Just-in-Time manufacturing hits the runways

Fashion has not been untouched by different manufacturing methods that allow them to become more efficient and in some cases even resemble Toyota’s production line. In fact, there are different scales of manufacturing, which directly influence the method used and reflect how the market expects to receive the clothing line from the different brands.

One-off production

Typically seen in the industries where you have a made-to-measure fashion need like wedding dresses. In this kind of production, you will find yourself with high labor and material costs. Additionally, you will also need someone with a high level of design and manufacturing skills. So their strategy of designing and making a single garment using the client’s very specific needs is what makes it successful. Many people love wearing, especially for very important events, unique and tailor-made outfits, and this kind of production makes it possible.

Batch production

Once again, you’ll need a very talented designer that cannot only have a high level of design, but also good pattern making and have sampling skills. Costs significantly reduce in this type of production, since it produces a set quantity of the same product. The same garment will be produced in various sizes and shapes to create range. Now, in terms of how many products are done at the same time, well that will depend on the order, but in this type of production that could vary between a set of four or five garments to 25,000 skirts made for a department store.

Mass production

Here, by means of standardizing production you will rarely need a designer to make variety or create new types of garments. Instead, the company will manufacture large quantities, usually on a production line. These are made when you want to lower labor costs and produce very large amounts of clothing like socks or jeans. Most times these mass production lines will be done abroad, where you can obtain even lower labor costs.


Finally, just-in-time manufacturing allows the fashion industry to order material when and when the previous material has run out. By ordering just at the right moment, costs are saved and demand is met. But this requires very strict protocols and procedures that must be kept at all times. An excellent example of this method is Zara, the Spanish clothing and accessory retailer. They have managed to turn this process into a fine art and follow simple rules that allow them to be successful.

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Image courtesy of thinkretail at Flickr.com

By implementing this strategy, Zara has become not only an icon of fashion, but business. It is known today as one of the most recognized case studies, even by Harvard Business School, who wrote a piece on them back in 2004. They identified 7 rules that Zara followed religiously allowing them to stand out and capture everyone’s attention. The first rule is to produce in small lots or limited supply, this way giving Zara’s customers the sensation of seeing new products all the time, which in turn creates huge traffic and revenues. By making small lots they create the illusion of exclusivity. Their second golden rule is centralizing design and production development. Stepping away from traditional merchandisers and the long communication threads created when designing with external professionals, Zara optimizes their process and keeps everything in-house. Third, they utilize work cell organization, so you’ll find that in Zara each product development team has their very own designers, sales, procurement and production planners. Zara has adapted the traditional cellular manufacturing style and created a streamline which motivates constant and seamless communication. Of course, for all of this to run smoothly Zara must be extremely strict with their scheduling, which is in fact their fourth rule.

Their schedules set a framework for placing order, delivering and display, reducing any waiting period between the processes. Another process that factors into making their process more efficient is keeping production in-house, their fifth rule. They believe, and I guess have also demonstrated, that by doing so they increase overall flexibility in their process. By making their warehouse facilities and production automated they manage to increase the speed and accuracy of their operations. This, being their sixth rule helps them reach their goal of time based competition. Finally, rule number seven is that they have to always adhere to the rules. For Zara these rules independently is not effective, instead they believe that every rule mentioned must be followed for the whole supply chain to run like a well-oiled machine.

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Image courtesy of sara eudy at Flickr.com

Like Zara there are other brands following in line, and the runways are now feeling the just-in-time manufacturing processes and we could say how their influence has even affected fashion itself. Different brands are constantly innovating to find news ways to offer their clients more fashionable garments, in efficient times and with lower costs. And just as Henry Ford revolutionized the industry back in his day, today Amancio Ortega Gaona has done the same through his various fashion endeavors, including the most recognized worldwide, Zara.


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