The clothing industry needs to adapt to survive, and technology must form the backbone of this change, according to speakers at the ASBCI’s Fashion Re:set summit.

An over-riding message at the event was that the industry must work together to effect meaningful change, with fair and equal collaboration that includes suppliers and manufacturers and not just fashion and retail brands.

Speakers pointed to digital technologies being an essential component in delivering this change, including new business models such as print-on-demand and sustainability initiatives such as supply chain traceability.

The Fashion Re:set summit in York last week, organised by the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI), brought together people from across the clothing and fashion industry with the aim of fostering collaboration.

A session on sourcing highlighted how printing garments on demand led to less wastage and greater sustainability as well as quicker responses to changing trends and new styles.

The speakers noted that print-on-demand models were being embraced by nimble small and medium-sized businesses but are still largely ignored by the major brands.

Phil Oakley, UK and Ireland director for print technology specialist Kornit Digital, described the transition as “trying to drag brands through a hedge backwards”.

Jenny Holloway, founder and CEO of not-for-profit London-based manufacturer Fashion-Enter, revealed that few brands had used its on-demand production since it was installed last year.

However, Fashion-Enter’s set-up, which includes industrial-scale Kornit direct-to-garment (DTG) printers, was a model that could “blow away issues such as overstock”.

Angela Gaskell, director of sourcing, sustainability, quality and fit at online fashion retailer N Brown, agreed, saying that clothing companies “need to understand quantities so we are not creating waste”.

On-demand is the real meaning of near-shore and in-country production, argued keynote speaker Ben Hanson, editor-in-chief of technology magazine The Interline, who laid out the case for how technology can deliver the change the industry is looking for.

“Technology can componentise patterns to drive production from the e-commerce backend,” he said. “It can facilitate printing and cutting in synchronisation, create a network of micro-factories and distribution hubs, eliminate minimum order quantities, and connect consumers to the manufacturing process.”

He also pointed out that technology can help businesses make confident disclosures about their garments and trace materials down to the raw fibre.

Kate Hills, founder of the female-led Make It British campaign for UK manufacturing, pointed to the opportunities of clothing manufacturing in the UK but said it was vital people played to their strengths. “The average UK garment manufacturer has fewer than 10 people. We need to use these factories in a way that makes sense: for example, for made-on-demand that requires product to be made as close to the consumer as possible.”

Jason Wang, chief operations officer of fashion technology company Alvanon, said that, after a period of unprecedented disruption from Covid-19, the industry must adapt to survive, adding that it would take collaboration across the supply chain and buy-in from the very top to achieve a more sustainable future.

“The days of huge production models and huge wastage are over. The question now is whether we can produce and sell less and be more profitable. The answer should be ‘yes’.”

ASBCI Interline

Pictured: Ben Hanson of The Interline at the ASBCI’s Fashion Re:set summit