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Clothing Supply Chain – All You Need to Know

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Zilingo Editorial Team
Supply chains are a vital part of the success of any business. Developing an efficient supply chain can help businesses to be more competitive in the marketplace. If you are a brand in the fast-paced industry of apparel, your supply chain can be the driving force behind your brand’s success. But what is a clothing supply chain and what does it mean for your business? Here’s all you need to know about the supply chain of the cloth industry.

What is a Clothing Supply Chain?



A clothing supply chain refers to a chain of people, information, businesses, and resources that enable the production and distribution of a garment to the end-user. It is a network of fabric producers, clothing designers, finished apparel producers, transportation providers, wholesalers, and retailers.

The supply chain of the cloth industry could simply involve acquiring raw material from a producer and selling it or it could be as complex as procuring raw materials, manufacturing, value addition, packaging, distributing, retailing, customer service, etc.

A clothing supply chain is like a framework that specifies all the stages of business operations – starting from procuring material from a producer to delivering the apparel to the consumer. The supply chain plays a major role in delivering the apparel as per customer requirements.


Stages of a Clothing Supply Chain – What Does the Apparel Supply Chain Include?



The following are the main activities and steps involved in a clothing supply chain:


Stage 1: Designing the Garment



This is the first step of the supply chain in which designers carefully plan every garment by deciding the fabrics, trims, color, pattern, and finishes. Designs in this stage could be influenced by top designers or current fashion trends.

In this step, sustainable brands often take a slow fashion approach wherein they focus on the social and environmental impacts of the materials in their design rather than producing current trends at a fast rate.


Stage 2: Textile Production and Sourcing



The next stage involves the production and sourcing of raw materials or textiles for apparel.

Every garment requires raw materials that must be spun, blended, woven, or dyed before they can be transformed into clothing.

Textile sourcing involves several aspects, such as negotiating with vendors, managing inventory levels, and assessing product quality. The quantity of materials sourced depends on the number of orders that a brand requires. Even the smallest inaccuracy in textile sourcing can be costly.

In this phase, fast fashion brands often focus on mass-production and overproduction of garments. Many clothing items produced in this stage may eventually be disposed of as waste in landfills.

In contrast, sustainable brands go with the slow fashion approach and are conscious of the quantities of garments that they produce.

Zilingo can help you get access to reliable and cost-effective suppliers for textiles and develop processes for more efficient sourcing practices across your supply chain.
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Stage 3: Apparel Manufacturing



In this stage, raw materials are turned into apparel as per the designer's specifications. The cloth manufacturing phase involves producing the garment, quality testing, and packing it for delivery.

Various processes in this stage include sampling, cutting, washing, finishing, stitching, and sewing various samples. It also involves quality control procedures or checking the samples for fit, size, color, fabric, stitching, printing, embroidery, etc.


Stage 4: Distribution



After the above stages of designing, sourcing, and manufacturing are complete, the finished garments are packaged and ready to be sold. The packed apparel is transported and shipped worldwide to retailers and consumers.

The distribution stage in the supply chain involves managing the movement of goods from supplier or manufacturer to point of sale. It involves numerous processes, such as packaging, inventory, warehousing, and logistics.

This phase could be complex as the raw materials and finished garments are produced worldwide and imported into key markets. Fashion brands may choose to ship items directly to retailers or a distribution center with multiple retailers.

To have a successful distribution process in your supply chain, you will need to have a detailed tracking system that allows you to manage and optimize transportation and know exactly where your shipments are.

If you are shipping your items internationally, then you need to be aware of various incoterms, such as FOB (Free On Board), FAS (Free Alongside Ship), CIF (Cost Insurance and Freight), CFR (Cost and Freight), etc. that are commonly used in sales contracts worldwide.

An understanding of these incoterms will help reduce uncertainty in the responsibilities expected from buyers and sellers during deliveries. You will also need to confirm with your trade partner that you are both using the same incoterms.


Stage 5: Deliver



With customers growing more accustomed to faster delivery times, supply chains in the fashion industry are now focused on the delivery part – consistently delivering the right product at the right place at right time.

This stage involves the delivery of the products to the final customer by the supplier. Here, the customer orders are accepted and goods delivery is planned.


Stage 6: Return



The final stage in the clothing supply chain is Return. Nowadays, not only do customers demand products consistently delivered faster but also with no damage or defect.

The return stage is concerned with managing all returns of defective pieces, including recognizing the condition of the product, authorizing returns, preparing shipments of return products, replacing defective products, and the provision of refunds.

Types of Clothing Supply Chain



There are three types of clothing supply chains. You can choose any of these strategies to manage your supply chain:


Push Supply Chain



A push supply chain strategy relies on market forecasting and predictions done by analysts to drive the supply chain. In a push supply chain model, manufacturers produce based on the upcoming demand. For instance, warm-weather garments start appearing in the stores at the end of the cold season. Manufacturers anticipate the demand and start preparing for this increased demand before it exists.


Pull Supply Chain



Rather than relying on forecasting, the pull strategy waits for demand to exist before producing any garment. Garment producers will create new items only when they know consumers will buy them. This strategy helps in reducing the cost of stocking inventory that may not sell. However, it increases the risk of not meeting a sudden demand.


Hybrid Push/Pull Supply Chain



The hybrid push/pull supply chain is the combination of the above two strategies.

Modern-day apparel supply chain operations are very complex. They consist of several steps from procuring the raw materials to the delivery of the final product to the end-user. Thus, many fashion brands employ a mixture of the two to make the best use of them. In a hybrid approach, the beginning stages of the supply chain are based on the push system while the end stages are based on the pull strategy.

Using the hybrid supply chain approach, a fashion brand can stock up on raw materials and fabrics. At this point, the brand will not produce apparel until an order is actually placed. The fashion brand will initially push and then switch to pull in the garment manufacturing process.

So, garment brands first use the push approach and create fabrics in anticipation of new apparel designs. The demand for new garment items pulls these materials into garment production plants.


Benefits of Effective Supply Chain in the Cloth Industry



The following are some of the advantages of the supply chain in the cloth industry:


1. Flexibility in Operation



As a clothing brand, you will need to be in close contact with suppliers, manufacturers, designers, etc. An effective clothing supply chain can provide you with operational flexibility to identify the right partners for your specific clothing projects and manage your diverse network efficiently.


2. Reduced Costs



Partnering and working with a diverse supplier network can help you reduce costs in multiple ways. Before starting your production, you can get quotes and samples and quotes from a variety of trusted suppliers at the best rates. You can place your orders based on current demand and reduce your stocking cost.


3. Better Resource Management



The fashion industry is known to have negative social and environmental impacts. Now that customers and brands are becoming critical to sustainability and ethical fashion, a clothing supply chain can help you achieve sustainability and ethical goals.

From sourcing partners to logistics partners, you can choose the ones who are transparent and follow the best practices. You can partner with those who analyze the raw materials that go into the garments and adopt more sustainable practices to reduce waste and efficiently use the resources.


4. Better Inventory Management



With an effective supply chain, you can have a well-managed inventory management system. It can improve your forecasting and provide you with efficient warehousing solutions.


5. Increased Partnership with Distributors



A supply chain of cloth ends when your customers receive your item. Good communication with all distributors can help you to get your garments delivered to the customers without facing any challenges.


6. Gain a Competitive Edge



Every supply chain has its own challenges. Identifying the gaps in your apparel supply chain and addressing them can help you gain a competitive advantage in the clothing industry.


Final Thoughts



So, this is all about the supply chain in the cloth industry. Through this article, we understood that the clothing supply chain is a crucial component for any apparel business to maintain its efficiency and productivity. To be a successful clothing business, you need to manage the flow of apparel goods within the supply chain. How good or bad you manage the elements of the supply chain can make or break your brand in the highly competitive fashion industry.

If you are a fashion brand, Zilingo can help you make your apparel supply chain more effective by providing sourcing, factory operations-related, and inventory management solutions. Begin your supply chain sourcing process by getting in touch with us.

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Frequently Asked Questions



Q1. What a clothing supply chain is important?

Ans. A clothing supply chain helps fashion brands to manage their processes and maintain their business productivity and efficiency. Using an effective supply chain, fashion businesses can deliver quality apparel to their customers quickly and cost-effectively.‍

Q2. What are the challenges in the apparel supply chain?

Ans. Some of the challenges in the apparel supply chain include demand forecasting, securing trusted suppliers, inventory management, human rights and labor issues, and lack of transparency.

Zilingo Editorial Team
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