As apparel production moves into new markets, brands are finding that Smart Shirts is already there with state-of-the art vertical facilities.
The tide is shifting in apparel production, however Smart Shirts is well positioned to be ahead of the sourcing curve.
The company, which as its name implies, built its reputation as a leader in manufacturing men’s woven dress shirts, currently produces 20 million woven shirts and 30 million knit shirts each year and has an annual turnover of US$710 million.
Today Smart Shirts also manufacturers products for women and children, as well as doing bottoms.
For several years Smart Shirts has been expanding its production base to include world class facilities in Vietnam, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, in addition to the company’s China production.
In 2011, Smart Shirts merged with China’s Sunrise Textile Group to form Sunrise Group. This has given Smart Shirts access to Sunrise’s powerful vertically integrated supply chain.
“We go from spinning through to weaving and garment production so we can give brands a total package,” said Liu Jianxin.
Product differentiation is a crucial part of winning at retail. Achieving this is usually easier said than done. Smart Shirts continues to invest in the design and product development part of their business producing over 3,000 tailor-made designs for customers each month using the latest CAD, 3D printing, and digital printing technologies.
“We're very customer focused and because of that, we have to constantly adapt to all different kinds of situations,” said Mr. Liu.
One of Smart Shirts' core strengths is that they can adapt and service customers dependent upon each customer’s specific needs. Instead of providing a standard service for everyone, Smart Shirts understands what the customer wants and then works to provide a very customized service just for them.
“This takes a lot more work and a lot more forethought. No two customers are the same. We need to work with each in a different way,” said Mr. Liu.
Some customers want Smart Shirts to manage their entire design process, from concept to color palettes, others only want help renewing collections and taking them forward.
Others have a very strong DNA and want Smart Shirts to do everything for them.
Managing these customer relationships is as much an art as a science. It comes down to intuitively knowing what that customer wants and being able to work with them through the entire process.
“The biggest challenge is that we have to constantly provide more service and better quality, but not at a higher price,” said Mr. Liu.
“Buyers want the right things at the right prices, at the right time.
“They want more specific things, they want more sophisticated things. And they want more complex things.
“For example, we now have a digital printer so that we can do more complex prints on wovens. We’re always looking to add more value and to stay ahead of the technology.
“We’ve added automation to our factories that can do certain tasks. So rather than having a sewer now, you have a technician. So where you might have had 50 people on the sewing floor in the past, now you only have five.
“This is one way that we manage to build both profitability and productivity,” he said.
Smart Shirts backs up its creativity and manufacturing excellence with an ongoing effort to meet the highest sustainability standards.
“We are a ‘Green’ factory that is ZHDC, GOTS, and GRS certified. We use recycled fibers, organic fibers and others. US cotton is part of our effort to be more sustainable,” explained Mr. Liu. “Brands want sustainability so we are targeting to be more sustainable.”
“The standards that US cotton meets make it some of the most sustainably grown cotton in the world. It also has very little contamination and the fibers are longer so we can make higher yarn count products with it,” he added. “Right now, there is a big demand for finer yarn count products.”
Function Adds Value
The most in-demand finish that buyers are requesting are wrinkle-free shirts, according to Mr. Liu.
“We’re also doing a lot more functional finishes on cotton. Cotton Council International has introduced a lot of new developments here such stain resistant, odor-resistant, water repellent, and others. These performance finishes help to add value to apparel, which is very important in a competitive market,” he added.