The Importance of Engaged Employees in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 4) 2/2

Q: Regarding training, what training should a new sewing worker receive? How long should it last?

A: For a sewing operator with no experience, the minimum training time should be three weeks in an off-line training area, then two weeks of on-line experience and two weeks of aftercare experience.

The first two weeks should be dedicated to learning about the mechanical aspects of the machine and mastering one’s eye, hand, and feet coordination, allowing them to operate and be in full control of the machine during the sewing process. During this time, the trainee operator should practice constant sewing speed tests, such as:

  • Pick up
  • Position to needle
  • Sew a line or shape
  • Stop and back tack
  • Review one’s quality of sewing
  • Place aside

These exercises should be daily and continuous, with the goal being to get the trainee performing consistently above 80 percent efficiency against test-timing targets.


In the third week, the trainee is typically informed what specific operation she/he will be given. Therefore, this week should be dedicated to teaching them the necessities of their assigned operation. The trainer’s goals during the third week should include the following, and the trainee should not leave the training room until all three have been achieved.

  1. Teaching the sewing portion of the operation assigned to the trainee
  2. Teaching the trainee to quality control her/his own work and what to do when things go wrong
  3. Getting the trainee to consistently work at over 60 percent efficiency against a true accurate standard

Once the trainee goes onto the line, they should be under the guidance of the trainer, not the sewing supervisor. During the next two weeks, the trainer should mentor the trainee to assimilate into their role and complete the given operation at 80 percent efficiency with consistent, high-quality performance. If successful, the trainee should be handed over to the line supervisor and be promoted to a full sewing operator. The trainer should continue to be on call for an additional two weeks, if needed.

Training exceptional sewing operators is all about mentoring. Unfortunately, all too often training consists of only one or two weeks of instruction, at most, with the off-line portion including training only on the assigned operation before the trainee is put onto the line.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts on employee engagement?

A: I’ll finish by saying that the biggest problem facing today’s factories is that kids don’t want to go into manual manufacturing. It’s not cool, and peers often frown upon it. Therefore, all portions of the industry—including both brands and manufacturers—should work together to find creative ways to attract and retain good workers

With this level of collaboration and teamwork, companies can reduce turnover and benefit from greater speed, efficiency, and flexibility, allowing them to meet key strategic and business objectives.


Fty Staff

The Importance of Engaged Employees in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 4) 1/2

In this final part of a four-part series, Patrick addresses engaged employees.

Q: Do most apparel factories have high rates of turnover?

A: It depends, as turnover rates vary greatly from country to country and one production hub to another. In areas of low unemployment, turnover is always high, because there are other jobs available to the workforce. The opposite scenario exists in areas of high unemployment.

The major determinants at the factory level are how management and factory policies treat workers.

For instance, the garment industry has never been known for stellar salaries, and in any factory cluster, there is little difference in base salaries. So, to entice workers, factories often get into a war of allowance/incentive/perks (e.g., free meals, transport allowances), hoping these little additions will create loyal employees.

However, this management approach doesn’t address the real needs and desires of the factories’ biggest assets: the workers. Every person wants to be in a work environment where internal rules are fair, and management looks after them and treats them fairly and with respect. This is what makes operators stay year after year.

Fty Staff

Q: If money is not the main reason why operators leave, what are the main reasons?

A: From what I’ve seen, the main causes are bullying, mistreatment by management, lack of respect for their efforts, and rules that punish for little cause.

Again, good management understanding is what keeps operators loyal. But, too few of today’s factories have the necessary loyalty to their biggest assets. In many cases, management needs a change of mindset. Instead of blaming higher-paying factories for a high turnover rate, they should focus on changing internal rules and environments that include shouting, bullying, and punishing.

Of course, there are other situations in which the factory management is not the only one to blame for high turnover.

Q: Such as?

A: In some countries with high tax pressures, factories only hire contractual employees over short periods to save on government social and national insurance contributions. This is widely used in the garment industry, with many factories firing hundreds of workers every six months, then hiring new ones. Further, seasonal decreases in demand often trigger a decision to reduce output by closing a shift.

In addition, brand and retailer policies that push for cut-throat prices worsen the problem. It forces manufacturers to double or triple their capacity, then reduce their order volumes by 60 percent the following season, thus recreating mass labor turnover.

To reduce turnover, factories should work to improve their re-training programs. That way, when a worker’s job disappears or is reduced, they can be suitable for another task rather that just being terminated.


Poor Line

The Importance of Speed in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 3) – SPEED 2/2

Q: Is there anything brands and retailers can do to get their goods quicker?

A: Instead of telling the manufacturer to deliver on September 30, tell them to deliver on September 20. They will still follow the same analytical path, but they will have the raw materials in 30 days prior to their committed delivery date. Also, it is possible to shorten the pre-production and approval processes, but it requires a dedication from brands to review their practices, cut through bureaucracy, and redesign some of their processes. For example, many brands are indecisive (a result of watching what other brands are doing) and have excess processes, thereby slowing approvals.

I know a US company that delivers a specific bespoke garment, with requested spec changes, in exactly two weeks upon receipt of order, and the product is a higher quality than most retailers. So, the model can work, but it needs certain commitments from the brand.

Q: What are the usual bottlenecks that cause delays in apparel production?

There are a bunch, but probably the most common delay is when factories do not coordinate raw materials and/or accessories to be delivered on time (three to five days before cutting). If you can’t cut on your target date, then you can’t deliver on your target off-line date.

Since factory management is focused on manufacturing processes and not delivery of raw materials, logistics are usually left to planners or the merchandise department. Unfortunately, while planners or the merchandise department place orders, they seldom monitor the materials delivery, so the factory is not aware when a supplier is running late or a boat gets delayed.

To avoid this delay, a production person should cover logistics, since they are more likely to alert the supplier when they are late and need to air ship a certain amount, color, and balance.

Other common reasons for production delays include:

  • Late sample approval, which is most often due to the factory itself or the brand (when they wait to the last possible moment because they are watching the sales trends of competitors)
  • Receipt of poor quality raw materials
  • Missed line loading date, usually the result of late delivery of raw materials and/or accessories, receipt of poor quality raw materials, or poor line performance on the previously loaded style
  • Production issues, such as poor output calculations in the planning process and poor line performance (due to inefficiency, absenteeism, or insufficient technical ability to construct the product)

    Poor Line

Paper Pttn

The Importance of Speed in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 3) 1/2

In part three of this four-part series, Patrick addresses speed.


Q: Improving speed from factory to store is a common concern among today’s brands and retailers. What is the actual net manufacturing time for an average pair of jeans, ladies top, or similar product?

A: Most manufacturers provide a one-month estimate, but the real answer is more complicated. Many factors affect manufacturing time, such as:

  • Fabric type, quantity, and quality
  • Product quantity and space available for production line loading
  • Targeted output

Regardless of these factors, product manufacturing processes typically follow the same clear, analytical path. Keeping everything simple for production management, the path starts when the fabric and trims arrive, followed by:

  • Fabric and trim inspection
  • Fabric testing
  • Size set cutting
  • Size set evaluation
  • Pattern adjustment and grading verification
    Paper Pttn
  • Marker creation and sign off
  • Pre-production meeting
  • Trial run cut
  • Trial run evaluation
  • Issuance of fabric to cutting and fabric pre-cutting preparation
  • Cutting
  • Load to line

While this is just a sample analytical path, it demonstrates how most factories design these processes to identify and prevent potential quality and operational risks, not reduce their manufacturing time. But, with only a month to deliver upon receipt of materials—and the potential of air shipment if only one day late—they are under pressure to rapidly complete the pre-loading processes.


Q: Given the general lack of emphasis on factors that affect net manufacturing time, are the pre-loading processes usually the same for any production quantity?


A: Yes. The major factor should be order quantity, but factories are creatures of habit. If they have 1,000 pieces to deliver by September 30, they will receive the fabric around September 1, then proceed to complete their pre-loading process.


Further, they generally will only load a style of this volume the last week of September. This is because factory management is pressured to hit daily efficiency percentages, so they tend to load larger order quantities first. As spaces open from delays in line loading due to cut or fabric, they load of these smaller quantities.


As a result, customers are often baffled at how a factory can provide on-time delivery of 40,000 pieces, but not 1,000 pieces—even when they received the fabric and trims one month before.


The reality is that manufacturers have an incentive to not reduce their factories’ manufacturing time. Customers need their goods to be in stores on a specific date, so they negotiate a delivery date with the manufacturer. If the manufacturer runs one day late, the customer can demand full or partial air shipment to be borne by the manufacturer. While some customers are flexible, some are brutally strict, demanding air shipment and an additional discount when the pieces are just one or two days past the agreed-upon shipment day.


So, why would a manufacturer go down the road of reduced process time?



The Importance of Quality in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 2) 2/2

Q: Is quality not top of mind for factory leaders even when deciding about the purchase of trims, components, or machinery? Do they choose what will allow them to deliver superior quality, or is price always the prevailing factor?


A: While there are exceptions, I’ve found that quality is usually not among the top priorities when making these purchasing decisions.

For instance, consider machine buying, which is viewed primarily as a capital expenditure. When management needs to convince the owners or financial team to buy a machine, they will generate a report on ROI, including increased daily output, increased line efficiency percentage, and manpower reduction. Quality is not normally a significant part of an ROI report.

This is same criteria used when making most large investments.


Q: What are the most frequent quality defects?


A: There are a wide range of defects, but I’ve found that the most common reasons for customers rejecting shipments include:

  • Poor packing issues
  • Stains
  • Holes
  • Missing and broken stitching
  • Shading


Given the accuracy of Pareto analysis, I’d estimate that 70 to 80 percent of defects and claims are created by these defect types. It is a shame, because this list has stayed the same year after year. And, until quality begins being top of mind for factory leaders, it will continue to stay the same.


The Importance of Quality in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 2) 1/2

In part two of this four-part series, Patrick addresses quality.


Q: What are apparel manufacturers’ worst fears?


A: There are many, including any that have a direct relationship with the factory’s bottom line. For instance, some common fears include:

  • Lack of orders for the current or next season
  • Loss or potential loss of customers
  • Air shipments due to late delivery and/or poor quality
  • Customer claims or returned products



Q: Most of these issues are a result of poor quality. Do apparel factories normally track statistics related to quality problems?


A: Most, if not all, factories collect defect data on an hourly and daily basis. But, many do not sufficiently study and use this data to drive quality improvements.
Unfortunately, quality is often not top of mind for factory leaders, and they rarely have quality data fresh at hand. And, even the factory leaders that do utilize this information sometimes find it difficult to sustain an improvement plan.


39786000 - sewing machine makes a seam on fabric. sewing process

The Importance of Flexibility in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 1) 2/2

Q: So, what is the typical experience when a factory tries making small runs? Are they profitable?


A: When you throw smaller orders into the mix, the optimal production scenario I outlined usually comes crashing down.With all the style changeovers, actual production days are drastically reduced. The production line may only produce 4,000 to 6,000 pieces per month, at best, while line efficiency may drop to below 50 percent due to stop-start loading. In addition, the number of garments made per operator per day may fall to four or five.

39786000 - sewing machine makes a seam on fabric. sewing process


Once again, customers are aware of these consequences, but they are rarely willing to fully compensate the factory for the potential loss of revenue. Instead, they typically provide a small increase, then instruct the factory to look for other ways to achieve profitability, such as reductions in line size, increases in the use of automatic equipment, and improved buying decisions. Unfortunately, this approach requires the factory to expand machinery types on the lines, further increasing costs.The factory may be able to increase the FOB cost a little, but never enough to overcome the losses when producing small quantities in a large production environment.


Q: Is there a way for small orders to be produced profitably? Can some factories be re-engineered?


A: Yes, but it takes a complete reset of production skills and knowledge. The skill sets specific to a large production scenario, such as productivity line balancing and line efficiency, must be reworked to no longer focus on numbers and efficiency percentage as a determinant of line profitability.

It should be said that there are profitable factories that make fashion runs with a total order quantity as small as 48 pieces. In these scenarios, the mindset is on small sections with up to 26 quality-focused operators and additional equipment to provide flexibility, allowing for lines that process up to six styles.

But, the reality is that this setup is still not efficient. What makes it work is that the factory’s customers understand and accept the impact of small runs on profitability.


Q: So, what can brands do to make small orders possible and profitable for everybody?


A: They must to meet the factory halfway by allowing a fairer cost to produce small runs. This will give the factory an opportunity to make a small, sustainable profit.

In addition, as I noted earlier, factories and large brand customers need to reset their mindset. In many cases, they should expect to double their cost calculation for a small run. Efficiency targets should also be adjusted from those given on large orders.

Ultimately, with a bit of understanding and adjustment on both sides, this workable scenario can succeed.


40323632 - sports clothing on hangers, abstract background

The Importance of Flexibility in Meeting Consumer Expectations: Interview with an Apparel Sourcing Expert (Part 1) 1/2

In this installment of the Impactiva Interview Series, we’re talking with Apparel Business Unit Leader Patrick McGinty, an apparel sourcing and manufacturing expert with more than 40 years of garment production experience.


Patrick shares his insights on the garment-making process and challenges in meeting consumer expectations. He discusses the importance of brands and garment manufacturers working together to adapt to market conditions, as well as articulate their demand chain in four key areas: flexibility, quality, speed, and engaged employees. In part one of this four-part series, Patrick addresses flexibility.

Q: Much has been made of rapid changes in consumer preferences, prompting brands and retailers to consider redesigning their operations to more quickly produce new designs. One option is to produce smaller orders of more styles, but can large factories be sustainable when doing this?

40323632 - sports clothing on hangers, abstract background

A: Large factories have limitations and substantial cost challenges when reverting to small fashion runs, making them reluctant to do so.


Consider an optimal factory scenario: an average production line safely produces approximately 10,000 pieces per month, with one or two style changeovers in that period (possibly even a third in the last week). Assuming the factory hits their target efficiency rate, this scenario allows them to operate the line at a profitable level by producing 10 or more garments per operator per day, with reasonable quality.


Years of manufacturing experience have taught factory operators that this is the best way to achieve efficiency and profitability. But, their customers also have this knowledge, which they use to drive down the factory’s product cost. Since there are no secrets in this scenario, customers leverage large order quantities as a bargaining chip to gain competitive prices.

Impactiva process optimization footwear

Retail Survival Depends on More than Just Speed to Market

by Jose R. Suarez

Speed to market has been among the most talked about topics in retail in recent years, but while brands and retailers focus on simply cutting days out of production processes, many don’t realize the critical role consumer experience plays in introducing greater speed into the supply chain.

With growing competition, consumer demands and pressure for faster deliveries, speed to market is more essential than ever in the apparel and footwear industries. But speed to market requires more than just cutting down on production processes—it requires delivering consistently high-quality products through a season-less development process that allows for continuously available fresh product.


The importance of consumer experience

Today’s consumer wants a shopping experience with seamless, end-to-end gratification, including stores designed for fun and inspiration, input on product designs and new technologies to explore, like in-store virtual product try-on. But above all they want freshness—new product in the omnichannel all the time.

Unfortunately, factory bottlenecks have made it difficult for many companies to deliver this customer experience. Specifically, while brands and retailers are striving to create optimized demand chains with a pull-versus-push product strategy, their factories haven’t been able to accommodate this change in paradigm.

Among retail’s problems in delivering on those consumer demands, have been challenges at the factory level. Brands and retailers are looking to create optimized demand chains, a pull versus push strategy for product, and many factories aren’t yet aligned to accommodate. Add to that, labor costs are continuously rising, the pool of skilled labor is continuously shrinking and constantly country-hopping to chase the lowest cost simply doesn’t work anymore.

To overcome these challenges and achieve the real speed to market needed for growth and survival, forward-thinking leaders should concentrate on three key areas: thinking in days, not months to sure product freshness; producing right from the start to deliver faster; and cutting manufacturing lead time by embracing lean processes.


Thinking in days, not months

 The retail environment is quickly evolving, and in five years, today’s newest strategies to speed supply chains will be the new normal.

To begin, companies must rethink product design. They should standardize a high percentage of materials and components, design with manufacturing in mind, and increase the frequency of collections. Season-less product launching will soon be commonplace, with brands and retailers moving from 2 seasons per year to 6, 12, 24 or more. Manufacturing lead times will shrink to as little as 30 days, and tier-2 material vendors may start supplying with a mindset of days rather than weeks.

Brands and retailers should immediately shift their thinking, as the benefits of product freshness can already be seen at retailers that have remained successful despite the industry’s general malaise.

For instance, at T.J. Maxx, where comparable store sales continue to outperform analyst expectations, a continuous product roll-out has fueled the “treasure hunt” sensation for consumers and resulted in increased foot traffic. At Zara, the release of new collections every two weeks has given rise to the “scarcity sensation,” encouraging shoppers to buy on the spot. This strategy has also allowed Zara to avoid the vicious promotional cycle.

Conversely, Macy’s has largely stayed wed to its summer and winter collections, plus capsules, and its stable supply of brands and big discounts. Not surprisingly, the retailer has been struggling to get out of a longstanding sales rut.


Producing right from the start

 Once brands and retailers begin thinking in days, not months, getting factories to work in this same manner entails transforming their facilities.

Accomplishing these goals requires creating a factory culture of managing with data, numbers and metrics. In addition, it requires optimizing Tier-1 and Tier-2 relationships to allow for close partnerships that find ways to reduce material lead-times by 30 percent to 50 percent. Materials must arrive with extremely high levels of quality so that they can go directly-to-cutting without the need for time delaying 100 percent factory re-inspections.


Cutting manufacturing lead-time by embracing lean processes

Transforming factories also requires standardizing processes and enabling quick changeovers. To do so, companies should embrace lean strategies to maximize production flow and dramatically reduce manufacturing lead-times to hours and not weeks.

A key focus of this effort should be on creating a culture of continuous improvement. 70 percent of the efforts should be on change management and only 30 percent on implementing the necessary tools, like line balancing, standardized work, Kanban.

Companies should take steps to ensure that new behaviors and habits become a day to day standard for leaders, instilling values like discipline, accountability, transparency, positive energy, experiment-to-learn, and safety. In turn, those values will result in a culture of high worker engagement and a mentality of continuous improvement.


Case studies for achieving true speed to market

 Brands and retailers that are already focusing on these areas—through the implementation of a comprehensive quality assurance and continuous improvement programs—are yielding substantial results, as demonstrated by the following examples:


Women’s fashion footwear retailer. The brand, which produces more than 50 million pairs of shoes each year, faced delays among its Tier-2 leather supply chain. By implementing a Leather Quality Assurance Program with direct-to-cutting upon arrival from the tannery, it slashed 12 days from its supply chain. The company also improved its on-time delivery of its tanneries from 40 percent to 78 percent within the first 12 months. 99.5% of leather shipped without factory claims and nearly 98 percent went direct-to-cutting without factory re-inspection.

Casual women’s footwear brand. The brand, which produces more than 25 million pairs of shoes each year, was challenged to move production out of China due to cost reasons. In the new manufacturing country, they were getting a first-pass-rate of only 23 percent resulting in massive shipment delays. The company implemented a Footwear Quality Assurance Program, allowing it to reduce its rejection rate to less than 4 percent in only one season, thereby allowing it to meet their promised ship dates. Program teaching and coaching instilled a strong focus on quality among the factory’s artisans and supervisors, fundamental for the long-term sustainability of the transformation.


Ultimately, despite the many competitive and financial challenges facing the footwear and apparel industry, producing fresh, high-quality, efficiently made products remains the key to your future success. Your Survival = Consumer Experience * Speed2—the only way to ensure the sustainable satisfaction of all of your customers is to transform your demand chain now.