Finding Suppliers to Take the Lead in Cost, Waste Cuts
By Hattie Hayes, Sourcing Journal
The apparel industry today is driven by price and speed, which brands and retailers are expected to deliver on—all while also adhering to the latest sustainability mandates. And these demands, in turn, put pressure on trim, label and findings suppliers to develop products that tick all of the same boxes.
The companies are keeping in step with the industry by taking the initiative to develop new products and processes that help eliminate pennies, seconds and waste from the supply chain.
“When I first started 35 years ago, I was working in woven labels, and at that point, our lead time was 16 weeks. If I went to anyone today and said ‘I can ship in 16 weeks,’ I’d be out of business,” said Rich Ringeisen, president at Charming Trim, which offers a range of products that includes hangtags and labels. Thanks to improvements in production technology, as well as advanced communication and imaging systems that take much of the groundwork out of the production process, Ringeisen said accelerated production is, now, “part and parcel” of doing business.
To stay ahead, Charming Trim works well in advance to develop production schedules that will fit with brands’ seasonal or short-term needs.
Though they’re often thought of as a finishing touch, findings companies are getting involved in apparel design and production earlier than ever, too, which allows them to explore and sometimes develop product options for apparel customers
Charming also sees benefits from partnering with brands during the product development process, especially as material innovation presents new challenges and opportunities. The recent preoccupation with performance fabrics is a good example, since some labels or heat transfers might not work well with technical textiles. “It could be the greatest idea in the world but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” Ringeisen said.
Partnering from the start also helps the company reduce waste since it now only orders to need rather than holding a variety of raw materials in stock—the old practice when apparel companies wouldn’t communicate their needs until just before production started.
Sustainable options are in demand
That eco-advantage is a bonus now that the industry is more aware of its impact on the environment.
In fact, Ringeisen said sustainability is guiding the conversation in many cases these days. “Six years ago was when we started pushing hard into sustainable production, and then, maybe 10 percent of customers would even want to talk about it,” he said. “Now, about 50 percent of customers ask for a sustainable option right away.”
Even something as small as changing the soft-touch laminate on a tag to a water-soluble one allows materials to be recycled.
Even though apparel brands want to work with sustainable materials and practices, they don’t always know exactly what that looks like. That’s where experts at companies like Charming Trim steps in.
Ringeisen cited a company that did just this—came to the team at Charming Trim and asked for a more sustainable trim option for a product. After considering their options, Charming Trim changed one component from PVC to PET, at no cost differential to the customer. According to an analysis by consultants at Shift Advantage, the eco savings were:
- Approx. 40,600 KG of Waste Recovered (Equivalent to the waste generated by 912.5 people in the USA in 1 year. Based on average of 2.5kg per person per day. Source, The Economist 7, June 2012)
- Approx. 1,819,970,700 MJ-Equivalent Fuel Saved (Equivalent to 13,812,771 U.S. Gallons of Automotive gasoline. 1 Gallon = 131.76 Megajoules)
- Approx. 220,904,800 Liters of Water Saved
Beyond finding eco options for traditional labels and trims the company is also fine-tuning their tools and processes to help minimize overall footprints.
Every little bit helps,
“If I could make a comparison, I’d say that broadly it’s similar to the energy sector,” Ringeisen explained. Like alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro that can’t supplant carbon-based energy sources alone, small initiatives, like reducing the size of a hangtag by millimeters or making small changes to woven tag designs, can yield more from materials and reduce cost when used together.
We are confident their industry can keep up with the speed and cost pressures of apparel companies without sacrificing sustainability. “It’s becoming almost expected that it will be eco-friendly, There are still price pressures, but people are looking for it as a standard offering.”
The emergence of sustainability as a core concern in the fashion industry is just one example of the macro trends that push the trim and label markets forward.