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The Factory of the Future

Producing Personalized Footwear On-Demand

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During the last two centuries, the fashion industry was able to deeply transform its manufacturing system by deploying new technology that enabled the scale and acceleration of production, making fashion a global and powerful business sector.

However, the introduction of mass production, based on Henry Ford’s manufacturing model for the automobile industry, and the inauguration of fast fashion, led the business to overproduction and waste. It turns out there is sometimes too much of a good thing.

Due to its economic operation based on predicted demand which compromises brands and retailers profit and results in overstock, fashion has become an inefficient business with many challenges to overcome. Conducted by a very traditional and, contradictorily, old-fashioned mindset, the apparel business has never been able to deal with its challenges. If only someone would offer an alternative. We’ll get to that, but first more downsides to the status quo.

Fashion has a huge impact in our world. It is one of the biggest industries in terms of global revenue, earning $2.5 trillion, and employs nearly 1 in 6 people on the planet, including related economic sectors. On the other hand, it is also the world's second-biggest polluting industry and plays a big role in social inequality and poverty.

Only 2 percent of those working in the industry receive a living wage and, as some studies show, many are forced to work extra hours under pressure, in poor and even inhumane conditions given the burden on suppliers to offer the lowest cost, they claim. These are not facts that brands will be using in their marketing campaigns anytime soon. 

Footwear factory
Footwear factory floor

One of the main causes of fashion inefficiency is a big black hole in supply chain visibility, brands argue. The grimy shopfloor, where the pressure to produce a huge amount of garments in a short time frequently leads to worker exploitation, is an unknown place for most brand owners and chief executives. Just punch numbers into a spreadsheet and a few weeks later the package magically arrives, right? If only it were so easy.

The growing consciousness of today’s consumers is pushing fashion brands to take responsibility for everything that happens with people and natural resources that are employed in the making of their products, requiring full transparency in the whole product life cycle. One example is the movement #WhoMadeMyClothes, created by the Fashion Revolution, an organization which was founded after the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013. With consumers now on the lookout for exploitation there has never been more incentive for brands to clean up their act.

We are living in the early stages of a new industrial revolution, where the fast development of information technology and artificial intelligence is driving an industry’s revival. There is a great potential for the digital revolution to shake up established global trade patterns and business models within the fashion industry, transforming its entire manufacturing system.

Fashion at the Forefront of a New Industrial Revolution

The integrated use of digital technologies in design and production is leading the industry to its most important revolution since its foundation and will help fashion to tackle the overproduction and waste problem, making its product life cycle more sustainable and ethical. 

Regardless of what most people may think, companies that employ AI and robotics technology to enhance the efficiency of automated processes instead of replacing the human workforce with machines, will see an improvement in productivity and will increase long-term productivity gains. But don’t just take our word for it, a study by Harvard Business Review found:  

Through such collaborative intelligence, humans and AI actively enhance each other’s complementary strengths: the leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills of the former, and the speed, scalability, and quantitative capabilities of the latter.

We're seeing an increasing adoption of 3D assets and digital technology in response to the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to fashion, inviting brands to review their operating mode and reinvent their businesses to keep running in a quarantined world.

Many luxury fashion houses are employing an in-house 3D product development team or working with third parties to conceive a digital strategy. Even though most brands' digital strategy are focused on product development and marketing, the opportunity has presented itself to shift to an end-to-end digital-first strategy.

The beauty of digital assets is that they can be streamlined from product design to marketing campaigns, or e-commerce and digital spots in-store across the entire supply and production chain. This way, brands offer their customers the possibility to customize their products and to manufacture high-personalized products at scale, shortening lead-time.

Thanks to the integration of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems, product configurator tools, and late-staged assembly automated technology, digital-savvy factories are empowering brands to scale the production of customized products, embracing mass customization.

The factory of the future aims to meet the industry’s need for brand new supply chain and manufacturing standards. It's crucial to build a new digital-savvy and fully-connected manufacturing system for fashion’s digitization that connects all the stages of the product life cycle, while providing real-time information promptly and delivering highly-personalized products in record time.

Breakthrough innovations in information and operational technology combined are improving manufacturing processes, making them leaner and smarter. Integrating and deploying these technologies across the entire supply and production chain will allow brands to have a more accurate alignment with customers' demands.

The ability for digitally savvy factories to provide real-time updates on customer demands, product life cycles, and manufacturing stages makes it possible for brands to have complete visibility of each step of the order, allowing them to provide fast feedback to their customers, ultimately enhancing their relationship with them.

Robots and automated machines to manufacture shoes
Robotics and AI enables the automation of many production processes

Smart factories will transform the way fashion businesses operate. Supported by big data reports, brands will become more proactive and autonomous. Through precise data analytics and artificial intelligence, brands will be able to automatically fix any potential issues with customer preferences' prediction, creating more efficient and effective strategies based on customer journey and behaviour. Smart indeed.

Robotics and operational technology applied to the shopfloor have improved workflows and production cycles by facilitating production automation. Readily available information technology enables the easy reconfiguration of production stages and machines and enhances the flexibility of work processes which accelerate the on-demand manufacturing of products with many variable configurations.

The factory of the future integrates all the information about product configuration and production status, keeping it instantly responsive to customer and product managers interactions, from within the factory shopfloor across the whole supply chain, which will be updated and visible in real-time.

All this data will generate insights, which are constantly reported, and allow decision-makers to act immediately, if needed, in every stage of the production cycle, avoiding production loss and waste. There will be no boundaries between product design and development, supply chain, manufacturing operations, and demand management.

Streamlining all business processes with real-time tracking and easy management of product development empowers brands to optimize supply chain and production, ultimately saving resources, boosting on-demand manufacturing of customized products and increasing the bottom line.

Smart factories give brands the opportunity to create a realistic and efficient sustainable strategy since sustainability is at the core of the factory of the future. A creative mindset and the willingness to solve the main challenges of the fashion industry will be key to creating the factory of future.

The factory of the future: scaling up mass customization!

PlatformE and Houspring have partnered to build the factory of the future in northern Portugal. The concept factory will be able to produce shoes and other fashion goods on a large scale and within a short time frame, setting standards for an efficient and profitable on-demand production model that can be easily replicated and implemented.

Introducing the 3W approach (work reduction, waste reduction, and water reduction), the factory was designed to employ artificial intelligence and automate technology optimizing the use of natural resources and raw materials in every stage of the manufacturing process. The factory of the future will be smarter, greener, and water-free. 

The Portuguese footwear brand, DiVERGE, wants to disrupt the industry by delivering original, handcrafted, and highly personalized sneakers produced on-demand in record time. The brand enables their customers to better express themselves by actively participating in the creative process of their own personalized sneakers.

Using a white canvas or one of the brand's curated inspirations, customers can create their own customized sneakers, designed to suit the customers preferences. DiVERGE premium sneakers are ethically made to order using only high-quality materials.

A man and a woman seat on a machine showing their sneakers
DiVERGE Sneakers

By implementing an end-to-end on-demand strategy, the footwear brand has taken advantage of PlatformE's RIPE ecosystem to mass-produce highly personalized shoes. The brand was able to start selling and shipping made-to-order customized sneakers, shortening the lead-time for on-demand thanks to the platform.

Having direct access to manufacturing and management control, which can be used on the factory floor, allows the brand to reduce lead times and optimize factory capacity. The platform connected POS and production, allowing the brand to monitor each process and ensure the supplier's capability and production quality.

Thanks to the use of an automated and fully integrated platform, the brand became able to boost the on-demand operation, delivering customized goods from fulfilment to customer in short time.

In 2022, DiVERGE will be able to deliver highly personalized sneakers for individual customers in 7 days lead-time average, totalling 150 pairs shipped custom-made shoes/ sneakers per day. As a result, the end-of-season stock of finished goods is 0%, and 85% less money will be spent on inventory. Rather than finished products, the entire investment is made in raw materials and marketing, saving important financial resources that can be invested in new strategies to enhance the customer experience and raise customer loyalty.