Post-Pandemic Outlook: Digitalization’s Current And Future Impact On The Textile Industry

By Lisa Beck

As the textile industry moves toward a post-pandemic future, brands are still recovering from challenges faced over the past year.

The COVID-19-fueled increase in online shopping led to major strategic shifts within the apparel industry. To meet rising consumer demand for quick product turnaround, brands shifted from traditional seasons toward on-demand production of targeted items — meaning today’s textile professionals are under extreme pressure to make on-trend products based on changing consumer needs, while still ensuring top quality.

The pandemic also forced key changes to production management strategies for textile brands and mills. Production problems associated with COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and remote work spurred brands to search for digital solutions enabling workers to remain productive away from their desks.

To maintain efficiency in today’s market, textile brands have widely adopted modern color management processes, which provide the tools necessary to remain agile as the pandemic continues to evolve.

The Impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 led to all-encompassing changes for textile brands, expediting industry trends that were beginning to take shape. While digital color management has always been top-of-mind for color professionals, its extensive benefits were magnified with the implementation of worldwide social distancing restrictions.

Pandemic-related lockdowns significantly impacted shopping habits — further increasing consumers’ reliance on e-commerce. Unable to shop in-store, they began browsing even more online and quickly grew accustomed to the convenience provided by next-day delivery options.

To keep pace, the apparel companies began shifting to on-demand production cycles. Brands became more conscious of their product assortment choices, doing smaller buys up front to test the market or shifting product assortments altogether. The resulting pressure to get the right products quickly out the door heightened the industry’s need for digital solutions to ensure efficiency without sacrificing quality.

At the same time, brands and mills began noticing the impact of pandemic-related restrictions on production processes. As COVID-19 lockdowns expanded across various countries, companies were often forced to shift production from impacted areas to alternate locations. The time lost in overseas shipping led to shortened production cycles, which typically meant rushed color approvals, increasing the likelihood of off-shade products. Additionally, many newly remote color professionals lost access to key tools like benchtop spectrophotometers, shifting the workload to regional locations at the point of manufacture.

With decision makers working remotely, there became an immediate need for smaller, portable equipment with excellent inter-instrument agreement (IIA) to support color work away from the office or mill. The rise of remote work also increased the need for cloud-based solutions that make it possible to access color data remotely.

Lessons Learned

As social distancing restrictions remained in place, textile professionals became increasingly aware of the link between modern technologies and efficiency. The intensified need for digital solutions to support remote work and streamline production spurred industry-wide investments in digital color management technologies.

Meanwhile, positive environmental changes resulting from lockdowns grew public awareness of sustainability’s importance. Rising global demand for waste reduction sparked brands’ interest in the climate-friendly benefits of cost-efficient digital solutions. This, combined with younger generations’ focus on sustainable initiatives and resale platforms, made environmental responsibility an increasingly important factor in textile brands’ long-term success.

Pandemic-related changes turned digital color management from a future consideration into an immediate need for textile companies. Tightened deadlines resulting from shifting consumer demand and global lockdowns raised brands’ concerns over rushed color approvals potentially leading to the production of mismatched products. A digital workflow removes this risk by streamlining the production cycle and decreasing waste, without sacrificing the quality and color consistency that consumers expect, no matter the shopping platform.

The Benefits of Digitalization

Traditionally, achieving accurate color involves numerous color corrections, overseas shipments, and extensive back and forth between brands and manufacturers.

Off-shade colors can lead to unnecessary production expenses and delays for suppliers and manufacturers, increasing the risk of over-development, upending tight timelines, raising costs and making it difficult to keep up with competitors. This process has been made all the more difficult by pandemic-related lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions. It also decreases efficiency and harms the environment.

By eliminating the need for manual color corrections, a digital formulation and approval process significantly reduces the number of necessary physical samples, thus decreasing shipping costs and lessening the likelihood of delays, while also transforming the entire color correction process by increasing speed and accuracy. Digitalization provides solutions enabling today’s textile professionals to accurately measure color, anywhere at any time, without comprising quality or cost.

An integrated digital color management workflow also eliminates the development of off-shade products by adding objectivity to color measurement, enabling the virtual communication of digital color standards between brands and manufacturers. Objectivity streamlines color management while adding efficiency to the supply chain and ensuring consistency based on each brand’s color requirements.

Now, as the textile industry’s post-pandemic outlook takes shape, brands are continuing to embrace the benefits offered by digital technology.

Looking Ahead

Textile brands’ use of digitalization is expected to rise as we get closer to a post-pandemic phase, especially with workers adjusting to the new hybrid work environment. The industry’s reliance on portability and big data will also escalate, as more textile professionals opt to work remotely on a part-time or permanent basis post-pandemic.

Furthermore, savings resulting from the pandemic’s halt on travel has inspired many textile companies to rethink budgeting. Brands are expected to increase their reliance on portable color measurement solutions and digital color communications to lower travel costs after the pandemic ends.

Sustainability efforts will also gain momentum as individuals and companies come to further appreciate the long-term importance of green initiatives — especially given the environmental improvements seen during COVID-19 along with growing concerns over global warming raised in the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Textile companies will expand their sustainability efforts accordingly by investing in digitalization to reduce waste, eliminating the need the for production and shipment of physical samples and decreasing unnecessary travel.

It is clear that the textile industry’s large-scale adoption of digital color management was accelerated by COVID-19. Modern digital solutions remain crucial in helping brands adapt to global shifts and as the market changes their reliance on new technology will likely continue to grow.

Editor’s Note: Lisa Beck is a product manager at Lawrenceville, N.J.-based Datacolor

September 23, 2021