Meet SD Factory, Japan’s matching platform of infrastructure for clothes manufacturing



See the original story in Japanese.

Usually, means of contacting apparel factories in Japan are limited to word-of-mouth or assistance by acquaintances. Since there are difficulties in finding appropriate factories, it is not easy to launch anew an apparel business or to manufacture products that are different from conventional ones, so that a new idea can barely be realized in this field. Japan’s SD Factory aims to solve such problems.

SD Factory, launched last November by Osaka-based Raccoon (TSE:3031), is a matching platform for those wanting to order manufacturing of clothes and find domestic apparel infrastructure such as factories or patterners. Currently 22 factories are listed on the website with each detailed information including the number of lots, unit price, completion date, characteristics or pictures of the factory inside. Based on these information, one can search out factories and inquire or order from them.

Although the service has just started up recently, some business negotiations for various matters have already been proceeding, based on requests of from sole proprietors to major trading companies. The average number of employees for listed factories is about 30. For factories which cannot afford information provision or sales promotion, SD Factory has turned into an effective tool for customer acquisition.

Bringing diversity to the apparel productline

The operating company Raccoon had been originally running a wholesaling website focused on apparel and grocery products, especially for the retailer Super Delivery. More than 1,000 manufacturers and 40,000 retailers have been registered on it. Behind the development of SD Factory, this conventional service revealed a problem in the apparel field.

Racoon’s executive secretary Koichi Nagamine says:

We received many requests from downstream manufacturers or retailers to introduce them domestic factories. They wanted to manufacture their own products but had no idea which factories to ask.

Moreover, a result of our own survey indicated current problems which domestic factories have in common, so we came to start development of a solution which connects manufacturers and factories.

A lack of means to connect creators and factories will impact the apparel industry and customers as a whole. If manufacturers pursue only their profitability, only similar products would be going on the market, and that can spoil the joy of shopping or ideals of consumers. However, since retailers or creators that have interesting ideas do not know how to turn them into concrete products, the variety of products on the market cannot be expanded.

By support of SD Factory for matching these creators with factories having capable of producing, appearance of unique products in terms of prices, shapes, or materials, can be expected and that will bring the activation of the apparel field.

Eliminating the dull image of factories

Kuriyama Sewing in Osaka
Kuriyama Sewing in Osaka

The point which the team was most particular about upon the development of SD Factory was being a cool website especially for younger users. That was to eliminate the dull image of typical factories. All photos on the website are taken by Raccoon’s staff in order to secure a high quality of the website. In addition, detailed impressions of the factories are described on the website by sales staff who actually visited there, trying to convey the atmosphere or the passion of the factory workers.

The reason for sticking to being cool is also upon looking forward to Japanese factories’ future 10 or 20 years on. As the birthrate is falling and the society rapidly aging in Japan, the younger labor population has been gradually decreasing. Without young workers to keep alive the skills and the technologies, the very existence of Japanese factories may become threatened.

Nagamine pointed out:

In spite of the move to create brand new products, the factories’ future is under threat. I think that this is because young Japanese do not regard working at factories as an employment option.

A lack of young and superior human resources will result in the decline of the entire industry. I want them to feel first how fun manufacturing is or how cool the existence of a particular technology is.

Currently focusing on matching companies or sole proprietors with factories, they are also considering the business of securing and developing human resources in the apparel field henceforth. Although there are many graduates from technical colleges that relate to apparel, most of them get a job as apparel shop salespersons. Their future vision is to provide opportunities to launch business careers for students who are interested in manufacturing, and to provide for successors to factories.

Anyone can realize their own products

The ordering users being targeted by SD Factory include not only companies but also sole proprietors or individuals who want small-scale production. You may think typical factories tend to avoid small lot orders. It is the opposite however, according to Nagamine. While small lot production requires more labor than mass production, it ensures appropriate remunerations and holds the possibility of business expansion, so that factories would rather receive small lot orders at preferance. Upon gaining exposure at SD Factory, further new orders may be expected as well.

For example, a female office worker searched out a factory utilizing SD Factory, and established her own brand. A system for anyone with just an idea to realize any product could become a fact of life in the apparel industry.

For the moment, SD Factory aims to increase the number of registered factories or patterners. Additionally it plans to enhance functions including those for search or schedule management.

Nagamine concluded:

We hope new made-in-Japan products or brands will appear from retailers or designers utilizing SD Factory. That will also act as industrial stimulus. Moreover, our export sales support service called SD Export can provide the infrastructure for exportation.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy