Fashion-Enter sets up Kornit manufacturing centre

Earlier this month I visited Fashion-Enter, a garment manufacturer in North London, UK, that has invested in a couple of Kornit textile printers to establish a digital micro factory.

Fashion-Enter’s garment manufacturing factory.

I’ve long argued that multiple micro factories that can be located close to demand make more sense in the modern manufacturing environment than expecting a single large plant to serve customers across different regions. The widespread use of e-commerce platforms means that brands can connect directly with customers, and digital production makes it possible to distribute production files complete with personalisation to the nearest manufacturing point. Finally, local fulfilment can deliver products direct to the customer quickly and with far less environmental problems than shipping products halfway around the world. The pandemic and its impact on global supply chains has only served to underline this. 

This applies to all forms of digital manufacturing, from printing books and labels through to 3D-printing components and sub-assemblies for other industries. Digital production offers an added advantage when it comes to textiles because inkjet printing is far more sustainable than conventional production, which consumes and pollutes enormous quantities of water. 

There’s an extra dimension when it comes to labour-intensive industries such as fashion and garment production. Most developed countries have seen brands switch production to emerging economies to take advantage of lower labour costs. But micro factories can trump this by offering faster time to market. That’s good news for more developed countries, which now talk about re-shoring jobs, though it will eventually be more of a challenge for those emerging economies. 

Nonetheless, Fashion-Enter is well-placed to take advantage of this. The company describes itself as a social enterprise and includes manufacturing and a training academy to teach people the technical skills for working in the fashion industry. The company also runs the portal that provides information, mentoring and business support for people hoping to join the fashion industry.

Fashion Enter was set up in 2006 by CEO Jenny Holloway, who started off as a buyer for Littlewoods and M&S before running her own brand for ten years followed by a consultancy business. Holloway says: “We are literally end to end, design through to grading and manufacturing.” 

Jenny Holloway, CEO of Fashion-Enter

The company currently employs 200 staff and produces up to 30,000 quality garments a week from two factories in London and Wales. Clients include ASOS, N Brown, I Saw It First and Risdon. It includes a Fashion Studio, set up in 2008, which creates first patterns, toiling, seals, grades and short run production from 1 to 300 units. The service also provides sampling without constructing patterns, such as for press samples.

Holloway says: “We tried to make sure that anything we did was ethical. We haemorrhaged money in the first few years.” She added: “We want to be a centre of excellence and ethical production. Our industry desperately needs more skilled people.”

To this end, Fashion-Enter launched the Fashion Technology Academy in 2015, which operates alongside the Factory and includes a range of qualifications at Levels 1 to 5 covering the ‘Garment life cycle’ including Stitching, Production, Pattern Cutting and Tailoring. In November 2019 Fashion-Enter launched the Tailoring Academy, a state-of-the-art clothing manufacturing and training facility that offers specialist skills, job training and apprenticeships for ready-to-wear and bespoke tailoring.

Enter Kornit

The Kornit Presto S printing at Fashion-Enter.

Fashion-Enter has recently started working with Kornit, setting up a joint FashTech Innovation Centre in a room next to its conventional production to offer both manufacturing and training. There are two printing lines. One is based around a Kornit Atlas Max Direct-to-Garment printer, complemented by a tunnel dryer, which mainly prints t-shirts. The other uses a Kornit Presto S roll-to-roll fabric printer, which can print out a range of designs, and is combined with a Zund cutter to automatically cut them out.  For software, the Presto runs on a Caldera RIP. The company also uses Galaxius, which allows garments to be tracked throughout the manufacturing process and Optitex, for digital garment design  as well as the Kornit X fulfilment platform.

Holloway says that the technology from Kornit “actually blew me away”, adding: “We couldn’t find a better organisation than Kornit. The machinery and the people, the ethics. They are changing the industry.”

Ronen Samuel, CEO of Kornit, also spoke at the launch event. He pointed out that textile production is “the second most polluting industry after oil” adding: “Twenty percent of the global water problem comes from this industry.” He went on to say that 30 percent of all production is never sold, which creates huge amounts of waste, adding that this is not sustainable. Later he predicted: “Sustainability is going to be much stronger. It’s something we have to change.” He went on to say: “The way to overcome it is to move to on-demand production in a sustainable way.”

Ronen Samuel, CEO of Kornit.

To underline this point, Samuel said: “The supply chain doesn’t fit today’s needs. Today, the e-commerce is a reflection of the existing channels.” He points out that many brands still promote themselves through magazines but that the younger generation that those brands want to reach have grown up using digital devices, adding: “Social media has changed the equation. It’s no longer the brands telling people what to wear but the people telling the brands what they want to wear.”

He continued: “We are unleashing the creative wave of the supply chain because if you are not bound to the idea of what the consumer might buy then you can create any type of product. So unleashing creativity is very important.”

He went on to talk about the benefits of on-demand production, namely that the customer has already paid for the product before it’s even produced, which is good for the garment manufacturers’ cash flow, and reduces associated waste. 

He notes that it also gives retailers more flexibility: “You don’t have to carry lots of stock, just order what you want day by day. The trends are changing not by the season but by the hour and minute.” (Yikes, if the trends really change that quickly then nothing would ever be in fashion because it does take some time to establish any given fashion.)

Samuel said: “We see ourselves playing a big role in the metaverse. People will wear their avatars. They are going to take it to Facebook, games and so on. Our role is to connect the physical and the virtual world.” Interestingly, he also said: “We are looking at NFTs – how can we connect a physical garment to a virtual NFT – so that you know that this shirt you wear is unique.”

The digital argument

British garment manufacturers have found it hard to compete in volume against Asian manufacturers, where the labour costs are much lower. But it takes 14 weeks to ship products from Asia to the UK – longer at the moment because of the supply crisis. This gives the British manufacturers an advantage in being able to respond much faster to the rapidly changing fashion market, allowing products to be sold at full prices without having to drop prices to shift stock as seasons change and some items go out of fashion.

Caroline Ash, production director for Fashion-Enter, explained the economic side of the argument: “Buyers buy on the buy-in margin. So we are more expensive than Asia but we are quicker. So the exit margin is really important. It’s not what you think you might get but what you actually get after any discounting. So the buying-in price is always going to be more expensive in the UK.”

Caroline Ash, production director for Fashion-Enter

Using digital printing can change this equation because customers are ordering products at their full price for immediate delivery. There’s no need to anticipate what customers might order, or to store those garments in warehouses or to discount if they fall out of fashion. The difficulty for Fashion-Enter will be how to compete against near-shoring operations – companies that have also bought digital printers to move production from the Far East nearer to home, to countries such as Romania or Turkey, and where labour costs are still lower than in Western Europe. 

But in the meantime, Fashion-Enter is in the forefront when it comes to using digital printing to expand its existing manufacturing. Holloway concludes: “The beauty of having print on demand means there are no minimums, so we can make one garment, or we can make up to 30,000 garments a week from all locations at the same fixed cost. Here, we can also train future generations on the right way of producing garments for today, responsive to demand, with minimal waste—ethical and sustainable. This is the future of fashion and textiles.”

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