The RMG industry must think outside the box in order to thrive
Apparel supply chains and factories will look very different in the future, thanks to changes in technology, sourcing practices, how the customer is shopping, and the embedding of sustainable methods of production. With the most successful sourcing hubs being those which adapt to and embrace change, Bangladesh is well-placed to thrive in tomorrow’s exciting new landscape -- provided it follows these six simple steps.
Listen to customers and observe their behaviour
The world’s most successful companies listen better than their competitors. Market research is in their DNA -- understand customers, get to know their wants and desires, and act accordingly.
The most successful apparel manufacturers of the future will be those that listen to and react based on the requirements of their customers, whether that be the need for speed, smaller quantities, more newness, better quality, more sustainably produced products with a lower carbon footprint, all of the above and more. Such an approach can be applied to the Bangladesh RMG sector as a whole. The industry must anticipate and plan now for the requirements of the future.
Diversify and evolve
All the most successful businesses evolve, and some diversify into new markets. Bangladesh’s RMG sector must think about both these options. To stand still is to die, goes the saying, and there are numerous examples of this lesson in corporate history.
We are seeing some examples of this in the apparel industry itself, where many department stores in the West are now going bust due to not moving with the times. The RMG industry in Bangladesh must think outside the box -- think beyond its traditional products and historically traditional markets.
Where are the growth areas in terms of product types? Which parts of the world are growing the fastest? Bangladesh must be one step ahead of the global market place.
Think smaller runs
Many consumers in the West now follow Instagram trends, and this has had huge implications for apparel suppliers. For instance, online “e-tailers” are looking to take trends from Instagram and emulate them in their online stores with speed.
With trends changing so fast, it is vital that manufacturers can respond quickly and flexibly to evolving consumer demands. In many cases, this will mean looking at smaller runs in order to keep providing the market with “newness.”
There are serious implications here for suppliers in Bangladesh. More than ever it is important to be abreast of market trends and to have the fleetness of foot to respond to the demands of online retailers, fast becoming very influential in the global apparel space.
Forecast tomorrow’s trends
Henry Ford once said that if he had asked customers what they wanted before he developed the Ford motor car, they would have told him “faster horses.” Instead, Ford focused on making cheap and reliable cars and, while many people saw this as a huge gamble at the time, the decision ultimately paid off handsomely.
The lesson in this is that, sometimes, your customers are not the right people to tell you what they want -- instead you have to use your own intuition to anticipate trends and provide new market solutions.
Of course, this is not easy and requires a little imagination, a lot of experience, and perhaps even the odd sprinkling of good fortune. There is, however, plenty of inspiration out there. Each year, there are a great many exhibitions around the world -- many of them in the apparel industry -- showcasing new, futuristic trends and developments. These can offer a great source of inspiration.
All great entrepreneurs have an eye for risk. While there is risk in any business, the extent of this risk can be mitigated if it is identified earlier and systems are put in place to ensure it is properly managed.
First, a business needs to find risks or possible points of failures for their own operation. These could be in areas like people or business processes, legal compliance, or data security.
If a business is depending too much on a single person, or a small group of people for its success, then it could face big problems in future when these people are not around. Similarly, any successful business owner needs to find out the gaps in their operational processes and address these before they turn into problems.
These could relate to all manners of factors, including purchasing new materials, customer support, quality management, or delivery.
Apple is a brilliant example of a business where innovative ideas have been fostered and cherished. All people in the business are given an element of creative freedom to experiment and use their ingenuity. RMG businesses can learn from this.
Our factory owners need to ensure they are maximizing the creative talents of their employees. Send them to events and conferences, encourage them to come forward if they have great ideas, and reward them for using their own initiative. So many businesses stifle creative minds, believing the best ideas can only come from the top. This is a huge waste of talent and resources.
One simple way of putting this process into action may be to introduce an anonymous “ideas” box on the factory floor which encourages employees to put forward ideas for increasing productivity. Many factory owners would be surprised at the amount of knowledge right under their noses.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at [email protected].