Industry 4.0, the newest industrial revolution using digital technology, has arrived. Industry 4.0 uses data, artificial intelligence and highly specialized labor to manufacture apparel at the highest level of efficiency. This eliminates defect rates and minimum order quantities. Additionally, since Industry 4.0 technology is so efficient, it is cost competitive with traditional manufacturing. This means apparel manufacturing no longer needs to be outsourced to China and it’s on the way home…
But what is driving this change? Here are five reasons why the apparel industry is shifting to the Industry 4.0 model:
1. Ethical Practices
Apparel companies used to work under the paradigm that cheap labor was the only way to get a large volume of inexpensive clothing. Unfortunately, cheap labor comes at a great cost for those who work in foreign sweatshops. As consumers of clothing became aware of the poor safety condition, child workers, and long hours for low pay, they demanded more ethical practices among apparel companies.
Fashion has been slow moving for years. First, companies reveal trendy, new ideas at fashion shows. After a year or two, big brands pick up the fashions, mass market them, and put them on their shelves. However, if consumers don’t pick up on the trend, the clothes are sent to outlet stores, where what isn’t sold is destroyed, leading to an enormous pollution problem.
3. Tariffs and Other Geo-Political Influences
According to the US Fashion Industry Association’s 2018 Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, trade policies, including tariffs, are the top business challenges. For those wishing to produce goods, like clothing, in foreign countries, the economic projections remain volatile.
4. Speed to Market
Even if tariffs with China and other countries resolve quickly, consumers now demand fast delivery. Amazon conditioned buyers to expect an easy shopping experience that included free, fast shipping. However, with apparel factories located continents away, shipping often takes weeks.
Finally, there is a technology that provides a sustainable solution to all of the issues faced by the apparel industry. Industry 4.0 is smart technology allowing computers to both collect and interpret data. One way to accomplish this is through an RFID tag attached to either a piece of clothing or the raw materials needed to create a garment. This allows the clothing to “communicate” with the machines during production and even through the final sale at the store. This computer learning allows instantaneous changes to colors, fabrics, and accessories like buttons or pockets. It allows companies to know the exact product lifecycle. It can start and stop production based on current inventory. And so much more.