Against the background of new technologies, global markets and developments in consumer behaviour, changes are taking place in the clothing business that no-one operating in the sector can afford to ignore.

Competitive advantage through co-makership.
The clothing business is currently engaged in a process of rapid change, driven by the globalisation of markets on the one hand and the application of information and communication technology (ICT) to strategic business information systems and quality control on the other. Global clothing businesses are responding to these developments by looking for co-operation with like-minded suppliers. So, while there is increasing emphasis on quality, the value of strategic alliances is growing. At ISC we are keen to establish such a strategic alliance, with the focus on co-makership.

Mutual advantage
In a situation in which a store group purchases garments from clothing manufacturers all over the world (that in turn source haberdashery and other items from a wide variety of suppliers), it is extremely difficult to maintain a reliable grip on quality. However, once the store group has established global agreements with suppliers on issues such as specifications, quality, volumes, rates, regulations and monitoring, it can then be confident that orders placed to manufacturers will meet its requirements. The result: the store group gets a grip on the garment supply process as a whole. Let's see what this means in practice for the store group organisation.

The implications for purchasing
The demands of today's customers can only be met when global purchasing is backed up with state-of-the-art information technology. In these circumstances, a strategic alliance with a global supplier can lead to significant economies of scale, while clear co-makership agreements create an immediate advantage when calculating volumes and prices. The advantages of establishing and controlling links to suppliers of component parts are already well established in a number of industries. Automotive and aircraft manufacturers, for instance, ensure that the supply of parts for the components they use meets stringent, universal standards in terms of quality and price. In the food industry, manufacturers of containers and packaging also have to comply with standards set by the store groups with their key suppliers. Our co-makership model has been designed for the suppliers of shoulderpads that clothing manufacturers use to make garments for sale in your stores, but the logic applies equally to other suppliers. As a specialist in our particular product area, we also offer support in the fields of design, logistics and quality control.

The implications for designers
Co-makership gives your designers the opportunity to bring their ideas about fabrics, colours and textures to garment component suppliers like us, who can then act as partners in developing new products. If required, we can also provide information from our international network about fashion trends. And, as a specialist in our field, we offer quality leverage, i.e. the right price/quality combination, harmonising the lifetime of all components in each product or label.

The implications for logistics
As far as physical distribution is concerned, we are willing to share the benefits of our information systems. We deliver globally according to the Just-in-Time principle (the right quantities as and when they are needed), so that production is not held up, but there is also no need to tie up capital in stocks. Our advanced tracking systems provide the means to keep a close eye on the status of products in transit so that they arrive at the right time at the right place. If required, we can help establish fast, reliable communication links between your warehouses and/or stores and suppliers. We can also add useful information to the product itself such as customer-specific bar codes.

The implications for quality control
Well-designed clothing is something everyone is looking for, but, as a prominent store group, you need to be sure that the clothing you sell does not harbour hidden flaws that can damage your reputation as a quality supplier. We are convinced that setting a clear set of quality norms for suppliers is the right strategy for store groups as they approach the new millennium. We are able to guarantee uniform quality, providing you with a single contact for information about a range of qualities world-wide. You receive feedback about deliveries and reports on washing instructions, environmental aspects, etc. You also get full information on quantities and schedules and can thus cross-check deliveries. This all adds up to a guarantee of quality that you can offer to your customers, thereby minimising complaints and enhancing your reputation as a reliable supplier of quality clothing.

The results for the business
Working with partners to develop a clear set of quality norms and applying quality leverage. Combining market intelligence to create the products that customers want. Using the best available technologies to keep track of components and get them to market on time. These are just some of the potential benefits of a strategic alliance. Another vital component is maintaining your company's reputation. Quality plays an important role, but in a world in which the behaviour of businesses that operate internationally is increasingly in the spotlight, none of us can afford to be complacent about our image. In future we can expect to face even closer scrutiny from shareholders, employees, the media, and the public at large. Activities in one part of the world will determine reputation and therefore profitability in regions thousands of miles away. The companies best equipped to adapt to this new environment will be those that are able to anticipate issues, maintain open and factual communications, and present clear, credible explanations of their policies.

Next steps
Given the changes we have sketched in the world of clothing and the pace of developments in ICT, we believe that the time is now ripe to look at a strategic alliance. By working closely together, we are confident we can build a viable system tailored to your specific needs. Our prime objective is simply to allow your store group, in collaboration with clothing manufacturers and haberdashery suppliers, to get a better grip on the final product. When all's said and done, our interests are the same as yours: we both want to offer customers quality clothing that represents the very best value for money. Let's discuss the further steps required to achieve this together.