FINDING BALANCE IN CREATING THE RIGHT PRODUCTS
From the time we are young we learn and appreciate the art of balancing — from learning to walk to riding a ‘two wheeler’ to creating a smooth ‘ride’ on the see-saw with a friend. As we age, the art of balance takes on new dimensions — balancing home with work, exercise with relaxation, and spontaneity with demanding schedules.
In today’s apparel market as we work to create distinct and highly saleable products, the challenge is not just balancing two opposites as in Yin Yang — it requires carefully balancing product attributes and benefits so that they meet the various wants and demands of the customer. So, instead of resembling a see-saw, our creative product process begins to resemble a complex machine with many moving parts that must work in concert.
The balancing act
The hub or center of a wheel is essential to balancing or aligning it. Similarly, the hub of a product wheel is represented by the vision, mission, values and goals of the apparel brand or company. The many spokes of the wheel can be symbolized by the different elements of a garment including customer needs and wants, business costs and profits, product fashion and comfort, garment style and function, and performance and sustainability.
To keep the wheel aligned and prevent wobbling, attributes need to be balanced. If a product provides environmental benefits, but doesn’t perform or meet customer expectations, it will end up in the trash or recycling bin (wobble) before its time, thereby reducing its ‘sustainability.’ Likewise, a high performance product that doesn’t offer any environmental benefits may remain on the store shelf longer than desired, creating a different kind of wobble.
How to deliver what consumers want
Consumers today want it all — high performance apparel with sustainability or ‘green’ benefits at the right price in the perfect design, size and color. Not too much to ask! But keeping all aspects in check is not an easy task. Look to suppliers to help bring some of the product attributes in alignment. Supplies can provide information including Life Cycle Analysis of materials, third party certifications and other performance data to help achieve balance in the supply chain.
Synthetic fiber and fabric suppliers can be especially helpful when balancing the two spokes of environmental benefits and performance attributes. These two ‘spokes’ haven’t traditionally ‘fit’ together and may be more difficult to align, especially with synthetics. Natural fibers have traditionally been seen as environmentally preferred. They can be classified as ‘organic’ and provide comfort, yet they are not considered particularly high performance.
Most athletes don’t compete in cotton or wool and when man went to the moon, it was in a 24-layer space suit made of everything but natural fibers. Olympic swimwear, another example, has taken design, fiber and fabric innovation to an entirely new level through innovation in fiber, construction and design.
Synthetic fibers have traditionally been seen as providing performance over sustainability benefits. A great deal of research and development and data collection is generated in creating a new polymer or fiber. Work with suppliers to learn about and understand the attributes and benefits of new products. Utilize this information to create garments that offer real differentiation.
Performance + sustainability = innovation
The need to balance performance and sustainability drives innovation, and many synthetic fiber suppliers are pursuing a symbiotic relationship between performance and sustainability. Material science has come a long way in recent years and new classifications of products continue to be created. Innovation is multi-faceted and results in both new products as well as new and better ways to make existing products. Progress has been made in both product and process or operational sustainability. Product sustainability progresses through changes in the raw materials or feedstocks used in product production.
Process or operational sustainability improves through upgrades and changes to the manufacturing process. For example, a less sustainable product can be made in a factory that uses all renewable energy. Likewise a ‘sustainable’ product can be made in an inefficient, waste producing manufacturing facility.
Product innovation must also be matched to its ‘intended or functional use.’ Achieving the right balance of innovation is also important — not to ‘over-innovate or over-design’ to the point where the additional bells and whistles provide no additional benefit other than making noise. Innovation continues to result in new products, better processes and entirely new product classifications.
Yin Yang signifies opposites. The world of apparel manufacturing is not so black and white, especially when it comes to sustainability. Like most things, sustainability exists along a continuum. And rather than black and white, it contains more shades of green than Crayola® could ever imagine. Mastering balance enables toddlers to walk, but not without falling down. Success lies not in the art of avoiding falling down, but in getting up and trying again. Each and every step and innovation will help keep the world, the environment, its inhabitants and our businesses in balance.
About Dawson E. Winch
As a Global Brand Manager in DuPont Industrial Biosciences, Dawson leads the branding, public relations and marketing communications efforts for renewably sourced or biobased materials products including Sorona renewably sourced fiber, and other products in the Industrial Biosciences pipeline. Dawson also orchestrates the DuPont Renewable Materials Program across DuPont products, businesses and platforms (renewable.dupont.com).
Previous roles at DuPont include internal communication consulting and leading the marketing communications and public relations efforts in the DuPont Crop Protection platform. Prior to joining DuPont, she worked first in education as a teacher and professor and then in publishing, first at Walking Magazine and then took her walk off-road as Marketing Director at Backpacker magazine.
Dawson holds a B.S. from Colorado Statue University, a Master’s of Education from Boston University and an MBA from Temple. She spent her senior year at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and is a graduate of both Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School and the Business and the Environment Programmer from Cambridge University/ Prince of Wales. She resides in Hockessin, DE, and in her spare time enjoys a wide variety of outdoor adventures including trekking in the Himalayas and sea kayaking in British Columbia.
The DuPont Industrial Biosciences business applies biology, chemistry and material science to create innovative products that provide both performance and environmental benefits.
DuPont has been bringing world-class science and engineering to the global marketplace in the form of innovative products, materials, and services since 1802. The company believes that by collaborating with customers, governments, NGOs, and thought leaders we can help find solutions to such global challenges as providing enough healthy food for people everywhere, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment. For additional information about DuPont and its commitment to inclusive innovation, please visit http://www.dupont.com