Sourcing is an ongoing issue for every industry, but it’s particularly difficult for the innerwear business, which sells products that come in a wide range of sizes and can have up to 30 different components.
That was the topic discussed during a panel hosted by The Underfashion Club, a nonprofit intimate apparel organization, last month at The Cutting Room in New York City.
Guido Campello, chief executive officer of Cosabella, moderated the panel, which included Robert Dzielak, North and South America commercial director of apparel at Invista; Edward Hertzman, publisher of The Sourcing Journal, and Margaret Clougher, vice president of production and technical design at Aerie.
“I believe for the most part we are uninformed. We aren’t keeping up with technology and we are stubborn,” said Hertzman. “Sourcing is becoming more and more difficult and the business will be challenging for those who don’t change their ways.”
The discussion focused on manufacturing regions such as China and how doing business there is changing. “In terms of China, it’s reached its peak. They are getting into more glamorous industries and dealing less with textiles,” said Dzielak. Hertzman said China’s child restriction law and increase in domestic production have affected the region’s strength as a key exporter, although he said it will still do more volume than other regions. Cloughler said intimate apparel brands are slowly moving out of south China and into areas such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia.
In addition to Vietnam and Bangladesh, Africa, specifically North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, is emerging as a manufacturing region to watch, but panelists admitted the infrastructure isn’t there yet. Campello said Cosabella explored producing in Northern Africa early on, but the Arab Spring forced the brand to vacate.
Although the weak euro makes it advantageous to produce in Europe, panelists advised brands against making huge factory changes based on a small price difference. “You have to look at it as a long-term thing,” said Clougher. Hertzman said that factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh are fearful of losing business to Europe because brands are putting pressure on them to lower costs in light of the weak euro.
Manufacturing in the U.S. remains a prevalent retail trend that established and newer brands are embracing, but panelists don’t foresee a resurgence of U.S. factories and admitted that it would be hard, if not impossible, to produce Stateside because of costs. “By lunch, that employee [in America] will earn more than someone in Bangladesh makes in two months,” said Hertzman. “The opportunities in the States are in engineering and developing ways to automate the production process,” he added.
Whatever region brands choose to produce in, each of the panelists underscored how important it is for designers to visit factories and build relationships with manufacturers. “The good factories don’t need your business,” said Hertzman, who also noted that brands waste money and time approving designs via mail.