel and Activewear (Dollar % Change)

Total Apparel
(w/ Activewear)
Total Apparel
(w/o Activewear)
Activewear
12 months Jul’11-Jun’12 +4 percent +3 percent +8 percent
12 months Jul’12-Jun’13 +4 percent +3 percent +10 percent
12 months Jul’13-Jun’14 +1 percent -1 percent +7 percent

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Consumer Tracking Service 2011-2014

The major corporations (Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Lululemon, and Athleta) have seen double digit growth for the last five years and all are preparing for a stellar growth in the next five years.

Some of the challenges in apparel manufacturing are:

– compliance

– lack structure

– lack systems

– equipment issues

– inexperienced staff

– not enough staff

– new staff training and additions to the manufacturing workforce

– understanding their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities

– kaizen, hoshin, black belt, and six sigma manufacturing philosophies

– what does the brand, supplier, and factory do with constructive feedback.

To be the best on the playing field (in business), you will have to have the best players on your team, understand the game, your responsibility, the other players, their responsibility and make sure everyone is committed to the brand integrity, products and ultimately the consumers.

One of the major challenges with apparel manufacturing is finding the right factory for the right products, who can manufacture at or below your price targets, on time in a quality manner with Western compliance and procedures with a 100% transparent supply chain.

I will look at three different types of suppliers in this article but there are many more than three.

– Chinese ownership with a factory in China

– Taiwan ownership with factories in China and in Vietnam

– Korean ownership with a factory in Vietnam

The foreign ownership goes beyond these regions and countries of manufacturing.  It is getting more competitive and more complex to manage the apparel products, strategic sourcing, supply chain, and manufacturing.

The challenge as touched on above is validating and vetting the supplier/factories. Looking at their strengths, understanding their weaknesses, exploring opportunities, and staying away from threats.  Properly allocating the right products to the right supplier for the right reasons.  It is more complex than stated, this is where you need many experienced and educated staff members on the management team and factory floor.

The first review will be of a Chinese owned factory located in China.  The first step of production is product receiving, you need to properly receive your products and prepare them for the factory sewing floor:

Fabric Receiving

Fabric Receiving

Fabric Storage

Fabric Storage

Trim storage and allocation

Trim storage and allocation

After receiving it is best to do some product quality checking.  Actually this step must be conducted at each raw material and trim suppliers plant before shipping to the sewing contractor.   As an added quality measure it is good to also inspect the goods before allocating to the sewing floor:

Fabric Inspection - One roll at a time

Fabric Inspection – One roll at a time

Once the raw materials and trims have been stored and quality checked it is good to expedite them to the factory floor:

Relaxing the fabric before cutting

Relaxing the fabric before cutting

Automated Cutting Table

Automated Cutting Table

Manual Cutting Table

Manual Cutting Table

The sewing floor, the workers, the equipment, and the products:

Factory Floor Automation

Factory Floor Automation

Siny Seam Sealing Machine

Siny Seam Sealing Machine

Well in the factory it is good to check on the latest and greatest in sewing technology, equipment and factory management at that contractors facility, you need to take into consideration some of the images I share with you might have been taken as early as 2012:

Scalloped Edge on Stitch Line

Scalloped Edge on Stitch Line

ZigZag Stitch

ZigZag Stitch

Seam Sealed Zipper Finish

Seam Sealed Zipper Finish

The main objective of all factories is to make the best products in a timely manner.  These are some of the products on the sewing floor that day.

A4 Polo Top

A4 Polo Top

Crivit L/S Top

Crivit Sports L/S Top

Tchibo L/S Half Zip Top

Tchibo L/S Half Zip Top

H&M L/S Top

H&M L/S Women’s Top

The next review is Taiwanese owned factories located in China and Vietnam.  A highlight of any factory is the technology and equipment used in everyday business.

Fabric Receiving - It starts here

Fabric Receiving – It starts here

Cutting Table - Gerber

Automated Cutting Table – Gerber

Cutting Table - Manual

Cutting Table – Manual

After everything is cut it will have to be sorted and bundled to be sent to the sewing lines:

Bundled products for Sewing Floor

Relaxing the fabric before cutting

The sewing floor, the workers, the equipment, and the products:

Yamato Single Needle Sewing

Yamato Single Needle Sewing

The main objective of all factories is to make the best products in a timely manner.  These are some of the products on the sewing floor that day.

Seolae Polo Top

Sevlae Polo Top

J Crew Pajama Set

J Crew Pajama Set

Helly Hansen Outerwear

Helly Hansen Outerwear

Nike Sport Jacket

Nike Sport Jacket

One of the final stages is a 100% check of all products for quality and safety:

Metal Detector Process for all garments

Metal Detector Process for all garments

The final stage is packing, boxing and sending the products to the freight center to be expedited to the customers warehouse and finally to the retail selling floor.

Boxed Prepack - Easy Distribution

Boxed Prepack – Easy Distribution

Finally I will look at a Korean owned factory with a production facility in Vietnam. This is a view or the sewing floor from above:

Mass Production Facility - Vietnam

Mass Production Facility – Vietnam

For this sewing contractor I will start by looking at the fabric, trim receiving and storage:

Fabric Storage

Fabric Storage

Trim Receiving

Trim Receiving

After receiving it is best to do some product quality checking.  Actually this step must be conducted at each raw material and trim suppliers plant before shipping to the sewing contractor.   As an added quality measure it is good to also inspect the goods before allocating to the sewing floor:

Fabric Inspection, One roll at a timeFabric Inspection, One roll at a time

Fabric Inspection, One roll at a time

Once the raw materials and trims have been stored and quality checked it is good to expedite them to the factory floor:

Relaxing the fabric

Relaxing the fabric

Relaxing the fabric, overflow for the busy season

Relaxing the fabric, overflow for the busy season

Manual Cutting Table

Manual Cutting Table

An import fact of all sewing contractors is employee training, which will usually starts in the classroom but may end up on the sewing floor:

New Employee Training, Sewing

New Employee Training, Sewing

The sewing floor, the workers, the equipment, and the products:

The Sewing Floor

The Sewing Floor

Heat press for Decorative

Heat press for Decorative

Every factory must perform their own QC/QA, some of the factories believe the important place for this to start is at the end of the sewing line:

Sewing Line - QC/QA

Sewing Line – QC/QA

Pressing and steaming is usually done in a confined area with cleanliness and good ventilation:

Pressing and Ironing StationsPressing and Ironing Stations

Pressing and Ironing Stations

One of the final stages is a 100% check of all products, this is the metal detector used at this factory:

Metal Detector

Metal Detector

These are some of the products in the showroom or on the factory floor of that sewing contractor on that particular day:

Abercrombie Lace Top

Abercrombie Lace Top

Abercrombie Womens Top

Abercrombie Womens Top

Sport Bra

Sport Bra

Aspire Stretch Top

Aspire Stretch Womens Top

The final stage is packing, boxing and sending the products to the freight center to be expedited to the customers warehouse and finally to the retail selling floor.

Packing, Pre-packs and Big Box

Packing, Pre-packs and Big Box

At the end of the day someone is making the ultimate decision where the products you wear everyday are being produced.  If you would like some help with making the right choices, planning, allocating, or managing your products and manufacturing to safeguard your brand integrity let me know?   Only the best, always.