Ronen Samuel serves as CEO at Kornit Digitala leader in sustainable, on-demand digital fashion and textile production technologies.
Making fashion and textile production a cleaner, more responsive and responsible enterprise that unleashes creativity without limitations—all while answering the call for sustainability—is vital. Meeting that challenge means leaning into the digital transformation and producing on-demand, eliminating waste while expanding the number of products and applications we can create.
Since the dawn of the internet age, we’ve seen a sea of change in the way brands and designers interact with the marketplace and the expectations consumers place on vendors. The pandemic economy accelerated the move to online selling, and brands fell by the wayside because they lacked the agility to adapt old ways.
Creative people, whether starting a brand or merely creating for their own sakes, have more tools than ever to design, fulfill and market their inspirations. The market is increasingly driven by social media, viral moments, word of mouth and a growing ecosystem of apps unleashing creativity wherever it may be cultivated. And, perhaps most of all, there is a widespread call for more sustainable production practices; people are actively looking to be better stewards of our environment, and consumers increasingly spend according to their own values—a movement that has spawned entirely new industries devoted to responsible, eco-conscious manufacturing.
But fashion and textiles are notorious polluters, as 10% of all carbon emissions are the product of what we do just to clothe the world’s people. Estimates indicate 25% of all freshwater pollution comes from processes on textile treatment and dyeing.
The problem extends far beyond our direct carbon footprint. Addressing it brings financial incentives to match the conscientious incentives. An estimated 30% of all apparel produced is overproduction. I’ve seen stories of major brands and high fashion labels destroying inventory, writing off inventory—so much going directly to landfills or the discount rack, inevitably draining billions from the bottom line.
Under longtime outsourcing production models, you’ve had designers and consumers on one side of the planet and a complex apparatus to fulfill their demand operating on the other. I find that traditional supply chains are slow in reacting to trends, slow to replenish inventory and a poor fit for meeting the changing demands of a hyperconnected Generation Z. If you lack transparency, you can be vulnerable to disruptions and inevitably end up holding inventory that will never sell. By the time product does reach your shores, it’s already out of style or more popular in a completely different region. Never mind the waste, time and energy devoted to creating and approving samples.
Benefits Of On-Demand Production
As the CEO of a company devoted to on-demand technologies, I find the beauty of digital production is that it flips the supply-and-demand paradigm on its head. Before, you would create a supply based on projections and do your best to sell inventory. We now have push-button speed to create unlimited applications quickly, eliminating betting on what’s going to be popular.
On-demand production harnesses the immediacy and creativity of the internet age. It’s the logical evolution of a marketplace digitized, interconnected worldwide, driven by more data than we’ve ever had, and ideal to meet the industry’s economic and sustainability challenges. Digital production means creativity and self-expression no longer have a waiting period.
You also make what sells, without overstock—prioritizing resources and labor to what generates the most profit. You can customize, personalize and think outside the box to answer unforeseen demand while shrinking supply chains, eliminating complex logistics and transport waste, and using sustainable pigment-based inks and consumables, making good on the commitment to sustainability without sacrificing quality or profit margins.
Transitioning Into On-Demand
Getting the most of on-demand production means harnessing as much market data as possible—via social listening, recognizing trends and being prepared to capitalize when new opportunities emerge. Digital transformation can make a difference in long-term prospects. End-to-end digitization of your consumer and production experience offers reactivity, versatility and agility to align production with demand.
Going digital can mean a fundamental change in operations of any business accustomed to traditional analog processes. Maintaining new technologies requires a new skill set (aligning with an increasingly digital workforce). On-demand production minimizes materials waste to drive ROI and opens new sales channels and product opportunities. Creating more product and profit with less time, materials, energy and production footprint—its possible to train your workforces to do more and scale business for the long term.
Beginning the transition to on-demand production, there are several key focus areas:
• Lean into digitized, end-to-end workflow. B2B and B2C companies are looking to shift their production models, and you can meet customers wherever they are—adapting to demands and capitalizing on opportunities as they arise.
• Create leaner operations and minimize to zero inventory to maximize profit margins. This goes together with onshoring and nearshoring. A recent pre-Covid survey by McKinsey & Co. indicates a shift toward nearshore production to align with demand-focused apparel value chains. You can eliminate significant logistics, risk and time-to-market by establishing on-demand closer to consumers.
• Manage resources and expectations accordingly. Companies want to expand business and add on-demand production alongside traditional methods to optimize medium and longer production runs. On-demand production allows a focus on customization and personalization for short and medium runs and other “long tail” product and applications. Digital, single-step systems for both nearshore and short-and-medium mass production are becoming more common, which makes it possible.
When choosing on-demand solutions, it’s important to identify the customer and ensure you’ve invested in a technology that fulfills demands quickly, efficiently, consistently, without sacrificing quality or design capabilities. Consider market disruptions to come, and plan for the versatility and agility that may be required to mitigate risks or capitalize on new opportunities.
We’ll continue to see significant transformations in how brands and designers interact with the marketplace. Creators, designers and consumers demand personalization, customization and sustainability. On-demand production fulfills the promise of a digital marketplace and delivers a better world where we can all bond, design and express our identities—one impression at a time.