The Toyota Model Applied to Fashion
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of efficiency? Google gives a few vocabulary definitions, but the image search shows that it is viewed differently by different people. Some think of energy efficiency, the relationship between cost and production volume, or quality ratings.
Wikipedia’s definition: efficiency is the ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money, and time in doing something or in producing a desired result.
Had you thought of efficiency being defined by waste before?
Most students taking manufacturing engineering or industrial management courses will have had to learn by heart the types of waste categorised by Toyota Chief Engineer Taiichi Ohno. He is considered the leading pioneer in terms of process improvement. According to him, waste is anything that doesn’t add any value to a product or service, and he has divided this in seven categories of waste (called muda in Japanese):
The Fashion industry tends to only speak about material waste, but there is so much more that can be improved to streamline the system, and reduce the burden that is currently suffered by the lowest tiers. Let’s look at each type one by one:
Waiting is all type of waste related to time. It can be waiting for a machine that has broken down, or delay in arrival of materials. All factories have to juggle around constantly changing styles that use a wide range of different materials. Fast fashion brands now have micro collections that come out weekly. There is a very short window of time from the moment that the designer team takes the final decision on materials and the time that the brand expects the manufacturer to have shipped the order. Too often, manufacturers need to take out loans to have a stock of materials ready to be used. All delays in machine repairs or deliveries have become their responsibility. Combined with the rush of production, there is little money or time left to invest in improvements, and too often material must be shipped by air to meet time demands.
Transporting is all type of movement of materials or people that doesn’t add value to product. Logic, of course, suggests that transportation should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible, but the fashion industry seems to be obsessed with global supply chains that span thousands of kilometres. Cotton can be produced in India, then shipped to Italy to be spun by the best denim mills, then sent back to Vietnam for cutting and sewing, and then back to a warehouse in Europe to be shipped to shops all across the continent. A standard pair of jeans could also have tags coming from paper made in Brazil, and metal buttons that have originated from mines in Central Africa but processed in China. The leather for the patch could be coming from an Argentinian cow, then tanned in France. The supply chain to make sure that all trims, fabrics, and packaging are on time to be assembled in the same facility in Vietnam will give anyone a headache.
We are only on the second type of waste, and we are sure you are already wishing that we had a reset button.
Processing waste is inherent in design, that's why designing for efficiency is a whole subject in design schools. This is centered around reducing parts, that are designed for effective assembly and disassembly, that are modular and allow for the substitution of one part of it, if it is damaged. Materials that require many stages of processing should be reconsidered, and standardisation in sub-parts should allow for a simpler manufacturing. Sneakers have on average 30 different parts. I have visited a factory that was making a shoe which had 46 parts. This is not to mention all the types of glues that are used, which make the shoes impossible to disassemble or fix. Even though there are great examples of 4-piece or 1-piece shoes with no glue, the standard in the industry would give Toyota designers a headache. The wide range of audits and standards set by each brand also fall into this category.
Inventory waste is about excessive inventory and finished stock, which ties up valuable financial resources, may deteriorate over time, and takes up space. In Fashion, this starts with all the samples that are developed and never used. Then there is all of the production that doesn’t sell in shops. When brands set prices for items, they always assume that a percentage doesn’t get sold. Sales exist to get rid of all this inventory, so that shops and warehouses can be filled again with more new things. All the inventory that doesn’t get sold can then be donated and often ends up in landfills or markets in developing countries. The system is certainly not designed around inventory efficiency. Alternatives would be made-to-order models.
Motions waste is around the physical work and basic motions done by people. Motion study is an aspect of industrial engineering to reduce wasted motion, usually this is done by improving the workplace layout, workplace organization, and introducing low-cost automation. Unfortunately, automation requires standardisation, and designers don’t really think of how difficult it will be to replicate certain processes in the factory.
Defects and rework waste is caused by poor-quality products and defective parts. This means that time must be spent in reworking poor products, or that these products will create material waste. Things that fit poorly, or that get destroyed after one wash all fit into this category. Again, not much efficiency here.
The final category is Overproduction. It is a shame that Taiichi Ohno lived his life in the past century, otherwise we would have tried everything possible to have a coffee with him and discuss how much we agree. The Fashion industry’s biggest problem is the production of things that people don’t actually need. The industry is designed around creating needs that don’t actually exist, to make profits that cost the planet and people. According to the definition “Often manufacturing produces more than is needed. Unused products may have to be discarded when not required later. Overproduction is caused by poor planning, poor forecasting, and lack of quality control”. For our full opinion on this, and some solutions, head over to our Degrowth article.
What is Fashion’s grade on waste then? Clearly 0/7.
If human power, materials, energy and time were valued higher, there would certainly be more efforts dedicated to reducing waste. Do you see efficiency differently now?
Let us know how your perspective has changed in the comments below or on our latest instagram post!
Until next time friends, always be curious and STAY DILIGENT!