Does the future of sportswear manufacturing revolve around consumer customisation?

Bespoke products are traditionally the most costly for both consumers and manufacturers. For the latter, the tooling costs and man hours that have to be poured into a one-off project mean the final price to the customer can ultimately become bloated.

However, more people than ever before are looking to person​alise everything from electronics to clothing. The burden falls on manufacturers to find ways to offer increased levels of customisation, while keeping overall costs for all stakeholders down. This is no mean feat.

Changing production processes

Sportswear producers are leading the way in this regard. One of the biggest, Adidas, is making moves to revamp its production processes with the aim of offering even the average consumer a level of exclusivity in their purchases.

This means that a number of its factories will need to be updated – many of which are across Asia Pacific. In fact, over two-thirds (67 per cent) of the company's facilities are based in the region, with China, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia and Japan all home to a number of production lines.

Adidas has its roots in Europe, where the company was established in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, it has grown into one of the biggest manufacturers of sporting goods across the world.

The company's rapid expansion had globalisation at its core, and it now has a diverse portfolio of research and production centres – including those in Asia Pacific. 

Modernising to meet demand

Adidas is now making moves to appeal to more customers by twinning customisation with more fashion-orientated offerings.

​In regards to location, this could mean building more factories in Europe and modern​ising the existing ones around the world. The lead time for shipping products from the factories in Asia back to the company's home continent is around six weeks.

Growing market demand means that time needs to be saved. Adidas Chief Executive Herbert Hainer explained that the brand will do all it can to "bring production back to where the main markets are," while also going on to add that "[robotic production lines] can be anywhere," as reported by Reuters.

The company is confident it can improve processes in efforts to make its products more appealing to consumers. The core of its strategic business plan is based around devising innovative products and increasing the desirability of its offerings.

"Only what is new is relevant to the consumer. Therefore, we have to relentlessly focus on 'creating the new' for our consumers. And we have to constantly re-invent ourselves as an organisation to lead the change in our industry," Mr Hainer explained in a March 26 press release.

With the increases in production and streamlined manufacturing processes, Adidas is predicting that if it can indeed offer the level of customisation consumers desire, then the company's income could grow by as much as 15 per cent by the end of the decade.

Rivalry in the sector

Adidas isn't alone in trying to better its manufacturing efforts in the sportswear sector. Long-term sparring partner Nike has also recently made moves to stay ahead. At present, the company has 785 factories across the globe, which provide more than a million jobs – many of which are in the Asia Pacific.

Nike has also identified that the changing expectations are a key challenge on its supply change, with consumers not only seeking out the latest and best products, but wanting them more quickly too.

One way the company is doing this is being more progressive in its research and development practices. While many apparel companies are happy to go through the motions and use the tried and tested production techniques, Nike are trying to do things differently.

Industrial manufacturing and sportswear

A project that highlights this is the Nike Zvezdochka. While the name may be a mouthful, the unique footwear is out of this world – as much of the design inspiration came from the needs of astronauts in zero gravity environments.

Originally released over a decade ago, the shoe has been retooled and found its way back onto shelves in late 2014. 

"Often when you enter into a project, you don't know what you've learned until you start the next one. For the Zvezdochka, we knew we had broken new ground," explained Mark Parker, President and CEO of Nike.

The reason Mr Parker is so glowing in his assessment is that the footwear was produced using unique processes. Rather than rely on being stitched together like many sportswear items, it is the first product of its kind to be industrially designed and manufactured, with much of the outer part of the shoe injection moulded.

Going forward, this could open up new avenues for sportswear manufacturers. As customers demand customisable items, industrial manufacturing processes can not only deliver more quickly, they also hold the ability to produce new and innovative designs more regularly too.

Designing or manufacturing in Asia Pacific? Contact us at SOLIDWORKS to see how we can help inspire engineering innovation and improve every aspect of your product development.