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Macro Meets Micro: How Digitalisation, Automation And Individualisation Converge

‘Micro-factories, based on networked and integrated procedures, represent the progressive way of making textile processing quicker, more flexible and, because it is more local, also more sustainable…’
Credit: Messe Frankfurt/Pietro Sutera

According to the Texprocess trade fair to be held in Frankfurt this month, micro-factories are the way forward for the future of clothing production and will be the main theme of the show.

In a statement, Michael Jänecke, Director Brand Management Technical Textiles and Textile Processing at Messe Frankfurt, said, ‘Send your favourite design to the manufacturer today via an app and wear your individually designed, perfectly fitting trainers or shirt tomorrow. It’s a long time since this was just a pipe dream for the future.

‘Behind it, however, lies a host of complex processes, involving production, processing and logistics. Micro-factories, based on networked and integrated procedures, represent the progressive way of making textile processing quicker, more flexible and, because it is more local, also more sustainable; whilst, at the same time, producing personalised products.’

Integrating consumer data and feedback into product development has been haphazard, in the most part, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In the outdoor industry, there are many examples of interesting initiatives that never gained the interest, or trust, of consumers and fell by the wayside. For many companies, innovation has been a two-edged sword.

From initial virtual design through digital textile printing to automated cutting and sewing, production evolution was on show at ISPO Textrends Microfactory at ISPO Munich. In about just one hour, an individualised pair of ski pants was created in the demo facility.
Credit: Messe Munchen GmbH

That’s changing and insight from ISPO Digitize highlights developments in China. China is the most digitised country in the world and it’s apparent that consumer aspirations are becoming the mainspring of product development. Working in tandem, its huge e-commerce platforms alongside the growing digitalisation of the Chinese clothing industry will oblige production cycles to adapt to change. C2B is the new concept for the future.

In a website feature, ISPO notes, ‘While in the western world C2B means that customers – for example via Internet platforms – are specifically looking for companies to find suitable products or services, in China it means something else. In Europe, the usual way still looks like this: if a brand has an idea for a new product, it takes at least one season before it can be presented to the trade. A whole year is more realistic. ‘

Once more, it is the traditional retail model that is likely to suffer. It’s hard to believe that brands won’t build on their own store network and ecommerce to capitalise on individualisation. The equation is simple – C2B = DTC+. The ISPO features continues,

‘With vertical sales models, the influence of the retailer is smaller and the product tends to be faster on the market. Whether the product pleases the consumer, however, is equally uncertain in both cases. The reason: innovations usually start internally and flow from the company to the consumer. This flow direction of product development is increasingly being questioned in China. Instead of Business to Consumer (B2C), the motto there is Consumer to Business (C2B).’

Alibaba Germany CEO Karl Wehner is reported as saying, “C2B is at the heart of what we call New Manufacturing, a data-based manufacturing process driven largely by consumer demand.”

Whether crunching mass data or producing customised clothing to order, these developments have the potential cut down waste significantly, avoid the scandal of unsold fashion clothing in landfill and to cut clothing’s carbon footprint. Change is accelerating so it may be possible for even an old-timer like me to benefit from product individualisation. Ironically, that needs to happen on a mass scale.

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