7 Tips to Avoid Late Shipment of Apparel Fabrics – And Avoid Related Penalties – industry fabric

Guidance for Fabric Manufacturers and Apparel ExportersLate delivery of fabric leading to air shipment of apparel export orders is a nightmare to both the fabric suppliers and the hapless apparel exporter. Supply Chain Integrity of apparel business heavily depends on the timely delivery of fabric. Still, most of the fabric and garment manufacturers face this issue every now and then, finally resulting in the buyers’ demand of shipping the merchandise by air, or worse, cancellation of the order and slapping of stiff penalty.Air shipment costs are prohibitively expensive. One air shipment can wipe out the profit of several other orders and only makes the air cargo companies richer! Sometimes the air freight cost may go as high as 40 to 50 percent of the cost of garments. Further, the relationship among all three partners in this supply chain- the fabric supplier, garment exporter and the buyer gets affected, making future business difficult. Is there any foolproof solution?After spending long years of association with the business of textiles in India & Far Eastern countries and coming across thousands of cases of late shipments and timely shipments, I could discover a more or less well defined pattern that determines whether a fabric shipment would go on-time or late.Most interestingly, the fate is decided sometimes as early as during the finalization of the order and in other cases, during progress of the order. Contrary to popular beliefs, the earlier a problem develops, the more it becomes difficult to manage the timely delivery.
Each textile fabric order passes through a lengthy and unique process in many ways. Some of those are:* Almost each order is tailor made, to the specific requirement which varies from order to order, even for the same product.* Raw material standards vary from time to time. The same process/ methods/ technical conditions may not give the same result every time.* Quality Approvals for many parameters like shades, hand-feel, surface appearance etc. may by subjective and conditional more than often.* Once inside even the most modern machines, the behavior of textiles cannot be predicted always and results may vary due to even the slightest change in the internal and external ambiance even within the same process control route.Those were just few of the challenges that can throw an order progression out of gear, finally requiring corrections and re-processing that can delay the delivery. The list is much longer and beyond the scope of this article. Yet, a few qualitative precautions can ensure minimum variations en-route, lower wastages of resources and time of both sides. Final result is timely deliveries and lowered cost. Here we go through each critical stage: 1. Fabric Order Placement – The Most Important StageMany apparel merchandisers consider fabric as one of the raw material components similar to buttons, labels, interlining etc. A factor should be considered here that the fabric is THE most important and complex component. A wrong button or thread can be changed even at a short notice of a week or so. It is very difficult to correct or replace a wrong fabric within such short notice. The fabric manufacturer on the other hand should understand the requirement with a clinical precision.In most cases, a fabric order is finalized by a field sales representative or a sales manager and the order is placed by an apparel merchandiser or a fabric purchase manager without checking the feasibility and all other requirements with the manufacturing point. That is a guaranteed passport to disaster. If everything including the delivery lead time looks feasible comfortably, then only the order should be taken by a fabric manufacturer. It is prudent to refuse orders which cannot be taken with 100% confidence because customers are not guinea pigs for experiments and fallout of badly managed orders hurt everyone. Suppliers who refuse orders they are not comfortable with are respected by buyers.Price quotations play a vital role. Traditional costing systems are dated and should only be used as a rough guideline. The pricing should also should be worked out in harmony with the market rates of a particular quality. When the volume is high or the potential is exciting, it is wiser to quote a competitive rate and minimize the cost by increased efficiency and better RFT (Right First Time) which in most cases determine the actual costs.The fabric purchasing agency/ buyer should conduct an audit of the fabric manufacturing facility based on their requirement before putting the supplier on their vendor list. Some of the important audit points are:a. Quality policy/ accreditation of the fabric manufacturing unit.
b. Testing lab, availability of required instruments like colour matching system, color dispenser, fabric pilling tester, fastness tester, strength meter, abrasion resistant meter etc. & its documentation system.
c. Pre-production sample making capability and infrastructure.
d. Sample presentation and quality of labeling.
e. ERP Management functionality.
f. Machinery and shop-floor housekeeping in general.
g. Documentation of order process flow-right from pre-order stage to finishing & packing.In general, a recognized Quality Assurance Certification like ISO 9000-2000 takes care of the above points but in some cases the system is followed more on paper than delivering actual result. A wise buyer’s audit should be able to see through the weak points and get assurance of correction. 2. Fabric Manufacturing Plan – The Next Most Critical StageAt any point of time, several orders would be running at any point of time. The PPC (Production Planning & Control) plays a crucial role. I have seen many cases where change in manufacturing plan is effected at the behest of people at the top, without considering the negative fallout of such decisions. This practice without considering the overall impact is amateurish and must be avoided. 3. Raw Material PlanThe cheapest raw material may not protect the interest of the business. Yet, in many cases, either to save cost or to make more money, the raw material quality is sacrificed, leading to low manufacturing efficiency, sub-standard output, re-processing, delays, quality complaints and finally loss to everyone, not to mention cancellation of orders or slapping of penalties by buyers. 4. Process ControlMany textile manufacturers, in an attempt to save costs, change the process control parameters without establishing quality beforehand. Result-undesirable output, leading to delay and quality claims. Textile fibres are very sensitive items and even a slight change in processing method may give vastly different results.
Also it is important to have a well maintained record of all process conditions preserved for different results performed. 5. ERP-The Navigator of BusinessA good ERP based management pays in the long run. It saves lot of time and money in avoiding costly mistakes, shipment delay, improved follow ups and has a strong documentation base.Fortunately, Indian textile manufacturers understand the importance of ERP, albeit the progress needs to be faster. 6. Internal Communication-A Stitch in Time Saves NineThe documents received from buyer for compliance with the guideline of sales process should be carefully read and followed by everyone along the process path. The fabric samples for proto-garments, for sales samples, for correlation test yardages etc. are extremely important points and the time lines are sacrosanct. Strong administration of these points by a quality team reduces chance of late deliveries. This calls for a foolproof internal communication among all concerned departments. 7. External Communication Keeps Trust and Relationship AliveThe last but not the least-an open, trustworthy exchange of communication with customers is invaluable in the business of textiles. I have seen many times, if an order goes wrong, the manufacturing side does not inform the customer-with a fear that the buyer will get upset. But in fact, such ‘silence’ actually makes the buyer more worried.In the manufacturing of textile fabrics, despite taking all precautions, things may and will go wrong sometimes. In such cases, it is wise to inform the buyer immediately and offer alternative solution.Yes, it needs a lot of courage and love for the business to be transparent with customers when some disaster happens. But at the end of the day, the integrity creates a bond of trust, which is all the most required in today’s tough business situation.