On-demand production is the sustainable future of fashion and textiles

Ronen Samuel is the CEO of Kornit Digitala leader in sustainable digital fashion and on-demand textile manufacturing technologies.

Making fashion and textile production a cleaner, more sensitive and responsible enterprise that unleashes creativity without limits—while responding to the call for sustainability—is vitally important. Meeting that challenge means relying on digital transformation and on-demand manufacturing, eliminating waste while increasing the number of products and applications we can build.

Since the dawn of the internet age, we’ve seen a sea of ​​change in the way brands and designers interact with the market and consumer expectations from suppliers. The pandemic-induced economy accelerated the shift to online sales, and brands fell by the wayside because they lacked the agility to adapt to the old ways.

Creative people, whether they’re running a brand or just creating for their own good, have more tools than ever to design, fulfill and market their inspirations. The market is increasingly driven by social media, viral moments, word of mouth and a growing ecosystem of apps that unleash creativity wherever it is cultivated. And, perhaps most of all, there is a widespread call for more sustainable manufacturing practices; people actively want to be better stewards of our environment, and consumers are increasingly spending in line with their own values—a movement that has spawned entirely new industries dedicated to responsible, environmentally conscious manufacturing.

But fashion and textiles are notorious polluters, as 10% of all carbon emissions are the product of what we do just to clothe the world’s people. Estimates show that 25% of the total fresh water pollution comes from textile processing and dyeing processes.

The problem goes far beyond our direct carbon footprint. Solving problems brings financial incentives that match the incentives of conscientiousness. It is estimated that 30% of all clothing produced is overproduced. I’ve seen stories of big brands and high fashion brands destroying inventory, writing off inventory—so much going straight to landfills or discounters, inevitably draining billions from the bottom line.

Under long-standing outsourcing manufacturing models, you had designers and consumers on one side of the planet and a complex apparatus to fulfill their demand operating on the other side. I find that traditional supply chains are slow to respond to trends, slow to restock, and poorly respond to the changing demands of the hyper-connected Gen Z. If you lack transparency, you can be vulnerable to disruptions and inevitably end up holding inventory that will never sell. By the time a product reaches your shores, it is already out of fashion or more popular in a completely different region. Never mind the waste, time and energy devoted to creating and approving samples.

Advantages of on-demand production

As the CEO of a company dedicated to on-demand technologies, I believe the beauty of digital production is that it turns the supply and demand paradigm upside down. Before, you would create an offer based on projections and do your best to sell inventory. We now have the speed of a button to quickly create an unlimited number of apps, eliminating the bet on what will be popular.

On-demand production takes advantage of the immediacy and creativity of the Internet age. It is the logical evolution of a market digitized, interconnected worldwide, driven by more data than we have ever had, and ideally suited to meet the industry’s economic and sustainability challenges. Digital production means creativity and self-expression no longer have waiting periods.

You also produce what sells, without overstocking—prioritizing resources and labor on what generates the most profit. You can customize, personalize and think outside the box to meet unanticipated demand while narrowing supply chains, eliminating complex logistics and transport waste, and using sustainable pigment inks and consumables, fulfilling a commitment to sustainability without sacrificing quality or profit margins.

Transition to On-Demand

Getting the most from on-demand manufacturing means leveraging as much market data as possible—through social listening, spotting trends, and being ready to capitalize when new opportunities arise. Digital transformation can make a difference in long-term prospects. End-to-end digitization of your consumer and manufacturing experience offers reactivity, versatility and agility to align production with demand.

Digitization can mean a fundamental change in the operations of any company accustomed to traditional analog processes. Keeping up with new technologies requires a new set of skills (aligning with an increasingly digital workforce). On-demand manufacturing reduces material waste to increase ROI and opens up new sales channels and product opportunities. Creating more products and profits with less time, materials, energy and manufacturing footprint—it’s possible to empower your workforce to do more and grow your business over the long term.

There are several key areas of focus at the beginning of the transition to on-demand manufacturing:

• Rely on a digitized end-to-end workflow. B2B and B2C companies are striving to change their production models, and you can meet customers wherever they are — adapting to demands and capitalizing on opportunities as they arise.

• Create smaller operations and reduce inventory to zero to maximize profit margins. This goes together with onshoring and nearshoring. A recent study by McKinsey & Co. before the Covid pandemic indicates a shift towards near-shore manufacturing to align with demand-driven apparel value chains. You can eliminate significant logistics, risk and time-to-market by establishing on-demand closer to consumers.

• Manage resources and expectations accordingly. Companies want to expand operations and add on-demand production to traditional methods to optimize medium and longer production runs. On-demand manufacturing enables a focus on customization and personalization for short and medium runs and other long-tail products and applications. One-step digital systems for offshore and short to medium mass production are becoming more common, making this possible.

When choosing an on-demand solution, it is important to identify the customer and ensure that you have invested in technology that meets the requirements quickly, efficiently, consistently, without sacrificing quality or design capabilities. Consider upcoming market disruptions and plan for the versatility and agility that may be needed to mitigate risks or capitalize on new opportunities.

We will continue to see significant transformations in how brands and designers interact with the market. Creators, designers and consumers demand personalization, customization and sustainability. On-demand production fulfills the promise of the digital marketplace and delivers a better world where we can all connect, design and express our identities – one impression at a time.

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