- From long timelines, large minimum order quantities, waste, inflexibility, arms-length offshore models, and high barriers to entry for emerging brands, the traditional analogue supply chain is at the root of many of fashion’s biggest-ticket issues.
- Digital supply chains promise an alternative: low MOQs, zero waste, reshoring, elasticity in capacity, and low entrypoints for new creators.
- Leaders in the garment decoration space are providing a lighthouse for all these capabilities – creating the infrastructure for flexible, sustainable, accessible, elastic and scalable domestic supply chains, and demonstrating a level of digitisation that .
- Watch the replay of Kornit’s latest UK LIVE event – hosted by The Interline – to learn more about how that infrastructure was built and stress-tested, and what its availability means for a new generation of brands who can connect demand directly to supply.
The fashion supply chain is at the root of both the industry’s biggest challenges and its most potent opportunities. In its traditional analogue, offshore, bulk production form, the supply chain is one of the primary culprits in long timelines to market, miscalibration between supply and demand, and high volumes of waste. And at the same time, key strategic objectives like speed, sustainability, and cost reduction need to be unlocked in partnership between brands and their supply chain partners.
For many brands, this has turned the supply chain into as much of a burden as a necessity. Across a complex, ever-shifting set of planning, forecasting, sourcing, shipping, sampling, and quality management processes, there is a growing sentiment in-industry that traditional analogue sourcing is both falling out of lockstep with market demand and becoming more difficult to control and optimise than ever – making it difficult, if not impossible, to deliver on those major objectives.
This is especially true for established organisations and big enterprises, but the analogue supply chain (with its high minimum order quantities and iterative sampling) is also quite a hostile environment for innovation, locking out new creators, emerging designers, small businesses, and communities who are not prepared to commit to lengthy, unpredictable, unsustainable, bulk production cycles.
By contrast, the vision for digital supply chains is to reverse all of these negative impacts, creating a route to market that’s fully unified, fast, transparent, has low minimum order quantities (down to unit-of-one production), creates minimal waste, and that’s regionalised and easy to obtain visibility and control over for brands and their partners.
The digital supply chain also aims to provide a smooth onramp to emerging designers, new creators, and online communities – making it possible to envision entirely new fashion business models that can be built to respond to the tight trend windows that characterise the modern consumer market, without the negative legacy of traditional analogue sourcing and production.
The fashion industry in general, though, has arrived at something of a “chicken and egg” problem when it comes to digitising the complete garment production supply chain. Most brands agree that having a network of digital, on-demand production facilities located in – or near – their target markets, able to produce varied, short production runs and ship them directly to consumers, would be a critical part of diversifying and rethinking their supply chains. But most brands are also waiting for suppliers to take the proactive step of building out that production infrastructure to the scale they need, while the microfactories that make up that infrastructure are having to work to encourage brands to take advantage of the capacity that already exists before investing further in growth.
This broader industry journey from analogue to digital production is one The Interline has analysed before, in a look at how the microfactory concept is being scaled and stress-tested.
But away from full-garment cut, make, and trim, an end-to-end digital revolution has been quietly taking place in digital garment decoration, with production partners and brands sharing the possibility space created by digital printing on-demand, and collaborating to fuel entirely new business models.
To help showcase just how comprehensively and how quickly print-on-demand has become a template and a proof point for the viability of digital supply chains in general, at the end of September 2023, The Interline hosted an instalment of the Kornit UK LIVE event series, which was livestreamed from the premises of Inkthreadable – one of the UK’s largest print-on-demand services.
Featuring Alex Cunliffe, Co-Founder of Inkthreadable, and James Fryer, Founder of the brand T-me, the event explored the various ways that the availability of high-quality, on-demand digital direct-to-garment printing has changed the relationship between brand and supply chain partner.
A full replay of the session is now available to watch on-demand, but below are some key points that were discussed during the live event.
Redefining the role of a digital supply chain partners
By blending core digital printing capabilities with a wider set of physical and digital services, Inkthreadable has been able to challenge the idea of what constitutes a supply chain partner. As well as providing retail-quality products in a matter of days, putting domestic digital production and fulfilment on tap for brands of all shapes and sizes, those services are providing brands like T-me with the confidence to focus on their own creative processes rather than managing inventory, organising offshore production, and a range of other non-value-add activities.
Lowering the barriers to entry
Unlike analogue supply chains, which operate on economies of scale and advance commitments (placing them out of reach of small brands and creators), full-service on-demand printing is available as a reactive resources – allowing creators to conceive of an idea and get it to market in record time, without needing to commit to a bulk production run.
Building trust in quality
Direct-to-garment digital printing has evolved significantly in a short span of time, as evidence by James Fryer’s own first-hand journey. In the past, traditional, analogue screen printing delivered a good level of quality for realising T-me’s designs, but recent advances in DTG printing (exemplified in the new Kornit Atlas Max printer, which is on-site at Inkthreadable) mean that digital printing offers a level of quality that James can trust implicitly. Pairing this with the complete fulfilment services offered by Inkthreadable, T-me has an effectively complete digital production and distribution chain.
Scalability and elasticity
Where analogue supply chains are relatively rigid, digital supply chains offer the ability to scale capacity elastically. For brands like T-me, this means having the confidence that print-on-demand can meet seasonal spikes, without having to pre-purchase and store inventory. And for partners like Inkthreadable, coping with this demand is a matter of logistics and planning, rather than a requirement to try and scale the throughput of analogue methods without compromising on quality.
Sustainability and transparency
As well as printing onto 100% organic cotton “blanks,” Inkthreadable’s use of Kornit direct to garment printing technology provides the lowest possible environmental footprint. Combined with the lower incidence of returns for personalised, print-on-demand garments, this provides brands like T-me with the confidence that their products are sourced and printed sustainably, as well as being shipped to domestic consumers direct from the printing facility.
Documenting the rise of the digital supply chain
The partnership between Inkthreadable and T-me (as well as the Kornit technology that helps underpin it) is just part of the broader realignment of supply chains with the speed of culture, as Kornit’s Chris Govier wrote about in a recent opinion piece published here on The Interline.
As that article spotlights, cultural moments (which are often the drivers for the introduction of new styles, new colourways, and even new categories) rise and fall at an unprecedented speed – one that far outpaces the timelines for traditional sourcing, product development, or even analogue garment decoration. The services of high-speed, high-quality, domestic digital supply chain partners like Inkthreadable emerged organically from precisely this cultural shift, meaning that they’re calibrated for short, rapid, varied production orders and rapid fulfilment.
For more on the rise of digital printing in the UK, Europe, and across the globe, tune in to the next event in the Kornit UK LIVE series on October 19th, where the spotlight will be on Shirt Monkey.
Or revisit the previous instalments in the Kornit UK LIVE series:
A Zero-Inventory Business, where Kornit joins Snuggle to discuss building a low-risk, high-margin fulfilment business without MOQs, generating profit and opportunity free of inventory.
And Take Control of Your Business Again, where Kornit joins T-Shirt & Sons to discuss leveraging sustainable, on-demand digital fulfilment to take control of supply chain and build a more reliable, robust fulfilment model.
And look for the last event in the Kornit UK LIVE series on 30th November, for a look behind the curtain at GoCustom Clothing.
About our partner: Kornit Digital is writing the operating system for sustainable fashion and textile production on demand. By empowering brands, print service providers, and creative entrepreneurs with unlimited graphic capabilities and an efficient, single-step production mechanism, we eliminate overproduction and make proximity production profitable. Founded in 2003, Kornit Digital is a global company with offices in the United States, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and India. and serves customers in more than 100 countries worldwide. For more information on any of our sustainable on-demand production systems, visit our website at http://www.kornit.com.