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Me, Myself and I... why it is time to change fashion systems towards demand driven manufacturing

So, I am sitting in my ivory tower and think about the current fashion system and what it actually does for me, being very limited in moving, enjoying and expressing myself in public. At the same time I am bombarded daily with news about how polluting the textile and apparel production is, how much of it ends unused on landfill and how bad I should feel when buying stuff that I will only wear once or twice and then throw away. Also I have wonderful conversations about new brands and platforms that want to dent the universe and want to do things differently by connecting the consumer with the product, by by-passing the on-shelf production. Companies that want to prove that custom made clothing can be profitable. Companies that want to crack the code of hyper-personalization, of producing single-pieceflow in an ordinary way. And I feel intrigued.

I am not talking about the usual Luxury Made to Measure suspects in Naples or Seville Row in London – I am talking about the new kids on the block like Son of a Tailor, PlatformE, Labfresh, Lulusar and many, many more. For me, what they all have in common is, that they tackle the sustainability part always from the avoidance of unneeded production. They all are in deep connection with their customers and consumers, no matter if it is custom-made and therefor with better fit. Or it is use-case driven with lots of great features like flexible fabrics, stain-repellence, odor-repellence and much more. Or the design phase is directly connected to the consumer through social media and therefor will only produce clothing that has already a loyal customer.

I am not sure if these folks have never read or heard about LEAN or Kaizen or 7wastes, probably yes, but clearly, they do something great here. They all care about the most obvious - they avoid waste. They all put me as a customer into the center. Not the center of marketing, no, they put me into the center of their brand promise. And I have the feeling that I am understood with my wishes and wants, my aspirations and my lifestyle. Why is that so important then, why not just order stuff from the internet that I need right now, no matter how it is made? I guess one answer is that there will be a time after Corona, but my habits will have changed for longer if not forever. I will have less business travels, I will wear fewer formal clothes, I will be more cautious with my money. I have learned that after the Pandemic is before the next crisis and I need to build a buffer. The amount of savings per person in Europe is rising heavily. So, people think and act differently. And while every trend starts small and invisible for most of us, this time I feel that there is a real chance of cracking the code. Consumers will remember the brands that cared for them when things were not so pleasant. Consumers will want to continue to be treated personally, not just by marketing algorithms but by the products they have bought and will re-buy. And even bigger brands nowadays flirt with mass-customization and I am sure that it will not go away this time.

I could say Bravo - we got it, but there is a long road to go to do this on scale. Digitalization will help to close the boundaries between brands, production and supply chain but also the production itself will face a lot of obstacles to solve. Starting from changing the organizational setup which is typically based on mass production. Moving on to the operator itself whom must be trained to be more flexible. Technology will help to standardize, automize and to free “human robots” from repetitive work towards more advanced operations. And then of course the whole concept of material management will create a challenge itself. But I am sure, some will sort it out and others will follow. Apparel industry is a laggard in Change, I know very well, but I am optimistic this time that it’ll do.

By the way – the picture I have chosen from the 20 year celebration of the Hugo Boss Plant in Izmir in 2019. I was Managing Director then, but at the same time I was one of many and therefor one name on the celebration wall. Nothing more, nothing less. The same applies to me as a customer - being part of a crowd, of a user group, of a brand addict maybe, but remaining me, myself and I …

Enjoy the week


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