Auto Industry Efficiency Inspires Apparel Maker
Lever Shirt is using Toyota's successful production line methods to boost shirt production.
By Philip S. Blackman
Producing millions of shirts and blouses each year Lever Shirt the manufacturing power behind many of the world's top brands including Banana Republic, Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, John Varvatos, and Yves Saint Lauren. Building strong relationships with their customer is a major priority for Lever Shirt says CEO Stanley Szeto, who claims that his company holds an impressive track record for both innovation and reliability.
Fashion Technology Magazine asked him how Lever Shirt is managing to remain competitive in an industry where styles, designers, colors - and companies - come and go, sometimes overnight.
One key to their success, he explained, is Lever's ability to offer customized designs and to source materials for customers. Switching from an OEM business model to an ODM model. Lever now conducts on going research scouting the world's fashion capitals and top trade shows to anticipate what will be 'hot' in coming seasons.
Another competitive advantage is Lever Shirt's ability to shorten cycle times and deliver more styling and order size flexibility. Szeto believes that as consumers' increasingly demand more individuality, retailers need to develop ranges that are wider and shallower, fueling the need for manufacturers to be able to handle more fashionable products in smaller batches. By providing consumers with more fashion, retailers also have to stay closer to the latest trends, which in turn increase the value of short cycle times. "In order to gain the capability to be nimble we have to drastically change our work processes. We are currently implementing various cutting-edge initiatives, which cover the production process itself, as well as the critical backbone functions such as - production planning and industrial engineering," he said.
One of their strategic initiatives is their Lean Manufacturing, which is modeled after the Toyota production system. Differing from the traditional bundle "push" system, the Toyota production advocates the "pull" single piece flow system throughout the company's production process. By almost eliminating the panel's waiting time in-between operators, Lever Shirt can minimize their work-in-progress inventory, which in turn can potentially cut their cycle time from a week to a single day.
New Radio Frequency identification (RFID) implementation has allowed the company's production management to locate any work in progress inventory and identify operational bottlenecks on a real time basis and increases their response time. "We are also implementing GSD (General Sewing Data) motion study system to support the "pull" production process and the automated capacity planning system. Currently our engineers have to precisely define the duration and type of labor and machinery requirements for each product. By the first quarter of 2006 we should have the GSD systems in place," Szeto explained.
While buyers continue to consolidate the number of suppliers they work with, thanks to their investment in technology, Lever Shirt has remained on their clients' short lists. In fact, their business continues to grow. "We have doubled in size since I joined the company in 2000," boasts Szeto.
Szeto says that Lever Shirt plans to double in size again in just 2 years, and their new plant is a key part of that plan. "At full capacity our new plant can produce 10 million shirts or blouses a year. Our new plant will be the site where we try to implement Lean Manufacturing, RFID, GSD, and other new initiatives for the future." An example of this is how Lever Shirt is investing in Kannegiesser automatic pressing machines that speed up their finishing process, as well as installing a conveying belt system to speed up their transportation of materials between floors in their new plant.
Improved developments in innovation and technology has enabled Lever Shirt to expand and adjust to an increasingly difficult industry, and to remain strong in a highly market.