How Digital Technologies Help Brands Design and Manufacture Responsibly

Today, brands are focused on how they can design, develop, test, and manufacture more responsibly. It’s not only a sprint to eliminate waste and conserve resources. For many brands, these initiatives are also helping to reduce costs and improve timelines.

Some great examples are the streamlined processes for color feasibility and optimization, digital dyeing and finishing, and how virtualization is helping to analyze, predict, and evaluate textiles before they are physically developed. It’s an exciting time to be working with technologies that can help improve product quality, streamline process, and reduce environmental impact. Interestingly, these technologies are even more impactful when they are integrated across the supply chain.
Validating these technologies is only just the start. The real digital transformation comes when supply chain partners buy in and the processes scale. When considering which digital tools provide the most value, the entire supply chain should be evaluated holistically.

Although some of these technologies require high investments up front, it’s important to consider how they can positively impact cost long term and streamline efficiency. An excellent case study on a digital initiative is Under Armour’s (UA) transformation from rotogravure to digital sublimation. Over a three-year period, the company successfully transitioned bulk print production from only 5% to over 90% digital. From a costing perspective, moving to digital bulk production reduced margins on the garment. However, with a strategic vision that carefully considered the design-development-manufacture workflow, all teams were able to gain advantages from the digital transformation.

UA maximized the potential efficiency that digital print production has to offer a brand. Design teams were able to remove design limitations, such as restrictions on the number of colors or needing to design into standard repeat sizes. Merchants were able to drop styles without any liabilities associated with screens or rollers. Development teams were able to shorten timelines with innovative digital approval processes and improve print consistency between suppliers. It shortened timelines in an industry where all brands are fighting for speed to market. In addition, it also greatly improved the environmental impact associated with textile printing by removing engraved rollers, reducing paper loss, and moving to water-based inks. All teams benefited from the transition, which, in the end, far outweighed the higher cost per yard increase.
It’s an exciting time for digital technologies in textiles. To learn more about how these technologies are changing the industry join us at the 2020 Digital Textile Printing virtual conference (Dec. 9-10). Register today.

Lewis Shuler
Lewis has a background in material innovation and advanced manufacturing. He previously spent 10 years in China managing design/development and contract manufacturing for active and streetwear brands. Over the last five years he has focused on textile sustainability initiatives for the world's largest sportswear and fast fashion brands.