How to Protect Your Apparel Business in Volatile Times

It’s clear today that we are living in unprecedented times. For many in apparel industry sourcing roles, it is hard to find time and clarity to understand the ever-changing landscape.

Over the last few years, businesses in the apparel industry have had to contend with tariffs, rising labor costs, decreasing retails, higher quality expectations, sustainability … the list goes on. As a result, the apparel industry and economy feel unstable, especially during the effects of a pandemic that threatens beloved family, friends, and colleagues worldwide.

The Impact on Your Business Does Not Have to be Permanent

When faced with the troubles of challenging times, the pressures can feel daunting. Sourcing is an integral part of the supply chain. It has a pivotal role in supporting the economy, especially as the worst passes, and yet it can be difficult to realize fully. As a business owner in the apparel industry, I understand the struggle of juggling personal, familial, and community safety while needing to find creative and effective methods to forge ahead. Not only is the business at risk during these conditions, but employee welfare, the health of business partnerships, and economic stability are of great concern.

I completely understand it can be challenging to overcome the onslaught of difficult news. However, there are some key fundamentals to ensuring the preservation of your business. The following tips are instrumental in maintaining the health of your apparel company during an uncertain time.

Be Nimble

apparel industryFlexibility to move between countries of manufacture is critical as recent events have demonstrated. Issues such as tariffs and the coronavirus have shifted production both from and now back to China. This kind of volatility puts you at risk if you are wholly reliant on one origin.

In our current landscape, having a strong portfolio of reliable, vetted manufacturing facilities is essential. As residing people and/or systems in organizations are rendered incapable, maneuverability is crucial to ensure production and quality don’t erode, exasperating the situation. For quick problem-solving in a dynamically changing environment having a network of near or local manufacturing partners who can deliver more quickly is both possible and timely.

Another influence that can have an astounding impact on your business is shipping. Without a clear understanding of port infrastructures and transportation logistics, the impact of ever-changing world influences can seriously compromise timing and delivery. Protect your supply chain by having flexibility as situations in various port cities arise.

Build Trusted Partnership

In the apparel industry, we are all weary of hearing the phrase, “find a trusted partner.” It has become an exhaustive, overused sales pitch. In truth, trusted partners are difficult to find. There are many who claim expertise, yet often prove to be overly opportunistic and lack true experience.

What seems like an obvious recommendation, “ask questions,” will sound like trite advice, yet it is accurate. What is essential is to focus on is asking direct questions when engaging in a new potential business relationship. The right questions should help you to:

  • Determine if your values align
  • Validate their knowledge and global expertise
  • Discover what the breadth of their experience truly is

Once you have found a matched partner…. keep it. Loyalty comes with benefits such as more access to education, better costing, creative problem solving, priorities in production pipelines, and larger dedicated resources.

Download a list of useful questions.

Trust in Transparency

apparel industryIt’s natural to feel exposed and vulnerable when bringing your vendor into the ugly truth about difficult times. Communication and honesty about your business, opportunities, and challenges will create a healthy dialogue for solutions.

In return for this open dialogue, your supplier should provide current information to remove any misinformation, supporting proper decision making.

 

Depend on Technology

We live in a world when things like social distancing or working from home are necessary, but that doesn’t mean that business grinds to a halt.

In today’s landscape, there is no reason your business should not benefit from the advantages of robust virtual design, up-to-date communications, and a trusted approval structure. Technology will speed up all aspects, from design to delivery, while offering simplicity and streamlining the entire process.

By embracing technology, your final product can also be improved, offering better fit, styling, and detail. This has a positive and direct impact on the bottom line of your business by reducing returns and improving profit margins, which is especially relevant in this growing online economy.

Cash Flow

After situations start to normalize, the main concern for businesses is the ramification of the economy. During the coronavirus shutdown, the financial impact is estimated in the trillions. However, today I believe that on the other end, as jobs return and the overall return to normalcy starts to take hold, pent up economic demand will drive the need for goods and services.

An important perspective to respect is that the typical size of order often starts at the value of a house, a mansion, a piece of prime real estate. There is a lot of money transpiring in each transaction, and your place in the industry will dictate when money goes out for the goods and when it comes back into your bank. When financing overseas, the traditional timeframe can range from 60-240 days, depending on your arrangement, relationship, and global location. This can significantly tax the company cash flows. To alleviate this burden, consider partnerships that can accept the payment for products closer to delivery or after the goods are received.

Takeaway

apparel industry

After 30 years in the apparel industry, I have experienced many times when things felt impossible to overcome, and yet the insurmountable was achieved. My journey has allowed me to experience 67 vastly different countries and meet amazing, talented, and caring people. If Stars Design Group, Inc. or I can be of help, please feel to contact me at [email protected].

It’s a tough time, and we are all in this together. The borders are meaningless when we battle a foe that disregards nations, races, religions, and genders.

We know that we must do our part to support the recovery that defines the resilience of humankind. My heart and thanks go out to all those on the front lines: The Doctors, Nurses, Healthcare Workers, Researchers, EMT, Police, and Good Samaritans worldwide.


Bret Schnitker, CEO and President of Stars Design Group is a fashion industry executive with nearly 30 years working in all facets of the sector. During his tenure at a $3b retail organization, Bret managed greater than $1b in retail as Director of Design and Development, which cultivated his design aesthetic and aptitude for trend forecasting. In his role with Stars Design Group, he brings vast technical expertise in all categories of the apparel industry, fulfilling design and manufacturing for major brands and retail on a global footprint.