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The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought tremendous changes to people's lives and to Liu Tan Garment's operations. Challenges included the blockade of the Chinese border, suspension of trade between countries, and even people's survival. At the same time, this severe world situation caused people to reflect. China and Liu Tan Garment had a responsibility to support the livelihoods of thousands of people but economic development and profit production were constrained. What was once a busy manufacturing plant became an empty flow room. The empty plant was still filled with orders around the clock, which presented a disastrous business challenge for Liu Tan Garment.
This may sound appalling, but this is a true portrayal of the worst of the epidemic for Liu Tan. Liu Tan's leaders could not sit idly by. Instead, they brainstormed with management and the IT department on the current business and technology. The leaders jumped out of their comfort zones and turned to a new model of digital management. Digital technology has shifted lifestyles and created new possibilities for humans. First imagined and then actualized by science and technology, Liu Tan gradually moved from the haze of the pandemic to recover the business' performance using digital innovation.
As an enterprise mainly engaged in garment production for export, Liu Tan experienced many ordeals during the years of the pandemic but has now become profitable and reputable around the world. When it was starting up, it was a humble, ordinary clothing factory in a small city dealing with single assembly line production every day. Today, it is strengthened through science and technology so that it can compete on the international stage. Additionally, more people working at Liu Tan have better career prospects than there had been previously.
Leveraging the digital era brought new opportunities to Liu Tan. So far, Liu Tan has applied digital management in product design, manufacturing, and service. For example, human resources and production departments incorporate Enterprise Management System (EMS) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) into their day-to-day management and operations to visualize all company data.
Prudence Yan, Director of the General Manager Office, highlighted that Liu Tan's latest digital marketing technology called 3D Style was developed and highly utilized during the pandemic.
What is 3D Style? 3D Style is a 3D program utilizing AI technology to visualize different products and their related parameters such as style, color, texture, and simulation scene. A product's parameters are given a QR code and are attached to product packaging as an efficient proofreading tool or as a medium to double-check the product information with the customer.
The concept came from Liu Tan's founder and was developed jointly with the technical department. At the beginning of the pandemic, some international business could not be carried out as scheduled. This was compounded by the rapid expansion of the pandemic and the subsequent nationwide lockdown. All businesses had to be stopped.
The founder of Liu Tan, Qian Yuping, knew that if she sat still thousands of people in Liu Tan would starve. So, she thought about what she could do. The wide usage of remote meetings solved the obstacles of distance and face-to-face communication during the lockdown. Qian sprouted the idea of 3D product demonstration and through emergency research and development "3D Style" was born.
Prudence celebrates 3D style because "[it] make[s] the customer feel the real experience of the product". She continues, "3D Style achieves a three-in-one physical presentation of the 'person, object, and scene.' That is, the product can be experienced without leaving the house. This is a surprise for old customers and an attraction for new customers."
This innovative technology initiative has restored confidence in the entire Liu Tan group. Although the pandemic brought many negative effects to the world, it also taught this company how to survive and recover. During three years of the pandemic, Liu Tan learned to innovate and explore. By knowing how to grasp the opportunity, innovation, and change, this international business ushered in a huge turnaround.
Prudence shared a quote with me from Qian during the pandemic that I must share: "Never stop learning and exploring, life is used to be wrong, try it, what if it succeeds?"
What is the most important thing for an international garment manufacturer whose main business is OEM clothing? Product? Design? Quality? Or supply chain management? There is no denying that these key elements are indispensable for an international garment manufacturer. However, for this enterprise group with stable quality output and an excellent reputation in the industry, the real core of development is ultimate customer service. As Prudence mentioned in the interview, "The reason why Liu Tan can maintain its competitiveness for more than 30 years and develop rapidly and actively in the entire garment manufacturing industry, and even become the main force of processing for international brands, the most important factor is always customer-centric."
The visual experience is the most intuitive interpretation of clothing. Humans are visual creatures, and the feeling at first sight often plays a decisive role. Style is the first thing clients need to consider, and traditional graphic design drawing often cannot fully achieve the most ideal effect. For a client who does not have a professional design background, it can be difficult to accurately envision the design information conveyed even if the manufacturer has designed a sample of the garment according to its requirements. Details are often overlooked, so this is undoubtedly a breakthrough for the product design department.
Although Liu Tan has been exploring the technical problem that has existed for a long time, the pandemic prompted the Liu Tan team to think deeply about the problems existing in the current enterprise, which accelerated the realization of this scientific and technological innovation. The advantage of 3D is to enable a multi-dimensional perspective and simulate the application scenario of clothing. It not only magnifies the design details of the clothing and the interpretation of fashion concepts but also diversifies the market positioning for consumer clothing. The new technology also increases the display options of models and can randomly match models with different skin tones and clothing styles with different colors. The effective presentation supported by 3D technology can help customers make correct choices and judgments, and it brings more business possibilities to enterprises.
As Prudence says, “Liu Tan is now not just about manufacturing for manufacturing's sake but also about a collaborative experience for its customers. Solutions that meet customers' existing requirements are what Liu Tan must do well, but providing customers with more flexible solutions is what Liu Tan is doing." Because Liu Tan constantly improves this innovative technology, Liu Tan gives customers from all over the world a satisfactory experience.
Innovative technology is both an opportunity and a challenge. When a new innovation comes out, it is hard to tell whether it is a success or failure as there are many interfering factors. However, technological innovation is more beneficial than harmful for the business and the whole industry. Innovation is more in line with the purpose of global sustainability goals, which is conducive to achieving global sustainability. However, there is no guarantee how long the advantages of this technology will last. The benefits in a short time are estimable through relative market share. This success also supports maximizing digital marketing.
Innovative technology like "3D Style" gives Liu Tan an advantage. In the short term, this innovation ignited hope for Liu Tan during the pandemic, re-established contact and cooperation with overseas brand suppliers, and solved partners' concerns about not being able to intuitively understand product details. It solved the problem of retaining old customers, and it provided many new opportunities for attracting new customers.
Once there was a new product order placed, the production line could be restarted and the profits followed, temporarily easing the company's economic crisis. Employees could be paid. And, flexibility in funds allowed the company to buy emergency supplies for employees, which alleviated the shortage of materials during the lockdown. Pandemic welfare from Liu Tan closely linked the company and its employees, increasing the cohesion and loyalty of employees and helping the firm through tough times.
Additionally, with the establishment of the virtual work model, the "3D Style" innovation made it easier to modify the sample clothes for the needs of customers. Compared with traditional physical sample clothes, the time and cost were greatly reduced to control costs and improve docking efficiency between the company and customers.
In the long run, this initiative can increase the competitiveness of the company, the accurate description of the product, and the customer experience. As more customers experience the convenience of “3D Style”, it will attract more partners, ideally big names. These partners seek stable quality from their manufacturers as well as precise concepts of fashion design. The goal is that this innovation will help Liu Tan capture more market share and accelerate international business to achieve sustainable multilateral trade cooperation and economic benefits.
The establishment of “3D Style” is not the end of digital innovation. This is just a small step toward digital management. The company relies on this technology to stand out in the crowded garment manufacturing industry. As such, Liu Tan needs relevant technical talent to improve the technology, which provides jobs for people with technical talents interested in areas such as 3D model developers, network maintenance personnel, and technical publicity personnel.
Society went through a special period of history with the pandemic and, as a consequence, accepts digital technology's increasing role in our lives, especially in the manufacturing industry. Some AI and VR technologies can heighten people's sense of experience. Some technologies have supported people with limited physical ability to have experiences that they may not have otherwise been able to. Intentional technology investment has the potential to revive the economy and eliminate some measures of inequality so that all people can get the respect they deserve. Innovative technologies can enhance the economic development of a society and promote the inclusion of society as a whole.
Thinking about Liu Tan's contribution, people are increasingly familiar with “3D Style”. Consumers can use "3D Style" to learn more about new fashion trends and evaluate their dressing styles. For people with design talent, this is an excellent communication platform as well. It encourages the internationalization of customers and provides fashion design exchange, cooperation, and knowledge-sharing opportunities.
The impact on the environment from "3D Style" can be described as profound. In the international clothing business, sample clothes need to be physically mailed to the customer. Now, only a QR code is needed to easily let customers see their products and understand various parameters in detail. This saves on material for sample clothing, energy consumption during production, and reduces the carbon footprint during transportation. In addition, if there is a situation where a client needs to modify the product design frequently, then a paperless design modification sample can solve a series of problems and deliveries.
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JIAFANG (Prudence) YAN, Director of General Manager Office
Wuxi Liu Tan Garment Co., Ltd. is one of the most dynamic and advanced garment manufacturers in the world. Over the years and under positive leadership, Liu Tan Garment has insisted on high-quality development driven by innovation, on promoting the enterprise with science and technology, and on strengthening the enterprise with good talent. The company pursues operating principles that include technology-first, high quality, integrity, and satisfaction as the standard.