Poor working conditions. Inability to meet demand. Slow trend response. They’re all consequences of the move to low-cost manufacturing in factories many thousands miles from brands’ creative centres… until now, that is.
Fashion has finally got what the car industry has known for decades – robots can make a difference, a BIG difference.
A German factory mainly operated by robots will open next year and be ready to make its first Adidas shoes, a reversal of the trend that has seen the company shifting production to Asia where over one million workers currently make its footwear.
The Speedfactory near the Adidas HQ will make its first 500 shoes in 2016 with full commercial production by 2017. Later there’ll be Speedfactories in the US too.
The aim is to get production closer to the company’s biggest markets, to offer super-fast response to trends and to produce the more personalised shoes customers want.
But it’s not about cutting costs, we’re told. It would have been ironic if cost was a factor as it was the main reason production moved to Asia in the first place.
Asian manufacturing will stay, albeit with less of it in China where wage costs are rising. Instead this new development is more of a complement to those production locations, a new way of thinking about production and an initiative that rivals are likely to try to match.