What IS Collaborative Production?
Collaborative Production is a term we often use at SupplyCompass for several reasons.
Although brands and manufacturers already *kinda* do collaborate on the production process, the process is often fraught with frustrating, inefficient workflows, miscommunication, confusion and a lack of trust and respect.
The status quo is clearly not working for many brands and their factories, with mistakes, delays, constant checking and unpredictability.
There’s no one silver bullet solution. Brands tend to work with more than one factory, however what’s not necessarily considered enough by fashion brands is that manufacturers also work with many other brands simultaneously. Accountability is often forced on the already stressed manufacturers.
We believe Collaborative Production is the best way to describe a mode of working that goes far beyond the traditional model, by stressing on communication and workflows that produce the most efficient, sustainable results for everyone involved.
Through a common system, language, process and experience, Collaborative Production builds transparency, speed, agility, resiliency and ultimately, relationships amongst groups that are often across time zones, geographies and cultures.
With the rise of DTC, limited drops instead of seasons and shorter production cycles, the importance of embedding a process that works for both you and the people making the clothes you sell has never been higher.
Brands who are already doing this are simply winning—examples of brands doing it at scale are Patagonia, Reformation and Allbirds. And in the SME space, brands are working as one with their factories like Tonlé, and denim brands like Outerknown and Hiut.
At SupplyCompass, Collaborative Production involves:
🕸 Structured workflows: From creating tech packs, cost negotiations to requesting and approving samples, structure helps reduce time in organization, ties everything together, and provides visibility for both parties. With structure in place, it is also easier to place orders, maintain clear timetables and keep track of expected and anticipated dates of different stages the order is at in the production process.
❤️ Accurate data at the heart: With accurate data available at the right time and in the right amount, there is no scope for misinformation or miscommunication. Each side is empowered to understand the impact of their work and make the right decisions and the division of responsibility becomes clear.
💰 Better, fairer buying practices: Communication over every detail, less frequent changes and orders and approvals on time, leads to adequate lead times, making it easier for manufacturers to manage production and pay their garment workers fairly. Accurate product information in tech packs also reduces sample and production costs, delays and overtime.
🎯 Shared goals and accountability: Both brands and manufacturers decide on goals together based on mutual interests and shared mindsets. Both have an equal share of accountability and risk, instead of the previous system where manufacturers absorbed most of it.
🤝 Synergetic systems: With a common language, process and experience + adequate feedback policies, brands and manufacturers understand each other better and share knowledge and feedback openly, creating mutual trust and respect and solidifying true partnerships. Ultimately, value is created and shared equally.
And what’s it got to do with sustainability?
If you need your brand to get on the sustainability journey, your manufacturers and suppliers need to be willing co-passengers. And more often than not, they are great at giving directions.
But without common systems, ease of information sharing, mutual interest and accountability, sustainability goals just simply cannot be reached. The smallest of errors in communication can lead to huge errors not detected until too late.
And without adequate data on your processes, say how many samples you’ve ordered, it’s just not possible to truly gauge the full impact of your work.
Plus, sustainability is more than just switching to organic cotton. It’s also about ensuring the people involved in making your clothes, further down the value chain, do not have to take on undue risk and burdens, are provided acceptable conditions to do work in, and are accorded the respect they deserve, just like any other business you transact with. (Hot tip: When your manufacturers decide they definitely like you, they’re usually motivated to go the extra mile and make stuff happen when really needed)
Magic happens when you see your manufacturers as partners, people who work with you instead of for you. And the best way to do that is to use a common, shared system that works for both of you.