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How Chinese digitisation is changing the apparel manufacturing game

By Regina Henkel



Technologically, manufacturing has advanced rapidly in China over the last few years. The country has said goodbye to low-cost production and is now betting on high-tech. This development is desired, politically, and funded by the state with large sums of money. Javier Garcia, president Asia Pacific of French fashion technology company Lectra, talks about the trends of the Chinese market and its big potential for technological innovations.

Mr. Garcia, China has been pushing digitisation for companies in a speedy fashion. In your opinion, what are the success factors?

Just a few years ago, China was a low-wage country that used low labour costs and an abundant labour force as the pillars of its economic strategy. This has changed drastically over the last five to ten years, with the cost of labour rising here as well and a shortage of labour. Today, the Chinese manufacturing industry is banking on digitisation and high-tech solutions in many areas, for example in the fashion and garment industry, the furniture industry and the automotive industry.

With the "Made in China 2025" initiative, other development schemes and financial incentives, the Chinese government is expediting the industry’s modernisation and thus the degree of automation and digitisation of manufacturing processes. The development of the automotive market behaved somewhat differently, since it is quite new in China. Most automobile factories were built only in the last few years, and thus directly devised as technologically high-capacity production plants. Thus, there are no problem sites as far as non-digital or non-automated solutions are concerned.

What are the market conditions like in China?

The way of thinking and the mentality of customers in China is very different compared to what we know from other countries. There is a huge market potential in the areas in which Lectra operates since most companies are looking for the best new technologies and solutions. They are constantly striving to improve their processes and are not afraid of new technologies. This means many opportunities for companies like Lectra and with our experience and innovations, we can bring about changes in the industry and influence it.

How do the needs of companies and managers in China differ from those of customers, for example, in Europe or America?

The main difference is speed. One can say that Chinese managers decide about ten times faster than managers in North America or Europe. The whole thing is being sped up by the government with its strong focus on digital transformation. Let me give you an example: Lectra introduced a new solution for the laser cutting of airbags, FocusQuantum, a few years ago. While companies in North America and Western Europe validate products for one year or more, a Chinese company has already decided to buy before the official market launch.

What trends do you see in China in the different industries?

The degree of automation and digitisation of the Chinese fashion and garment industry has increased dramatically in recent years. Not only the top companies but the bulk of the market operate in a highly technological environment here. It's exciting to watch how fast the market and thus the demand changes in China. Today, solutions for high volumes are no longer the most commonly sold systems but technologies for managing personalised and customised products to manufacture tailormade, high-end apparel.

Compared to the clothing and automotive industries, the furniture industry was the slowest when integrating digital technologies into the manufacturing process. Here we can see at the moment, apart from a growth potential for digital cutting, great interest in digitised product development processes, as customisation is finding its way into the manufacturing of furniture as well. In addition, companies invest in processes for better design and higher quality materials, as that plays an increasingly important role for customers.

How do you see the future development of digitisation in China?

We can expect it to accelerate further. We are just talking about the industrial development, but also when it comes to consumers, China is already the most digitised country in the world. China has a huge market and a government that is pushing digitisation by all means. Thus, the course for China as a new high-tech power is clearly set.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited DE; edited and translated by Simone Preuss.

Photo: Lectra