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On demand production excites Ralph Lauren

Growing pressure on reducing waste and the increased appetite for customised products will see on demand production play a much greater role in the retail industry… View Article

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

On demand production excites Ralph Lauren

Growing pressure on reducing waste and the increased appetite for customised products will see on demand production play a much greater role in the retail industry in the future.

By Glynn Davis in New York

Speaking at Retail’s Big Show, organised by the NRF in New York City, Jason Berns, SVP of product and manufacturing innovation at Ralph Lauren, suggested retailers needed to be “bold and experiment” with exploring on demand production both for bulk ordering of regular products and also for producing customised items for individuals.

“The first is to ensure you don’t over-order while the second is for personal products,” he says, adding that at Ralph Lauren the increasing use of technology for on demand production is simply an extension of its long-standing offering of made-to-measure garments.

The customisation of products particularly excites Berns because there is high level of profitability and also zero waste. “When you make [an item] for one person it can really drive up the margins. It’s also experiential and helps drive value in a new way. We’ve done store activations [for customisation] and certain stores have had digital screens for the configuration of the item so we know it’s also a great experience for online retail,” he says.

The challenge involved in scaling-up on demand production is inside the factories, which are geared up for producing large orders. Berns suggests the industry needs a revolution involving a re-invention of the business model: “Brands and technology providers need to work out how to do it. Capacity management is hard to do so I can see factories servicing [on demand] for multiple brands.”

Such moves need manufacturers who recognise the potential “size of the prize” – the addressable market – and understand that they will clearly be able to charge the brands much higher prices for on demand production.

Although Berns acknowledges that there will always be a place for mass production, he regards on demand as having an important role to play in the future of the retail industry. “For a certain amount of production it will have a place. It helps with sizing and colours because it’s tough to have all the sizes and colour combinations available without it leading to some waste. On demand is leading us to be more sustainable,” he explains.

Another upside that Ralph Lauren found from its on demand activities is that it can provide valuable learnings. Some of the customisation elements chosen frequently by customers have actually been fed into the main production. Likewise, components they have preferred not to include have been removed from the bulk produced item.

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