6 Powerful Ways Apparel Makers can gain from Digital Social Media.

 

I have been hooked on to the digital and social media for quite some time now. Given my past decade of work-experience in the apparel sourcing and manufacturing sector, it was natural for me to start thinking about how companies can utilize social media in productive and beneficial ways. So Here goes my take on 6 powerful ways Apparel Makers can gain from Digital Social Media.

So I started with doing some research on the level of adoption and application of digital and social media platforms already existing in the Industry. To my disappointment, I found hardly any shining stars who have used digital and social platforms. The only example which cropped up was of Esquel which actually started using Microsoft Yammer to collaborate and communicate internally as an organization better in 2014. The company’s webpage has social media links which takes you to a dedicated youtube channel of slick and professional videos showcasing company’s capabilities and culture, as well as a Facebook page which updates you about the latest that Esquel wants to talk about.  The other example which I found was Brandix in Sri Lanka which has some social links and a Brandix Facebook page which is active and updated and so did Orient Craft’s Facebook page.. Other big names do have good looking websites but no active and interactive engagement using digital social media platforms.

Why is apparel manufacturing industry so slow to adopting to digital and social media? I reckon the business is coming in as usual and the bosses are too busy running their factories. Productivity on assembly lines and cash flow concerns might be the bigger priority items than social media engagement.

I have spent enough time in the Industry to know that we cannot afford to stay away from the wave of change and innovation that is sweeping the rest of the world, in our isolated little cocoons. Apparel Industry must embrace new technology and newer ways of communication and employee engagement and culture building using digital and social media platform.  With that intention, I build a case for a faster adoption rate of digital by the apparel manufacturers even though they are not part of the B2C landscape and are operating in the B2B space.

Here are the ways in which I believe apparel companies can adopt digital and use it effectively in beneficial ways –

1.      Stand out from the crowd

Strong Social Media Presence can help apparel manufacturers to actually stand out from the crowd and build strong reputation and credibility. Especially with the biggest fashion brands focusing big time on sustainability and transparency in supply chain, the apparel suppliers can truly showcase their efforts towards being compliant, sustainable and compassionate clothing manufacturer. In this highly competitive industry, where one Rana Plaza incident can get painted across the globe in no time and impact not only a company’s reputation but shake up a whole industry to enter debates on weighty ethical matters! Imagine, what impact an apparel manufacturer can create by having a strong social media presence in terms of building reputation as an ethical source.

2.      Share the expertise

Apparel Manufacturers are powerhouses of vast and deep knowledgebase on issues related to apparel making. One of the biggest pain points of garment suppliers has been to get crazy and unreasonable requests from their buyers. This often results from the fact that the designers and sourcing teams at the buyer’s end are not so well versed with what goes on the production floor. Here in comes the role of apparel manufacturers to become active participants in educating their customers and the world at large, about what it really takes to make the garments. Social Media and Digital Platform can serve as the perfect place for garment factories to become powerful influencers.  Not only will you be able to get more reasonable and production friendly tech packs from your customers, but you may also end up getting higher prices! Imagine a supplier who writes a blog about ’10 Tricks of creating tech packs that can help you cut the garment cost and hit profit margin goals.’ Which buyer would not like to do business with such an expert and authority?

3.      Build a strong collaborative culture using Social Media

Most of the apparel manufacturers have multiple factories at separate locations with hundreds of employees. An active and dedicated social media platform like Facebook at Work can be a powerful tool to not only collaborate and share information across various departments and locations but it can also help to foster a strong culture of shared values and ethics. Esquel’s example is a case in point.

As Esquel’s CFO Wilkie Wong rightly says, “As people posted questions, answers and ideas, Yammer became an important internal communication tool. We use it for everything from morale boosting to problem solving.” To invest in systems and processes is easy. The hard part is to find ones that help build a culture. Social platforms geared for intra organizational use can serve as strong employee engagement, shared information, collaboration tools. Imagine a new employee who joins a company who posts something interesting on company’s Facebook at work platform, and he gets an appreciative comment from the CEO of a company! Such morale boosts will most definitely create engaged and motivated workforce.

I remember from my own experiences of conducting workshop at a garment factory, a story which is worth mentioning. One of the participants in the workshop, a merchandiser shared a problem he was facing at his work. Another merchandiser from the same organization, but whose work location was at another factory of the same parent company, quickly came up with the solution to that problem which they had successfully employed at their factory. This mutual sharing was possible because employees from three different production units had come together in one physical space for the first time, due to the training workshop organized for all. Now the problem and the solution was sitting within the organization, only there was no medium or platform available to share it across until then. Imagine what a shared virtual space can do to empower mutual sharing and learning across the entire organization?

4.      Communication – fast, easy and in real time!

Apparel manufacturers can easily look at cutting down their phone bills! Thanks to this new social platform and the rich media tools -audio, video, live streaming, chat et al, it provides, people can communicate and share information in a quick and safe manner. Imagine a Boss who wants to know the status update of an order which is currently facing some kind of a crisis. He would have to wait for a status report which would be sent via email and so on. Now using social media platform, an employee at the production floor can simply do a video live streaming within your organization and the owner can actually see the problem and status in live mode and contribute to it even though he was traveling to someplace else. He can even share the live streaming of the current issue with the other important stake holders or internal experts to enlist their advice on how to deal with the crisis in real time!! This is live collaboration and problem solving at its best. Emails can become fewer and fewer in the new age of digital communication and collaboration! All this in a safe and secure environment with proper backup and archiving on someone else’s servers!

5.      Live fitting Sessions Using Digital Social Media

Maybe this is a bit farfetched! But how can an industry advance if not for a few forward looking dreamers. One of the most time consuming activities in the apparel order cycle is the garment sample approval. During my active days as merchandiser back in 2008-9, we used to cater for at least 10-15 days to complete one fit sample cycle- from getting the tech pack from buyer – making of the sample – courier time to buying office – sample review at buying office – courier time to Buyer’s in the US or Europe – sample review by buyers – comments received from the customer. One cycle. And typically one could go up to 2-3 such fit cycles before a final approval was sealed to everybody’s satisfaction.  This was back then. Now am sure things have improved a bit. But imagine having a live fitting session which is being viewed by factory patternmaker, sampling in charge, merchandisers, buying office merchandiser and the buyers technical team – all at the same time!! No room for any confusions or miscommunications related to how the garment was measured, how it was reviewed, no more misinterpretation of comments, and if something is not agreeable or acceptable to achieve on the sample in bulk production, a discussion can ensue in real time and matter closed there and then! No going back and forth on email and wasting time.

Companies like Tukatech are offering real time high tech solutions at affordable rates, the latest one being TUKAcad and TUKA3D 2016 thanks to cloud! Digital Media Platforms can only be enablers in adopting and using such time saving technologies, which are now as affordable as $1 per month!

6.      Establish Authority and Influence on Fashion Trends

Apparel and fashion is all about keeping your pulse on the latest fashion trends and fads, and riding the wave while it lasts! Apparel manufacturers can use digital media and social platforms in establishing their leadership and authority in being ‘in the know’ of the latest fashion trends by sharing actively on social media. Coming up with company specific ‘look books’ which a manufacturer is capable of delivering can be a powerful tool to sell and influence the buyers in making the decision to buy from you. It is like having your virtual showroom live and available 24×7! And please don’t worry about your designs being stolen or copied by others. There are no secrets in fashion industry and never have been. In our industry we don’t call it copying, we call it ‘inspiration’! The more you can inspire the more authority you hold! So go for it!

Anjuli Gopalakrishna

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