The future of textile sourcing practices and how traceability, safety standards, sustainability, and digitization will change product development.
Priority Designs sent two of our soft goods sourcing specialists, Stephannie Kia and Kate O’Hara, to the leading global materials and innovation tradeshow: Première Vision, in Paris, France. The team was met with old and new friends and drew inspiration from advanced materials, color forecasting, and industry changes.
As we’ve experienced a global crisis, you can imagine a vast amount of industry changes within the textiles industry, resulting from global requirements and supply chain limitations. Businesses must now comply with new requirements around sustainability, traceability of raw materials, and the digitization of products. With over 1000+ materials, manufacturing, and yarn vendors for us to meet, we brought back new knowledge and materials to help better serve our clients for these future needs.
Première Vision brings together industry professionals from around the world, creating an international hub of connection. Vendors and professionals represented France, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey, India, China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the United States, and multiple companies with locations around the globe including Central America and the Caribbean. Moving between booths and speaking with people from a variety of cultures highlighted our shared human interests and underscored the essential need to cross-source.
The process of cross-sourcing utilizes a network of suppliers to reinforce supply chains in case of disruption. Sourcing a single component through multiple vendors allows us to respond more nimbly when raw material is in short supply, shipping times are delayed, or economic, political, or social factors are in flux.
To build a successful cross-sourcing network, globalization needs to include personal connection. Time and again presenters called on connection and relationship-building as key elements of creative new supply chains, which we experienced firsthand. We met a man from Turkey who was so excited to meet people who live close to The Ohio State Buckeyes and women from a female-owned garment development and manufacturing facility in northern China. Our conversations ran deeper at times, and so were the connections we made with vendors.
"Seminar presenters pointed out that currently broken supply chains don’t need to be rebuilt post-pandemic; they need to be completely reimagined."
Raw material shortages, unwavering demand, and gas prices in tandem with an international pandemic and economic responses have had a drastic effect. Material development times, manufacturing queues, and shipping times are much longer than before. Where we used to see six-week lead times for materials, now we might see lead times of six-months. As a result, prices have also increased in every part of the supply chain. To mitigate these effects, we look to cross-sourcing. By building strong relationships with multiple vendors, our options open when issues arise. If raw material is short in one country, we can look to another whose supply might be steady. If overseas shipping is too long, perhaps we have a domestic or near shored vendor that offers a material that meets client needs. Expertise in knowing how and when to navigate multiple international relationships becomes key to meeting client deadlines and material requirements.
At this season’s Première Vision, it was obvious that traceability is the key to transforming the material industry. Traceability is a highly nuanced, detailed activity that is far-reaching in effectively and efficiently bringing products to market. At every step of the development and production process, someone – from farmers to scientists, manufacturers to standards certifiers – touches a product and its raw materials.
"Traceability is documenting the raw materials, vendors, and processes in varying degrees of detail that contribute to an end product."
Traditionally, this is an enormous challenge because protecting intellectual property is important. There could be hundreds of touch points, some of them brief or seemingly inconsequential and sometimes supply chains can shift mid-process.
With sustainability becoming increasingly essential and supply chains constantly in flux, traceability holds a solution for addressing these issues. It allows us to respond to client’s needs with agility. When we build strong relationships with exceptional vendors, they are more likely to meet the needs of accuracy and detail which includes providing production and development details.
Vendors are responding by bringing more people to the table. This includes sheep herders who shear wool and recyclers who harvest and transform post-consumer waste. Companies like Sorona are including bio-tracers at the molecular level so materials themselves can be scanned for authenticity. In every link of the supply chain, vendors are proactively reaching out for rigorous, independent certifications that ensure organic content, sustainable, fair human working conditions, and low environmental impact, among other qualifications.
With Priority Designs’ expertise in soft goods we’re able to stay current with sourcing regulations and demands of the market. While innovating new ideas for our clients, we help ensure that those ideas arrive into consumer’s hands in the most accountable, sustainable, efficient way possible.
Our team understands where we can integrate more sustainable materials or practices. When looking at the working conditions of production we can make informed decisions that impact fair trade and humanitarian efforts. We have a clear understanding of where to cut costs and where they shouldn’t or can’t be cut. Traceability takes time, effort, deep understanding in soft goods development, but also deliberate communication. With collaboration between Priority Designs, clients, and vendors, relationships are strengthened as new supply chains are built thoughtfully.
During our time at Première Vision our team noted the new energy and strong industry focus on offering more sustainable and recycled raw materials. In the past it was very difficult to find any vendors or mills who offered more than one or two sustainable material options beyond cotton or other cellulose fibers. This year, each booth excitedly shared new sustainable fabric libraries and traceability documents to prove their reduction of environmental footprint and humane business practices.
With new environmental requirements in Europe, raw materials vendors demonstrated their latest innovations in sustainable alternatives to many traditional materials. These included sustainable options for materials like recycled acetates and polyesters, nylons recycled from ocean trash, BCI cottons, mechanical stretch alternatives to Lycra or Spandex, and Sorona materials, adhesives, and urethanes derived from corn to service the footwear and garment industries.
The mindset shift toward creating sustainable options for product design extended beyond sourcing. Our team attended seminars on eco trends from speakers, Franziska Dormann, (Global Brands Agent at GOTS), and Ariane Bigot, (fashion team at Première Vision) who discussed how to implement these practices in design offerings and alternative business practices. These included sustainable colors and natural dye alternatives for fabrics, finishes, and molded accessories. Another important practice to implement is rethinking how to design around a product’s lifecycle and how the product will decompose or be disposed of at its end exuded importance.
Sourcing sustainable and functional materials is no small task, and has been an increasing request of our clients over the years. When our team is sourcing materials for products in the medical or intimate apparel field, it is necessary to ask the right questions and to collect the appropriate safety documentation to help validate the textiles going through any FDA testing.
In the past, even with our team’s expertise and knowledge, it has been challenging to find vendors who are willing to provide all the necessary certifications to ensure the safety of their raw materials and production practices. Now, with traceability gaining importance in the garment and textile industry and refreshing our vendor library, our team is even more equipped to help match our clients with the appropriate materials selections and vendors.
During the pandemic we all found ways to adapt to a more digital work setting. One of the amazing outcomes of this challenging time was the increased popularity of new 3D design software platforms like CLO 3D. This CAD software allows apparel and soft good businesses to digitally produce their own life-like 3D prototypes that can be fit to custom sized avatars are reviewed prior making a physical sample. This new way of designing has opened an opportunity for reducing the waste of prototyping wearables and soft goods and will become a new frontier in how products will be sold and tested in the Metaverse.
Our team is able to create full-scale prototypes that simulate the exact materials, mechanics, and fit properties in a wearable or bag. Our design process will be more flexible and faster with reducing the number of fit samples needed to achieve the final optimized design. Additionally, advancements in digitization that are seen in the fashion industry include CAD and prototyping tools. One example is the Stratasys 3D printing J850 machine which can rapid prototype ridged and soft materials directly onto fabric. These new CAD and prototyping tools open a world of innovative design spaces where more creativity can flourish with the use of less waste and design constraints. This seems like a win-win for both the environment and businesses bottom line.
Première Vision Paris provided our team with the creative and practical sourcing boost for a digital age of soft goods and apparel development. Our team is equipped with the knowledge towards the global shift of sustainable design and production practices. We have diversified our sourcing partnerships and are excited to help support our clients in new sustainable and traceable ways to help tackle their design challenges and evolve with their business needs.
Stephannie Kia, Soft Goods Designer
Stephannie has a true passion for textiles in and out of the office. She specializes in knitting and cut-and-sew development as well as building tech packages and pattern making as part of our soft goods team. Outside the office, if she’s not sewing or going to yoga, she’s enjoying decorating her home and organizing any space that she can.
Kate O’Hara, Soft Goods / Product Designer
Kate has been surrounded by soft goods her entire life; growing up with a mom who sewed all her clothing, and a dad who owned an upholstery business. She is highly attuned to detail and loves variety so much that she’s owned multiple businesses over the past 20 years – sewing handmade books, instructing yoga, coding websites, offering adjunctive treatment for complex trauma survivors, and is a published author! With a superpower in empathy, her passion is cultivating sensorial experiences with a goal of people connecting more deeply with products, themselves, others, and their environments.