An article written by Senior Editor Cary Sherburne on the digital transformation underway in the textiles industry was published in the latest newsletter from the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC). Sherburne has become a regular contributor to the Association’s publication since WhatTheyThink’s Textiles section was launched in January of this year.
The article explains some of the drivers for increased adoption of digital solutions within the textiles and apparel supply chain—drivers that are not that different from other industries that have undergone, or are undergoing, a similar transformation. Shorter runs. Faster time to market. Reduced costs. Increased customization. Sound familiar? It should!
The book industry was experiencing 40% waste in the supply chain, and publishers have employed digital technologies to reduce that number. Supply chain waste in textiles is also at 40%, including inventory obsolescence and the amount of inventory that ends up on sale racks at reduced prices, or worse, must be disposed of.
Textiles also have a huge negative impact on the environment, which can be somewhat alleviated by employing digital technologies, from fabric finishes to online ordering, digital printing, and automated cut-and-sew.
There are even developments in the dyeing of thread on demand. Thread may seem inconsequential, but there is a great deal of waste and environmental contamination associated with conventional thread manufacturing. Sherburne cites Israeli company Twine Solutions as one example. Not only are there environmental benefits to this digital on-demand technology, but it enables production of complex patterns in embroidery and knitting that were not possible before.
She also mentions Unmade, a UK-based company dedicated to providing solutions and tools to enable widespread adoption of on-demand personalization and customization of apparel and other soft goods. Unmade started by developing software to enable custom knitted items, but is now expanding into direct-to-textile printing and more. Unmade not only lets manufacturers use existing equipment for custom items, but also works with companies to help them build the necessary infrastructure to make one-off production and logistics profitable.
Arguably, the transformation is almost complete in commercial print—there will always be analog product (offset, flexo, etc.), but digital printing and automated digital workflows are mainstream. Also arguably, it took 30 years to get to this point. One would hope the textiles and apparel industry will learn from experiences in other industries and progress much faster. Today, only about 6% of textiles are printed digitally…but that’s up 2% in just a couple of years.