There is a remarkable story on CNN’s site that indicates a window of opportunity is opening up for American clothing manufacturers – a rare second chance to prove they can out-manufacture the cheap labor producers who have dominated that industry. According to a guy named Marshal Cohen, a big time analyst with a market research outfit called NPD Group, some big American retailers are finally starting to figure out that time is important.
You would think that, in light of the way fashion trends come and go in a heartbeat, they would have been a tad more time sensitive before now, but better late than never. Kathleen Fasanella at the Fashion Incubator is a lean manufacturing expert in the sewn products business and she has been preaching the importance of time for quite a while. If you haven’t bought her extraordinary book or begged her for help before this, now would be a real good time to do so.
According to Cohen, "U.S. retailers are finally looking at lost sales as lost revenue. They know that in order to capture maximum sales they need to turn their inventory much quicker." The disadvantage of importing from China, he said, is that it requires a longer lead time of between three to six month from the time an order is placed to when the inventory is stocked in stores. We could have told the retailers that long ago, but now that the issue is out in the open, sewn products people had better give some serious thought to their ability to compete on the basis of time. You won’t win on labor cost, so you better do a whole lot better than the 3-6 months Cohen cites.
Just how wide open this industry is becoming is indicated by the comments of a fellow named Moshe Tsabag, who runs a company called Hot Kiss, a clothing manufacturer and importer out of California. According to him, by shifting manufacturing back home, he’s able to deliver an order to retailers in about 45 days versus the 120 to 150 days it would take to source the same items from China.
45 Days? 45 DAYS? Moshe – For clothes??? Moshe, Toyota can build you three or four custom built cars faster than you can make someone a pair of pants! And he is growing his US manufacturing for places like Dillard’s, Nordstrum and elsewhere with that kind of time performance. If Moshe’s manufacturing operations were half as lean as the pathetically malnourished model on his web site, there is no limit to how much money Hot Kiss could make.
The clothing manufacturer that truly becomes lean and serves that market with the sort of lead time that is possible will have an unlimited future. There won’t be room for traditional manufacturers, however. I am sure that this window is only open for a while. If Moshe and the rest cannot do better than 45 days, or if they think the good old days have returned and they can go back to business as it was 25 years ago, this window will slam shut and the work will leave again, perhaps for good.
If I ran Dillard’s buying department, I would keep buying in China if my best US alternative were 45 days. It is an indication of just how important time is becoming to the retailers that they are giving more orders to Moshe and his 45 day lead times. It seems to me that the door has been opened for a lean, US clothing manufacturer to charge through and score big. Lead times a fraction of those offered by Hot Kiss are easily doable by a lean manufacturer in this business. These kinds of second chances don’t come around for U.S. companies often, so take advantage of it while you can. Call Kathleen … NOW!