We Must Shift To A Bespoke Manufacturing Model

Author: Shoshana Burgett

I believe we are at a crossroads in design for manufacturing. The past 6 months highlighted how reliant specific industries are on one simple global provider.  The PPE shortage in the United States is a result of this. In our effort to embrace efficiency and lean manufacturing practices, some counties and industries have moved away from multiple regional provides to a single source.

Any single source model is a failure waiting to happen. When a crisis or disruption happens in the supply chain, it’s hard for a single source model to react.


We need a new way of thinking about design for manufacturing. This has been a topic I have discussed with Mike Scrutton from Adobe, Mark Harrop from WhichPLM and Karsten Newbury from Gerber Technology. To balance our costs, reliance on overseas labor with our drive for innovation, design must shift to a bespoke model.


Bespoke means custom made and design to a particular requirement. It is a UK term that originally described for tailored clothing and has been extended to any custom product or service. Many startups begin this way. As they grow and scale, they introduce lean processes and automation. Those automations are bespoke for a specific product’s design and manufacturing needs.


Coca-Cola is a great example of a bespoke model. The company defines itself as “a global business that operates on a local scale, in every community where we do business. We are able to create global reach with local focus because of the strength of the Coca-Cola system, which comprises our company and our nearly 225 bottling partners worldwide.” Using this lean, bespoke, local manufacturing model, Coke is a model for the future for many large and small companies.

Consider the apparel, footwear industries which typically design for a season two years away.  In many ways this is an exercise in data mixed with a bit of Ouija board. Companies like WGSN and Pantone and others use data analytics to predict color trends. WGNS’s platform goes deeper, showing buyers and trends within a local area. Personal tastes in New York are different than Paris, as they are different in Miami or Los Angeles. Companies like Under Armour, Gap, Lands’ End, order volumes months in advance for winter season only to hit the warmest winter season (again). This means these retailers are left with large stocks that are discounted simply to recoup costs.



Businesses can support their local manufacturing and supplier community by producing in a similar bespoke model as Coke. It may be cheaper to produce volume overseas, but these volume savings may become a lost if the products don’t sell.  Leveraging a bespoke model gives relators more flexibility to adjust local market conditions.

Running a lean, local manufacturing business brings new opportunities.

  • Shorter Runs – Resigned for regional tastes.
  • Limitless Design – Tell your creative team they can create color ways buy region, state, demographics, no longer by category. (note: read further, this only works if quality control processes are in place).
  • Direct to Consumer (D4C) –  Cut the middle and engage the consumer directly, learn their likes and needs and cut the middle bit out.
  • Tax Breaks – A chance to work with local government for tax breaks that used to be for big corporations.
  • Innovations and experimentation – Short run manufacturing allow to test markets and take smaller risks with more upside than down.
  • Less inventory – If seasons don’t support the product line.
  • Dynamic capabilities – Companies have a larger local list of suppliers.
  • Duties Insurance and Freight – Parcel handling fee, fuel charge fee, address correction fee, delivery reattempt fee, return fee, holding fee, extended area surcharge or remote area surcharge. The list goes on. Companies tend to look at the product costs per volume, rarely aligning them with shipping and storage costs. Those fees quickly add up to savings.


Bespoke processes may sound hard, but it doesn’t have to be. We have the technology today to be able to do this effectively and control product quality. Today’s product lifecycle management (PLM) systems allow for brand / design consistency and constant QA of all products and packaging.

I hear too often; product teams spending months overseas to work and achieve the right color and material standards. If suppliers are following the processes and feeding data into PLM or Quality Control dashboards then managing quality and color is a lot easier. Apparel brands have tight color controls, but that is not true for all manufacturing. Footwear is far behind and print is good, but not as tight as apparel.  Data driven dashboards allow brands to track all their suppliers, large or small, from the product, tag, label, package and marketing material. Brands can create a single ‘Mission Control’ for their brand and product lines. Design teams, product managers and marketing can all view the data as a group, removing silos and making smarter decisions.


Brands can track all sorts of data – who buys the products; who produces it and at what cost; and  which producers manufacture to both cost and quality standards. The tools are there.

Using these tools with a bespoke model, designers and producers will be more virtual and as a result more digital. This is a topic Mark Harrop, Managing Director of WhichPLM and Interline, constantly discusses. According to Harrop, “fashion has now arrived at a seasonless state, the merchandisers friend trend can no longer be counted on, hence we need to start and track fashion’s on-demand workflow”.

And it is not simply just the apparel. This applies to other industries too. Food, beverage, and consumer products also have digital workflows. Many Consumer Product Good (CPG) brands  who adopted a digital process and reporting tools are able to pivot faster than those who have spent years pushing back on those investments.


Cindy Cooperman, VP of Global Brands for X-Rite and Pantone shared with me that they see a sharp increase in interest for print quality control ecosystems since the pandemic. “In order to have digital dashboards implemented, the foundational requirement is establishing standardized best practices and standard operating procedures for production quality. This groundwork enables companies adjust and respond quickly to market demands. Digital dashboards provide greater visibility helping teams make more informed decisions.

These principles can go beyond the supply chain. Employees are working remotely for the foreseeable future. Design teams require digital tools to create and communicate color and material requirements. Cooperman says that “similar to the manufacturing challenge, the proper foundation of common best practices needs to be in place to realize the full benefits on working digitally.



Local to local, bespoke, organized and automated manufacturing is going to be a bit bumpy. It can also be fun, innovative and profitable.  So, I ask, will you go back to the devil you knew, or like the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”  ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

We are at a design to manufacturing crossroads and need to find a balance considers local and regional options.  Designers and brands the embrace bespoke manufacturing models will be able to thrive, stay agile and support their communities and even help the environment.

Isn’t it about time we made the investment and took the risk?

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