By Chandeepa Wettasinghe The apparel industry will be in for a shock in the near future, and all stakeholders would be in safe hands only if they change their mindsets and focus on disruptive concepts, according to a highly regarded figure in the industry.
“If it’s my money, I would not invest a single dollar on traditional assets. I’ll use the assets I’ve invested in; land, machines, processes etc. I’ll flog it, treat it as a cash cow and milk as much cash as I can out of the system. This model is dead, there’s no doubt about it,” Brandix Lanka Limited Director Udena Wickramasooriya told a recent event organized by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.
He said that the apparel industry has been stagnant since the 1940s, with no innovative steps taken. Jeans, shirt or suit designs have generally remained similar, while the quality has dramatically dropped, and the prices rising to twice of what is reasonable, even after accounting for inflation.
He compared apparel with the photography industry. The number of photographs taken had recorded steady growth over the decades till the early 2000s while the cost of processing a photograph dropped.
Following the introduction of the digital camera, camera phones and social media, publishing had become free, and the number of photographs taken had had an exponential quadruple figure growth, with 2014 alone seeing t he capture of over 880 billion photographs.
“The head of BCG (Boston Consulting Group) Asia, who led the Kodak strategic review at this stage had insisted to Kodak saying ‘your business model is dead,’ but unfortunately at that point, 90 percent of their profit came from physical film based business, and they refused to accept this, and they refused to make the shift to digital, and they died,” he said.Wickremasooriya said that apparel and its supporting industries shouldn’t have such a ‘Kodak mindset’.Approximately 90 percent of clothing worn today is traditional, with the other 10 percent claimed by customized clothing such as non-iron.He said the balance would gradually shift in favour of customized clothing, and then 3-D printing becoming dominant.“You may think it’ll be in maybe five or seven years, but it’s going to happen sooner than you think.”
He said that 3-D printed clothing would be mainstream within 5 years, and nano-technology incorporated clothing such as non-iron and non-wash clothing which is already appearing in the market could make iron and washing machine manufacturers obsolete.According to him, all investments should be made in innovation, next generation assets, and retraining the existing labour pool to adapt to the up and coming methods, which would not be easy.
He mentioned that hand manufactured clothing could become a high end commodity in the future.He added that the European and North American markets which had offshored their production to destinations such as Sri Lanka to save on labour costs are now gradually reducing their supply chains and transitioning to nearshore and on-shore production, due to the fast changing nature of fashion.
However, he said that Sri Lanka could counter that by becoming an ‘Apparel Isle’ similar to Silicon Valley by getting ahead of the innovation curve.
“If we can create something like that in this country, because we have rich capital and knowledge of this industry. We can create the same type of logic, same type of eco-system where you could drive disruptive innovation across the supply chain. Then we could be leading this revolution globally.”
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