When it comes to competition from US push manufacturers, Zara has nothing to worry about and for two reasons. The first is that push manufacturers fail to recognize the salient differences between their own model and that of Zara’s and second, Zara is not a push manufacturer; they’re pull. Lest the latter statement leave my readers aghast -after all, Zara doesn’t pre-sell their styles according to market schedules- I’ll simply state for now that Zara’s model is so unique and particular to the vagaries of apparel as opposed to other kinds of manufacturing, that the expansion of the term”pull manufacturing” begs another, more comprehensive definition. Oh that any of us could be so unique as to require the redefinition of terms! The first necessity is to define the differences between US push manufacturers and Zara but before I can do that, the article that appeared in the Economist bears clarification. In that article, it was stated that Zara has 300 designers. I think it’s more likely that something was lost in translation or was simplified for a broad audience because if they truly have 300 designers, that means that the average number of styles produced per designer per year is only 36 styles as the company only produced 11,000 styles last year. That is definitely not lean and more typical of push manufacturers than not. A related point of confusion arises as it was indicated that Inditex itself -Zara’s parent company- employs the 300 designers but Inditex is comprised of seven separate business units, of which Zara is only 70%. This could mean that only 70% (I realize that’s a crude comparative but there is no way to determine the actual figure based on current information) of the “300 designers” who work at Zara making for a total of 210. This figure seems more realistic based on the annual production of unique styles (the aforementioned 11,000).
Still, I still find it incomprehensible that there are 210 designers working there. That would mean each designer put out 52 designs per year which is appalling performance (albeit typical of push manufacturers). Again, if the latter is true, there’s lots of slop in Zara’s development and I could only expect those numbers to improve to the detriment of push manufacturers the world over. A range of 200 to 400 styles per designer per year depending on the type of garment would be closer to target productivity. Rather, I think it’s more likely they have 210 people working in design, in other words, a total of 210 designers, pattern makers, technical designers, sample makers, and CAD operators working in the product development department. That seems more likely, still that’s not accurate either because there’s administration of the design system and what percentage of the 210 are included there -if any? If one assumes the worst, that it is true that Zara employs 210 designers (or close to that figure), push manufacturers the world over are in much worse position than ever. If Zara’s output is that prodigious with that much slop -because they will improve- with respect to design staff, push manufacturers are never going to catch up.
Similarly, the issue of work assignment =most assuredly in teams- is unclear which prevents knowing their level of lean. The issue of work assignment is pivotal because Zara -like other pull manufacturers- runs small batches (small was undefined but described elsewhere as batch sizes of 300-500 units) and small batches are so poorly administered by push manufacturers to the extent they cannot do them at all (cost effectively). It is likely Zara’s product development teams are sized in scale -proportionately- to style batch size. The evidence of which can be gleaned from the fact that the assignment of production sewing is assigned amongst small sewing co-operatives. It only makes sense that Zara’s design teams, batch sizes and sewing units are sized comparatively and in direct relationship to each other for maximum efficiency. I am aware that the relationship between batch size, sewing units and product development team size could fill a book but that is not the subject of this post and I’ll have to let that go for now. More to come.