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Archive for the ‘Supply Chain’ Category

Here’s an interesting supply chain problem for you: What do you do when Mother Nature jeopardizes your usual production process?

That may sound a little melodramatic, but it is a relevant question for makers of high-end fashion jeans (Why the California Drought Matters to the Fashion Industry, Wall Street Journal, Apr 10).

The four-year drought in California is hurting more than just farmers. It is also having a significant impact on the fashion industry and spurring changes in how jeans are made and how they should be laundered.

Southern California is estimated to be the world’s largest supplier of so-called premium denim, the $100 to $200-plus-a-pair jeans such as VF Corp.’s 7 for All Mankind, Fast Retailing’s J. Brand and private-equity owned True Religion. Water is a key component in the various steps of the processing and repeated washing with stones, or bleaching and dyeing that create that “distressed” vintage look.

“(The) water issue in fashion in Los Angeles is a big deal,” said John Blank, economic adviser to the California Fashion Association, a trade group. Premium denim “requires water. It is all about that processing. It is the repeated washing to get the premium look. This is what people pay for.”

Southern California produces 75% of the high-end denim in the U.S. that is sold world-wide, Mr. Blank said.

This data from Levi’s highlights the water usage in question.

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Unsurprisingly, actually growing cotton and consumers washing their clothes accounts for most of the water usage but steps the jeans maker control (e.g., cut, sew and finish) still uses a large amount of water.

So what can a fashion label do?

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Tight supplies occur in lots of supply chains. Pick any industry with rapidly rising demand and you are likely to see at least the occasional glitch in the supply of a key component or input. Still, the setting described in a recent Wall Street Journal article is fairly unique (Hunger for Organic Foods Stretches Supply Chain, Apr 3).

Nature’s Path is among a number of organic-food purveyors taking steps to tackle supply constraints that are hampering the growth of one of the hottest categories of the U.S. food industry. Companies including soup maker Pacific Foods of Oregon Inc. and publicly traded burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.are digging deeper into the supply chain with such moves as financing farmers, offering technical training and hiring full-time headhunters to recruit organic growers.

The efforts are aimed at ramping up organic-food output that has failed to keep pace with surging consumer demand, due in part to the significant costs and risks that U.S. farmers face in converting from conventional to organic farming. Longer-term, the steps could help bring down organic-food prices that have been bolstered by tight supplies, companies say.

According to the article, retail sales of organic food have tripled in the last ten years and that has put a lot of pressure to increase the output of organic products.

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About a year ago, we had a post on Zulily and how they managed their order fulfillment. It featured a nifty graphic from the Wall Street Journal showing just how much longer their delivery times were relative to other interet retailers. Now, the Journal has another story — with a spiffy updated graphic — discussing how their delivery times have gotten even worse (Zulily Nips Business Model in the Bud, Mar 23).

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The dollar has been on a tear over the past year. Check out how much it has appreciated against the euro over the past year or so (A Shakeup in Currencies, Wall Street Journal, Mar 19).

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There are some obvious implications from this chart. For example, if you spent spring break in Europe, you have an impeccable sense of timing. Also, if you are US-based manufacturer counting on exporting to Europe, you are going to be swimming upstream (see, for example, Strong Dollar Stands in Manufacturing Sector’s Way, WSJ, Mar 15).

But if a strong dollar hurts US firms, it’s gotta be a godsend for European businesses, right? Well,maybe not. How a weak euro impacts European firms is going to depend on the structure of their supply chains. Check out this eye candy from today’s Wall Street Journal (Europe’s Fashion Retailers Under Pressure From Strengthening Dollar, Mar 24).

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The vicissitudes of American manufacturing has been a long running topic on this blog. But whether one focuses on firms that have always kept their production in North America or those that have reshored manufacturing, there is the question of whether China or other Asian countries are going down without a fight. A recent article in The Economist suggests that manufacturing in Asia in general and in China in particular is going to be around for a long, long while (A tightening grip, Mar 14).

First, one has to recognize that the growth in Asian manufacturing over the last 20-plus yeas has been spectacular. Check out this graphic.

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As the article notes, these numbers get a little more extreme if one looks at “intermediate inputs,” doohickeys like displays and circuit boards that go into finished products that may be assembled elsewhere. (more…)

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The West Port labor strife is now over but issues remain. There are still dozens of ships waiting for their turn at Southern California ports and there are numerous bottlenecks in getting containers off ships and to their destinations. The Wall Street Journal has had a couple of recent articles dealing with how these logistical disruptions have affected supply chains as well as how the ports might possibly run better.

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First up is how the ports customers are reacting (Ports Gridlock Reshapes the Supply Chain, Mar 5). The West Coast doesn’t have a monopoly on US ports, of course; they are just the most convenient to Asia. However, as the graphic above demonstrates, shipping to the East or Gulf Coasts are an options if you are willing to wait a bit longer to get your goods. Currently, the West Coast handles about half of US cargo shipments but, according to an executive of the Port of Los Angeles, a third of their volume is “purely discretionary” in the sense that it could go to another port.  (more…)

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As you may have heard, West Coast ports are having some labor issues. The Pacific Maritime Association (which represents the shipping lines and terminal operators) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been going at it, affecting about 20,000 workers at 29 West Coast ports. (Can’t name 29 Wet Coast ports? See here.) The LA Times has a nice summary of what is in play. In a nutshell, management claims that the union is engaging in a slow down (effectively striking while getting paid, see here) while the union claims that they are responding to safety concerns (at LA and Long Beach) and that management is misrepresenting their position. In any event, what has resulted is lots of delays and a  slew of ships waiting off the coast for their chance to unload. (Never seen a slew of ships? Check out these images.)

OK, that’s all well and good, but how is this affecting supply chains? The sheer scale of the problem is rather mind-blowing. If it were just a question of losing one port, things wouldn’t be too bad. Ships bound for LA, could be sent to Oakland or Seattle. But it’s the entire West Coast. If the goods need to be offload to an US port, that means going all the way to the Gulf Coast or the East Coast. It’s not clear that is an easy solution. Part of why LA and Long Beach are such busy ports is that they have an entire infrastructure to support them. Even if a ship could get to, say, Charleston, it’s not clear that it would do a lot of good for some of the customers whose stuff is on the ship. If a company’s whole logistics system is based on breaking bulk in the Central Valley, having a bunch of containers in South Carolina is, at best, an inconvenience. (more…)

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