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Digital sampling: a potential tool for Bangladesh RMG sector to trim sample lead time dramatically

“If Bangladesh can’t maintain a strict lead time, we will move to alternative destinations…,” such a petrifying comment was uttered by Jordi Juani, the Director of Jeanologia’s Asia division in Bangladesh Denim Expo back in 2018.

Swatch-On-Digital-Fabric-Bangladesh-RMG-trim-sample-lead-time
Figure 1: Digital sampling can cut the sample lead time with more adoption rate. Courtesy: SwatchOn/Look designed by Yagmur Oguz

Now we are hereby overcoming numerous challenges capitalizing our strengths- offering quality goods and highly competitive prices, but the question of lead time issue remains which is more aggravated by Covid-19’s pervasive effect on brands going online leaving the brick and mortar.

But there is a possible solution for this lead time headache that promises to cut the sample lead time with more adoption rate. Yes, it is the magic of digital sampling. Today we will explore its efficacies, possibilities and challenges in terms of Bangladesh!

Why is the need for speed?

Last year during the first wave of Corona, H&M’s plan to shut 250 stores gave a clear indication of fashion’s digital future. Till then myriads of brands have walked the same path in our major export markets. But how can it be a headache for the garment manufacturers?

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Figure 2: Comparison among delivery time of garment industries of China, India and Bangladesh. Information source: Lead-time management in Bangladesh garments industry: A system dynamics exploration (a research article). Picture courtesy: Author.

In the new normal, the top brands’ cheetah-like movement on updating their styles and lines will only make us baffled until we find a way to keep pace with them and bag more orders. Being one-two months behind in lead time than our contenders makes the issue more crucial to address.

So, more than ever, production hubs need to adapt and evolve to remain relevant for brands and to be able to service their ever-changing requirements. Otherwise, as the brands want fast-produced shorter runs, they will only choose those who can keep pace with them.

So, never before the speed was so paramount for Bangladesh than after the pandemic. And that is why there is a crying need to look closely at our lead time and make it smooth.

What is the possible solution?

There are a lot of sectors that need attention to speed up the lead time. According to S. M. Rashadur Rahaman Setu, Product Developer, LF Asia Direct (A Li & Fung Company), “China’s productivity is around 80% where Bangladesh’s is around 55%.

The lack of skilled manpower is a key reason behind it.” But as it is challenging to upgrade the entire workforce as skillful overnight, remembering Pareto’s 80/20 rule, there can be another way to fix the lead time by focusing on the sampling time.

For that we can use digital sampling; according to S.M Rashadur, utilization of it can bring a “35-day reduction before bulk production by avoidance of steps before pre-production sample if the fabrics are pre-approved by the buyers” can be a huge time and cost-saving for Bangladesh.

Which technologies to use for fast sampling?

Many smart factories are adopting 3-D virtual sampling software like Marvelous Designer, CLO 3D, TUKA3D, etc. and reaping the benefits of fast, zero-cost sample manufacturing.

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Figure 3: A comparison between the lead time and sample adoption rate before and after using 3D virtual sampling. Photo courtesy: author.

Taking a concept to production in just weeks instead of months using the exact pattern and model’s body measurements are becoming an utter reality. No limitations on the colors, prints, sizes, etc. for experimentation make it extremely easy for the buyers to select the best version of the design.

The versatility of the sample allows sharing them online with the responsible persons to assess and communicate in real-time. Recently CLO 3D demonstrated that sample lead time in the traditional method is 37 days where this is only 27 hours using the software which is freeing invested capital in inventory, reducing obsolescence and transportation cost. Here no time is wasted on producing several physical prototypes in different sizes, using different fabrics.

Moreover, this year, companies such as Gerber Technology, CLO, Optitex and Browzwear are among many that have found more pervasiveness in apparel users throughout the pandemic and have since continued to upgrade their platforms and form new partnerships to bridge among all the sectors, which is a clear indication of digital sampling getting ubiquitous.

But what about the gap between digital and real fabric?

Though we can simulate effectively in 3D sampling software, most often it is quite difficult to source the same kind of fabrics without any variation in properties. According to S. M. Rashadur, “The less variation we get in the physical properties between the simulation and real fabric, the more chance of acceptance in bulk production.”

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Figure 4: SwatchOn’s digital fabrics compatible with CLO, Courtesy: Author

To solve the issues of variations, wholesale fashion fabric aggregate SwatchOn is collaborating with CLO Virtual Fashion and digitizing 2,00,000 fabrics compliant with CLO 3D software. The high-quality digital files reflect the physical parameters of the fabrics in real life against which the actual fabrics can also be ordered from the company’s website. This streamlines the workflow and solves the pain points of most manufacturers by bridging the gap between the digital and real fabric.

Any movement from the world-leading brands?

In 2019 Tommy Hilfiger announced that they will only use 3D design to create, develop and sell samples from its Spring 2022 apparel collections onward.

Levi’s rolled out photo-realistic 3D renderings of denim garments and samples which was a massive hit.

Marks & Spencer revealed in November 2020 that its transition to 3D imagery samples resulted in increased product test completion rates and boosted respondents’ comments by 50 percent. They even noted that the use of 3D CAD technology reduced cost and lead time in their product development process.

But there are certain challenges to overcome for Bangladesh

After asking about the challenges, S. M. Rashadur Rahaman said, “We need experts who can make proper digital samples in Bangladesh. Two qualities are important for doing such tasks: deep knowledge of pattern making and fashion sense. But the combination of both is pretty rare.”

He also said, “Currently there isn’t much requirement of digital samples from the buyers. For the successful use of digital sampling, the buyers also need to be organized. If the fabrics are approved by the buyers before the sampling process, we can go ahead with digital samples and make pre-production samples by cutting down some steps as well as time. By this process, where we keep the fabrics and other trims ready within 60 days, digital sampling can enable us to get the results in 25 days. So, we can achieve a 35 days reduction in lead time.”

So, to overcome the challenges, we need proper training and practice on digital sampling processes and buyer-manufacturer collaboration to adopt the new technologies to get ourselves ahead of time.

Conclusion

All the leading brands are moving towards digital sampling for saving time, money and capturing their customers. Though they are in a trial and error phase, their inclination towards digital sampling indicates the inexorable future to come.

To be relevant for brands and to be able to service their ever-changing requirements, it will be inevitable for Bangladesh to adopt the new digital sampling technologies and reduce the lead time. Otherwise, it will be too late to keep up with the other manufacturing countries in this cut-throat industry with our extended lead time.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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