What the Apparel Industry Cares about Right Now

Recently, McKinsey surveyed 54 global apparel executives in roles ranging from merchandising to supply chain about challenges, top priorities, and how they’re keeping up with the competition.


We asked the textile color experts at Datacolor—all who have worked on the color teams at major apparel brands—to weigh in on the findings. First, meet our experts:


Dustin Bowersox: Former Senior Color Manager at Target and Former Product Development Engineer at Uniform Color Company

Lisa Beck: Former Colorist at White House Black Market and Former Sourcing Manager at Abercrombie & Fitch

Todd Lee: Former Director of Color and Wash Services at Abercrombie & Fitch and Former Textile Technologist at Victoria’s Secret

Basto Wong: Former Senior Colorist at LF Sourcing and Former Colorist at Li & Fung USA


Here’s what they had to say.


Finding: 80% of survey respondents have worked on or are currently working on improving speed to market. 19% plan to work on it in the next 12 months or in the long run.



Dustin Bowersox:Even if you don’t realize it, color plays a huge role in speed to market. With objective digital color measurement, brands quickly build trust with the mills such that they can go to production immediately without fear of inconsistent color. Certifying mills approve their own colors and provide real time data to brands for tracking purposes. In addition to radically shortening the workflow, mills are then free to focus on other issues that improve quality of the finished garment or product.


The shortened production cycle makes brands considerably more agile in response to fashion trends and customer preferences. For instance, a brand might create a sweater in limited runs of several colors. If one color isn’t selling as projected, production can be quickly and easily shifted to the others. This reduces excess inventory while still ensuring retailers are able to meet customer demand.


Finding: 26% of respondents say meeting sampling demands and/or sample turnaround times is a highly relevant or somewhat relevant challenge:



Lisa Beck: The fact that this is only 26% makes a strong statement about the visibility of color-related challenges. A lot of people don’t realize how much money sampling costs. The person who is buying fabric and manages fabric costs may not share that information with the person developing the product because they’re more on the artistic/creative side of development.


But that person developing the product is the one requesting all the expensive samples. What happens is, these teams come together during development, and that’s when they realize that a sample is too expensive. Then they start taking things off it. This could be avoided if fabric costs are communicated to all parties involved at the beginning of the process.


Finding: 44% of respondents have worked on or are currently working on introducing a standardized set of fabrics. 36% plan to work on it in the next 12 months or in the long run.



Todd Lee: This is a very good thing, and I’d like to see even more companies prioritizing standardization of fabrics. If you have multiple brands or even women’s, men’s, and kid’s under a single brand and you’re sourcing a 100 percent cotton t-shirt from all different places with different weights in small quantities, you’re losing money.


Instead, if you set the standard company-wide for 100 percent cotton t-shirt fabric, you create color consistency and brand consistency as a whole. Over time, the more you standardize fabrics, the more fabrics you can eventually use with fewer lab dip submissions for color.


Dustin Bowersox: A standardized fabric palette can help reduce unnecessary overdevelopment. Some brands take this a step further by implementing shared color approval best practices for materials that dye similarly. As speed-to-market pressure continues, this is one thing brands can adopt to move faster.


Finding: 74% of respondents say that a lack of digital tools or capabilities is a “highly relevant” or “somewhat relevant” challenge.



Basto Wong: There’s no denying that having the right digital tools and capabilities is important. However, without taking a close look at process improvements and taking time to train all parties involved in using these tools, even the most sophisticated technology can only get you so far. Especially in large, global organizations, processes are built across so many different organizational structures between product management and design, which makes implementation challenging.


When it comes to color management, the brands that are most successful commit to changing their workflows to support new technology. We are always working with our customers to advise them on optimal workflows and processes. It’s an up-front time investment, but the results are increased quality, reduced costs, and faster production.


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