At BOE we are here to share insight into real-life supply chains. But first…

What is the supply chain?

A supply chain is the network of all the individuals, organizations, resources, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product, from the delivery of source materials from the supplier to the manufacturer, through to its eventual delivery to the end-user.

Who is involved?

It all starts with you. Your interests, choices, and needs drive companies to produce products for you. YOU ARE WHAT YOU CARRY

You are an important decision-maker. The choices you make about who you buy from affects thousands of people across the world. You are an integral part of the supply chain process.

Here are just a few of the steps involved in producing a product. This is not an exhaustive list. Each step involves hundreds of decisions. The entire supply chain involves thousands of people.

Supply Chain Roles Explained

The Consumer

You are an important decision maker. The choices you make about who you buy from affects thousands of people across the world. You are an integral part of the supply chain process. When buying don’t just look at the price and make snap decisions based just on product style. You should also try and remember who would be making this product, what materials have gone into it, and whether you really need the item

The Buyer

Buyers work in companies/ organisations who buy en masse to facilitate the supply to consumers. Buyers often work on projections on stock to buy based on historic figures. They also are given checklists to use to inspect if a supplier meets certain criteria to be able to manufacture to them. E.g.

Buyers have a lot of power, but actually the best buyers realise they have a symbiotic relationship with the supplier. The more collaboratively and transparently the buyer can work with the supplier, the more efficient, and effective the two can work together.

The Product Designer

Design is everything when it comes to production. If you are an illustrator or designer, what blueprint or mockup you give affects every stage of the design process. Be conscious of if your product will create waste material due to wrong cut-sizes, or the use of printing processes which require large amounts of ink, or your choices of base material and how difficult that might be to obtain.

The Farmer/Mills

To get a fibre or material from the Earth into something that we can use requires a huge number of steps: sowing seeds, tilling fields, ginning into yarns, spinning into fabric etc.. The farmers and producers are wholly dependent on reliable information, in advance, on what crops are needed to be planted and harvested to plan for demand.

What is extremely dangerous for farmers is when a fad occurs. Farmers need time to plan in advance which seeds to sow, what staff they need on their fields, the natural fertilizers they need, the right machinery and tools to till the land. If there is a fad crop which becomes hotly required, it requires large investments by the farming community to change their practices. But once the fad fades – which can be overnight due to changing consumer demand driven by influencers, opinion leaders, and journalists – the farmers and their personal investments are at jeopardy.

The Fabric Stores

Here is where stock is checked and fabrics are inspected for blemishes. This is the start of the fabrication process of materials and where calculations are made on meterage of fabric required, and a good organisation of materials in the storehouse

The Pattern Cutter

An important role in establishing the cut size of the fabric which is the core basis for the product construction. Pattern cutters are critical in calculating the consumption of fabric, and ways in which material wastage can be reduced. They are mathematically minded and have strong 3D visual skills.

The Printing Teams

Extremely technical, and requires very experienced professionals, the printing teams create real magic. Colour mixing of inks, pastes, and dyes. Screens are created using specialist technology to match the brand design onto a physical guide. The mesh used has to be tightened to output fine detail. Plates are assembled on screenprinting machines at the right pressure, moving at the right speed, and dispensing ink at the right consistency. The colours, and the output are all affected by subtle features in the atmosphere like humidity, temperature, and particulate matter. If the inks are not “cured” at the right temperature the prints are not fastened to the fabric, and run the risk of failing essential quality control tests of rub fastness.

The Stitching Teams

With different cut panels assembled, the experienced tailors and stitching masters carefully stitch together the different elements of the product. Precision and experience are required, as if there is a wrong stitch, then the entire production process might need to be repeated. Light settings, thread counts, stitching methods, and careful tailoring are critical in getting products which are strong, and can be used again, and again.

The QC Teams

The quality control teams are present at every step of the process, and are vital to pick up any mistakes which can be corrected along the way. They are lynchpin in maintaining manufacturing tolerance levels under certain levels. They have a multitude of checklists.

The Finishing Teams

Each item is checked again: threads removed, cleaned, and pressed, and packed. The packing teams are responsible for making sure that the items fit the boxes prepared, and that items are sealed to be tamper-proof and ready for international shipping. Each item is tracked through scanning technology so it can be traced along the dispatch route.

The Transport Teams

These teams are involved in transporting raw materials and finished materials from all over the world, and from all suppliers. It is their teams who often get a lot of pressure on timings but their role is a mixture of automation and manual labour. They are often given narrow windows to deliver into airports or shipping ports; have to be armed with the right paperwork for international customs, or have to be available with the right vehicles to fit pallets, or loose cartons. The delivery drivers, airline cargo staff, customs officials, shipping container liners, and everyone in between play a vital role, in loading, and unloading cargo.

Back to you

When you receive your parcel at a designated time, your responsibility in checking size and fit can often be a split second decision. If you return your item because it is not quite what you hoped for, the entire process can start again. Be conscious of how you purchase, what expectations you have, and what your needs truly are as there are thousands of people involved in your purchases.