For the purpose of this article, I am focusing on my last twenty years doing business with vendors around the globe in the fashion business, my intent is to share with you my insights, expertise, and experiences as it pertains to PLM, S&OP, Supply Chain and Sourcing in knitwear. This is a top-level overview that does not get into the depth, detail, and structure required to implement, design, develop, and manage your product and business needs.

I have decided to publish this article in two parts; Part Two, I focus on the processes from yarn fiber(s) to fabric or sweater.

A photo I took of a cotton farmer in rural China in a small village with a tight community of fewer than 100 people.   I was lucky to spend two days with them (Socially, Eating, and Sleeping) to see their living standards, values, principles, respect and compassion for each other.

Overview

In business as in sports, it’s best to have top-level professionals for staff, consultants, and vendors who fully understand all stages, processes, and manufacturing options (specialities by country, by province/state, city, county), culture and languages?  Manufacturing in a 3rd world country has many challenges and opportunities.

China is the largest manufacturing country in the world for apparel, footwear, accessories and has 65 dialects, many different cultures by region, manufacturing complexities, and the challenge of understanding the product and people (strengths and weaknesses) for that province (state). It’s a published fact, that only 10% of Mainland China can speak the main Mandarin language (Putonghua) fluently.

This photo was taken in rural China where I meet the cotton farmer above. Cotton is grown on a bush that needs to be picked, sorted, and cleaned so that the buds are ready for processing to yarn.

The importance of communication with clarity for fully understanding what is being said, many will say I understand to avoid embarrassment, appearing inexperienced, and unqualified or possible they don’t know how to ask the right questions, or they are scared about the complexity by asking for additional clarity.

Well learning the Putonghua language, I discovered the challenges with the four tones, the importance of the tone and the challenge with expressing technical terms, as one tone can change the meaning drastically. Even when local Chinese try to explain the technical revision, change or issue it is a challenge as there are many variables in explaining and communicating, as Putonghua maybe their 2nd or 3rd spoken dialect. There were many instances were multiple local Chinese repeats the same words or sentences with different tones and different sentence construction to help with clarification.

I took this photo to show how yarn fibers are processed, carded, and cleaned before they are grouped together for the dying process. This photo was taken at a Cashmere factory in Northwest China that specialized in making premium knit cashmere sweaters and products.

I took this photo to show how yarn fibers are processed, carded, and cleaned before they are grouped together for the dying process. This photo was taken at a Cashmere factory in Northwest China that specialized in making premium knit cashmere sweaters and products.

How does the component, process or finished product fit into your budget to maintain your margins and ensure your consumers are getting what they want at the price they are willing to pay?

The dying process from yarn fibers that will eventually be put on to yarn spools.

It’s about truly understanding your available product options, the required processes for all stages of making your yarn fiber, to spool/fabric and to the manufacturers and/or component vendors’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Converting the yarn fibers to dyed fabric.

How does the component, process or finished product fit into your budget to maintain your margins and ensure your consumers are getting what they want at the price they are willing to pay?

Team Management

The importance of the team, having qualified, vetted, and validated staff, contractors, vendors, and manufacturers to support each stage of finishing and GTM (go-to-market) strategies for the products you are having produced and sold to protect and re-enforce your personal, design, brand, and corporate integrity and image?

Both the above photos highlight the depth of technology required for a fully vertical operation, converting yarn fibers to finished premium products. Through my government contacts in China, I organized and managed 20 buyers from around the world to attend the Ningxia exhibition and visit core factories for that region.

It is essential to have timeline calendars that are realistic and complete, highlighting which department or individual is responsible for what and how much time is allocated for each stage?   Is the flow of information perfected to ensure a smooth transition throughout all stages?   Is there a double check in place to make sure the process before was done properly, completely, and on schedule?

Aligning, reinforcing, and managing everyone with the intent, purpose, roles, responsibilities, and vision of the brand and the stage they are responsible for to ensure that products are effectively and efficiently, delivered at a quality that represents the personal, department, brand and corporate integrity.

What are your established performance measurement tools (KPI’s) to ensure you are constantly improving the product, people and service experience?   How do you implement lean processes to help improve the work environment for the people making your products and constantly improve the quality, price, and timelines?

Vendor Selection

Selecting the right vendors can reduce headaches, improve product quality, and make for a better work environment for all involved in the making process and for happier end consumers, which provides a positive win-win for everyone involved.

What is your participation at the vendor or factory level? Is there full-time stationed staff or do you frequently visit your vendors and production factories?   Are there trusted (transparent) and experienced professionals to review products in production on a weekly, bi-weekly, or as needed basis to work on constant improvement, lean operations, on-time deliveries, and quality assurance?

It is mandatory that you constantly and consistently vet, validate, onboard, manage, and lead your current and prospect vendors, do you grade, rate or scorecard your vendors to provide regular feedback to improve the product and people process?

Well residing in Mainland China, I had a better understanding of the importance for Vendor selection, going beyond what’s in front of you, what you are used to, and what’s convenient to discovering the right vendors for the right products.

I witnesses buyers making decisions about their product allocation based on their credit terms and allocating production to vendors that had no expertise, experience or regard for the product or people involved in manufacturing for their brand. I was shocked and dismayed to see this happening frequently.

Understanding the necessity of utilizing a perfect flow of policies, procedures, processes and calendars with a passion and drive for lean operations and constant improvement.

It is essential to provide regular training on location about your corporate culture, ethics, compliance, policies, procedures, manuals, technical specifications, pattern structure, factory floor workbooks, and quality assurance standards?

The extensive and vast machinery that is used to process yarn fibers requires committed professionals who understand their specific roles and responsibilities.

I have witnessed misrepresentation with localization and hiring of 3rd parties that report on their findings on your behalf?  As this is their core business, they will provide you with an impressive lengthy report.

It is crucial for your business to have established procedures for reviewing a vendors/factories internal structure (operations, budgets, planning, staffing, workflow, KPI’s, QA/QC, and much more)?  

PLM (Product Life-cycle Management)

What is happening where, why is it happening there, when will it actually be made, and who are the best vendors for your business needs and what is really happening when you are not with your vendors and factories?

PLM is a complex process, I recommended having a proactive leader and expert to see the real meaning of what is being said.

The complexities of vendor selection, understanding that if you pick the busiest, best, and most popular vendor, with their current infrastructure, tight deliveries and production timelines. How will they meet your needs for your products at the quantities you desire to meet your quality assurance and crucial deliver calendar timelines?

It’s a fact that an overcapacity factory will outsource your products to stay on schedule. Only if you have a regular presence in the factory can this be avoided and even then they will try to deceive you with what is really going on and when you catch them in the act they laugh.   I had to let our vendors know that this is a serious offence and it is illegal to outsource any of our products without prior approval.

At the end of the day, it’s about who is on your team, adding value to the department and company by constantly improving the operational output. I am a leader that leads by example, I have trained, mentored staff and business owners on budgets, planning, lean output that has improved the efficiencies and operations by 20%, by focusing on organizational structure, systems, processes, procedures and quality assurance.

What does it mean when your vendor/factor tells you everything is okay? There are cultural and language barriers to consider when communicating, that make it very difficult to explain so many vendors tell you what you want to hear, not actually what is happening. What if they told you the truth, about a problem or issue?

Then there is the challenge of properly explaining the issue, as your language is there 2nd or 3rd spoken language. What if they told you about the problem and you stopped all production on their floor or you cancelled the order. They would have a bigger problem, as they would have to continue to pay staff and have no production in their factory for the period they allocated to your production and possible they would have to absorb all costs for your production.   Or they would have to scramble to fill the production on their floor for your on-hold production. Then when you fix the issue/problem how will the factory get your products back on the production floor?

I have managed my products from a distance and have witnessed the horror stories of quality, late deliveries, and higher pricing. I have also managed products well residing in Mainland China and understand the importance of having someone from your country or outside of the manufacturing country who is an expert and oversees all your production in the country of manufacturing.

I was the key figure in Asia to build, implement, and manage the transparency through systems, heighten levels of quality from 50% to over 95%, improve the success of deliveries from 30% to 98%, and reduce costs by a minimum of 10%.

In addition, I implemented, managed, and grew thousand unit orders to hundreds of thousands of units for fortune 500 and specialty retailers by focusing on organizational structure, creation, implementation, and management of budgets, planning, workflow efficiency’s, and quality assurance, that was critical for the program(s) success.

It is essential that you provide the right information in an acceptable language and format for a particular task or for the entire processes, which may include but not be limited to technical specifications, parts list, product manuals, approved production samples, factory floor workbooks, color and quality standards.

I recommend showing photos over a description written in your local language that could be misunderstood with the translation.   As everyone understands a photo or image with changes that are written in their language and double checked by your staff.

At the end of the day, it’s all about understanding and managing the vendor output to improve the quality of life for all parties involved and for the end consumer’s best interest.

Integrity

Are every individual, department, and vendor operating with integrity (awareness, presence, and consciousness) and accountable for his or her workload to deliver what is required at the quantity and quality that is in sync with their calendar timelines?

Is there a procedure in place to manage staff/consultants/vendors that ensures they are really looking out for the best interest of your department, brand, company, and are not making decisions for their individual, department, or corporate needs, that are controlled by insecurities, fear, egos to control the business to sustain their position and hierarchy. These choices can be costly to your long-term business.

This is published as its a major problem in developing countries and with 3rd party outsourcing.

Understanding the difference between trust and transparency, how your vendors communicate, their acceptable cultural and ethical ways of conducting business in that region or country you are manufacturing.

About the author

I have been privileged to attended/exhibited in hundreds of tradeshows (Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia) and have published over one hundred articles about the fashion industry, have twenty articles on LinkedIn, and have had a dozen articles published in International Magazines, some of which I share throughout this article.

 I have thousands of quality suppliers (factories, raw materials, trims, decorative embellishments, and marketing materials) in my Rolodex and a breadth and depth of insights, expertise, and experience. You can see more about me online, Jeffrey Clark.