by Merlin Hernandez

It is no secret that the creative impetus for New York fashion and by extension US Fashion, turns on the edgy, adventurous, risk-taking creations of young, new designers. But most of these designers do not make it past their first collection primarily due to lack of an understanding of how the production processes at their disposal affect their ability to control the factors of production for competitive advantage.

Many new designers exhaust their limited resources well before a second collection can be brought to market while elements of their designs can be seen in the collections of major fashion houses up to five years later. It is important that new designers pay attention to the necessary production processes to execute a collection. The cost and complexity of market entry requirements dictate that design elements need to factor production processes in order to execute a new collection at a price favorable to entry.

For manageability, early collections should be kept small. But even with small product variety, production still may not meet the full requirements of repetitive process flow operations that would drive economies of scale. Elements of innovative, edgy designs make for flow paths that are varied, to produce small customer orders in a labor intensive operation. Worker skills not automation determine flow, and throughput times are longer with a larger proportion of work-in-progress inventory. This more fully describes an intermittent operation or batch (job) process, more expensive to execute, ultimately with higher price points that threaten market entry potential.

The appropriateness of process flows is often determined by the structure of the production side of the industry at the designer end. Very few new designers can afford to set up their own production facilities and rely on the array of production houses servicing the trade. For obvious reasons, these houses have a preference for the large volumes of established designers, and prioritize their established clientele, or large, lucrative new contracts. Production processes follow a high volume repetitive flow that is closer to a mass production mix. The production period for each season spans only eight to ten weeks, and the smaller volumes of new design labels tend to be wedged in between major runs, and need to be completed in the shortest possible interval.

The longer throughput times and intermittent flows of small specialty collections are challenging and can result in the need to bring in additional workers for timely completion of the run. In addition, new designers tend to produce samples that are high on aesthetics with little production consideration. In commercializing the collections, efforts to re-configure the design to create a production sample for process efficiencies are often resisted. All of this translates into more man-hours and considerably higher costs that devour resources at an accelerated rate.

As a result, market entry prices often do not compete well for those who make it that far, and designers have an uphill battle to get their creations into the trade. The structure is only effective for those young designers who are prepared to make the initial compromises to get a foot in the door. Many of them work with consultants and experienced production managers who can guide
them through the maze of the industry structure.

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Merlin Hernandez is a management and entrepreneurial development consultant with extensive experience in fashion, hospitality, construction, and retail, among other areas of business. For more information on this and other topics, please send enquiries to