Technology - the role of the technologist in the clothing retail buying team:
Technical Teams consist broadly of the fabric and garment technologists. Fabric technologists are highly trained specialists who focus on typically woven or knitted disciplines. Specialised products such as knitwear, tailoring and footwear require added knowledge of components and specific production machinery.
A major portion of the fabric technologist’s task is the development and innovation of new fabrics and the enhancement of existing products. New fibres and blends of fibres such as the blending of natural and synthetic fibres, addition of chemicals to finishing process will possibly lead to new inventions and improvements such as better washability, softer handles, easy care properties such as easy to iron, crease resistant finishes, rot resistant applications, seamless or seams that are glued that allow for smoother looks particularly for under garments, the evolvement of elastane products such as lycra which revolutionised active and casual wear and the enhancement of thermal properties of winter undergarments. The success of such developments which will add to the profitability as well as the form and function necessitates a close working relationship with suppliers, mills and value adders.
Garment technology have the responsibility to ensure that the make-up of the garment meets the set down criteria and the componentry such as buttons, interlinings and threads are of the standard that is functional and are not inferior. All factories have specified technological capability which has been built around the production of a particular category of garments which vary from factory to factory or even within the same plant. The garment technologist must understand this implicitly and exploit it to its fullest. The relationship with the commercial team is sometimes strained as the ideal level of form and function can be challenged by the need to market the product at the most commercially competitive price.
The objective of the garment technologist is to ensure that quality is not compromised. The tasks that are involved in achieving this can be varied such as the assessment of new or potential manufacturers and fabric mills to ensure that the established standards are met, the specification of raw materials, the overseeing of sampling stages and ensuring that any delays that may result through the process do not compromise the delivery prerequisites. Consequently a close functioning relationship with the merchandising and buying team members must be in place.
In ensuring that the all quality standards are met particularly through the inspection of garments, inspectors need to possess specific skills. They need to be ethical, sincere and honest, open mindedly being willing to consider alternatives, diplomatic and tactful in their dealings with people, should be able to actively observe their surroundings as well as perceive and adapt to varying situations.
The technologist has an intimate knowledge of the supplier base through historical knowledge as well as from continually researching new and existing suppliers. As the sourcing specialist they have to guide buying teams in the selection of the most appropriate manufacturer for the various types of product. It is also very essential that they are aware of the fabric prominence for the forthcoming season as dictated by the strategies and budget levels to ensure that there is sufficient capacities at the relevant mills to meet the overall demands without compromising quality. The task of assessing potentially new suppliers is a role that may be included in the stable of the technical team or it may be hived off to defined sourcing specialists who are knowledgeable team members that know the strengths and weaknesses of suppliers and based on this where best to place orders accordingly.
Suppliers are assessed on various criteria such as their management infrastructure, financial stability, specialised equipment availability, fabric specialty, levels of innovation, fashion or basic production orientated, the other retailers they serve, flexibility of cost negotiability and social responsibility policies. Other external factors that may well influence the selection of suppliers could be those like prevailing exchange rates, remuneration policies and physical locality.
The significance must be emphasised that the diverse buying teams all have to have a clear informed understanding of each other’s roles and priorities and that they are aligned to ensure all their tasks are integrated to achieve the goal of delivering consistent quality products manufactured by appropriately skilled suppliers on time all the time. This is especially imperative in the case of more complex products such as corsetry, tailored garments and knitwear.
The handling, packaging, storage and movement of the product through the supply channels has to be done in such a way that the quality of the product is not allowed to deteriorate in any way whatsoever. As some product is sourced from more distant locations a newer trend is to contract the technical function out to approved independent technical service providers or to trusted garment and fabric suppliers themselves who understand and are committed to the standards required. These service providers are thereby able to approve samples, perform quality control and be responsible for the eventual release of the finished product.