We sat down with Professor Sonja Chapman from the Fashion Institute of Technology to get her take on the logistics side of supply chain management and manufacturing in the USA. Sonja is a licensed customhouse broker, with over 25 years experience managing international transportation logistics and customs compliance for apparel companies. At FIT, she has taught Logistics and Import / Export Regulations courses within its International Trade and Marketing Department.
How did you get started and what is your background?
Truthfully, by accident. A friend told me about an opportunity to interview for a position as an administrative assistant with a jeans manufacturer. It was back in the day when nothing came between Brooke Shields and her Calvins. I was working for a blouse manufacturer when the opportunity to takeover the import manager’s position opened up. I went for it, and realized I had found the career I had been looking for. I have been building on that foundation ever since. I love this end of the business and I love helping other people learn about it.
How have you seen the industry change?
I could probably talk about that all day, there have been so many changes depending on the period of time you focus upon. Currently, I would say the proliferation of regulatory compliance concerns are having a large impact on the industry. Twelve years ago we were focused on quotas and import compliance. Today, we see security, safety, environmental, or social issues that must be evaluated and addressed. Companies must secure the supply chain, confirm and certify product safety across multiple standards, verify and improve worker conditions, as well as, measure and improve our carbon footprint. Although all of these are challenges, they are also opportunities. I like to say, “Everything watched, improves.” Each time we examine a process, the opportunity to promote efficiency or improve our market position is present.
What are the benefits of local production?
Clearly speed to market, along with a shorter more concise and secure supply chain. The ability to easily inspect and verify production, as well as worker conditions. The ability to test small lots before committing to a larger production run. The opportunity to support local markets. A decreased carbon footprint and the opportunity to secure export assistance from the U.S. Government.
Logistics-wise, what differences do you see manufacturing abroad versus domestically?
It may sound odd, but from an importer/wholesaler point of view, the short transits from production facilities to our warehouses sometimes present a problem. Imports have a longer window for the transfer of data, and this allows our distribution centers to better prepare to process the goods when they arrive. For domestically produced products, it’s not unusual for goods to arrive just after the data is uploaded. It gave me clarity on why retail distributors demand so much advance notice of shipment.
How have you coped with these differences?
Communication and adaptation. I am very fortunate that my counterparts in domestic distribution are quick to reach out when a process doesn’t work for them. Then we adapt our systems and processes to their needs.
What does a product being Made in USA mean to you?
Made in USA right now means opportunity. I think that U.S. manufacturers, if they are very nimble, will be able to create a niche where they can be very successful. It’s not going to be about mass production. The product will have to be unique, fill a gap for mass marketers, or be completely innovative. The possibilities definitely exist.