How Make Restyled a Textile Printer into a Roaring Apparel Firm
One of the most exhilarating aspects of today's fashion industry is the vast number of alternatives available to everyone. There’s fashion for every pocket, body, occupation, climate, and even worldview.
Turn to fashion automation, and options narrow down significantly.
Most of the stories around this topic are focused on manufacturing innovations, or else on what the future of fashion may look like after production lines get automated.
These are necessary takes, but let’s face it: They lack practical value for the thousands of businesses who operate in the most populated area of the fashion world - retail.
Fortunately, there’s more to fashion automation than automated sewing machines and dystopian futures.
In this case study, we will show you how automation helped transform a textile printing company into a diversified apparel business that minds about the long-term sustainability of the industry.
This is the story of Wildner, and their one-way journey to workflow automation.
A B2B2C fashion company
Founded in 2010, Wildner GmbH serves several fashion verticals through its brands. These include:
Wildner provides on-demand textile printing services through Wild Printing, and apparel items through its two other brands.
In the words of Ben Wildner, the company’s founder:
We have been printing on garments for over 11 years now. We provide good quality, fast delivery and it is insanely easy to work with us. It’s important to emphasize what we sell. Organic cotton, and fair conditions for all employees involved in the process of production. We want to do our part in making the world a little, or massively better.
A diversified business operating on solid fundamentals and sustainable practices: In the cutthroat industry that fashion is, these are key elements to thrive.
And yet, Wildner was barely surviving as a company.
So, what changed?
Better processes: The ultimate margin improvement strategy
The biggest problems Wildner was facing were related to processes and workflows.
Demand for the company’s products and services was on the rise, but lengthy, cumbersome processes were stalling growth and eating the margins away.
For example, one of the main challenges was to increase the output of textile printing stations. Before automation, printer operators received a paper that looked like this:
With this paper in hand, they had to search within the document management system for the corresponding printing files, which were often scattered around and poorly named (think “freehugstosavetheworld.png”).
This process was a huge waste of time, and made it hard to train new employees. As a result, the production output hovered around 15 to 18 t-shirts an hour per printing station, on average.
After careful consideration, Ben Wildner took the problem in his own hands, and started to tinker with Make to crack it.
The first key improvement was to take the file search tasks away from employees. To achieve this, he replaced item lists with QR codes.
The switch proved effective. Nowadays, all employees have to do to initiate the printing process is scan a QR code, and Make takes care of the rest by:
Searching and fetching the right printing files
Collecting output data and updating the databases
These tasks used to take several minutes to be completed; now, it demands just a few seconds.
Results were immediate: At certain printing stations, output increased by a staggering 190% per hour.
Common mistakes, such as choosing (and subsequently printing) wrong files were reduced to nearly zero.
And most importantly, faster production resulted in better fulfillment times, which naturally translated into happier customers.
Haute automation for fashion retailers
At this point, Wildner was more than ready to further automate more key processes. The focus was set on the most time-consuming tasks, such as:
Soon enough, new Make scenarios were rolled out to automate the full cycle - from orders to fulfillment and reporting.
Let’s take a quick look at the most significant changes.
It all starts with a simple scenario, which automatically retrieves orders from Shopify and lines them up in Airtable.
With the data neatly organized in Airtable, a seconds scenario takes care of creating the production papers for the printing stations.
After the items are produced, Airtable records are automatically updated, giving way to the next process - shipping labels.
Using the scenario below, Make generates shipping labels for locations across the European Union.
Then, this little monster handles the fulfillment at the company’s online shops and marketplaces.
To close the circle, a final scenario collects key data (how many orders were received the day before, and how much revenue the business generated), generates a brief report and sends it over Slack to top management.
These automated scenarios save hundreds of hours that were previously spent on searching, classifying and updating data; repetitive and resource intensive tasks that took a huge chunk of the company’s earnings.
Final thoughts: Fashion automation for retailers
The key take from this story resides in how attainable and affordable automation is for those who operate in the fashion retail sector.
Unlike manufacturers - for whom automation demands huge capital investments - retailers can start automating their companies with nothing but a few apps and some time to reflect on what to automate.
As with fashion, the beauty of automation can be found in simplicity; and this often materializes in the form of improved, effortless processes.
With that in mind, a new world of possibilities await.