The Cost of De-Densification and Obesity

How does clothing manufacture relate to obesity?I recently enjoyed reading Dr. Chris Caplice’s fantastic piece on the Supply Chain at MIT Blog, “Impact of Micro Trends on Supply Chains: Densification.” If you’ve never checked out this blog, it’s definitely a great read. Chris is one of supply chain’s brightest minds these days. The blogs are around truly informative in terms of unpacking how supply chains work and what keeps them ticking.

In this particular blog, Chris goes into the topic of densification. If you’re unaware of this terminology, it refers to packing phenomenon and how lighter product at higher cost is a good thing for shippers and retailers. Chris explains that manufacturers ship product into a limited number of ports in the US, which is then sent to a limited number of distribution centers. These distribution points send the products we buy in retail brick and mortar or digital stores. The less we can ship these products for and the more we can charge, the more everyone’s bottom line is padded. Obviously more profit is a good thing!

Densification and Music

Chris uses music distribution as a good example of densification. The cost of manufacturing music is decreasing, as is the weight of the product. We’ve gone from vinyl to tapes to CDs. Now artists who product physical media are using thumb drives, or printed cards that guarantee a low-cost digital download.

With the shipping and manufacturing cost of music media decreasing, the retail cost can easily stay the same or increase without factoring in the pain of creation and delivery. In this way, artists and distributors alike can win.

The De-Densification of Clothing

Call me a cynic, but all this could translate into something we all use, like clothing. Herein lies an interesting point. The CDC tells us that 1/3rd of US adults are now obese, and that number is on the rise. With larger Americans we’ll need larger clothing, meaning more fabric/material used and a denser shipping weight. So is the manufacture and shipment of these larger sizes de-densifying the market?

Yes, I just made up that term – but let’s face it. Our rear ends are growing while shipping costs are only increasing. Does this mean we should pay more for clothes? I don’t know about you, but I’m not passing on the Sunday morning BBQ – so market be damned, let’s pay those higher costs!

This may be a rather cynical outlook – but what do we suppose the impact of obesity in the US or the western world at large is on the ‘de-densification’ of apparel? Specifically – since we’re all 30% + heavier these days, is it safe to say that we’re importing so more fabric or garments than necessary? There’s plenty of literature out there regarding price boosts for plus sized fashions, both for men and women – however many department stores take extra fabric costs into account by increasing their prices across the board. Are we ready to pay those higher prices? I guess we’ll do what we have to.

If you take the same value equation Chris uses to describe music – it seems there is definitely de-densification going on. More product (extra fabric) contributes to equivalent value (covering your behind). It’s at least a funny thought!

How will clothing industries in the US work around the de-densification of product? We might want to all watch textures in the near future. Who wants to bet lighter materials used in garments will offset those de-densification costs in the near future?

I’ll be online, shopping for larger pants while we all talk about it. Don’t mind me …

About Brad Forester