About The Author

David Birnbaum has spent his entire career working in the international garment industry.  From 1964 to 1998, he lived and worked in Asia.  In the early phase he specialized in building garment factories. Altogether he set up 10 factories in Asia and more recently 1 factory in Mexico:  Typically this is a four-step process:

a.     Design the factory:  Flow and layout

b.    Hire staff

c.     Train Workers

d.    Introduce the customers

e.     Bring the factory to profitability

The average project required 18-24 months.

In 1986 Birnbaum set up Third Horizon Ltd (THL), a garment/Textile consultancy.  THL specialized in four related areas:

1      Factory Production Strategic Planning:  The goal is to increase the clients competitiveness by reducing product full-value-cost.  This is not a question of  cutting  direct FOB  prices but rather by providing greater services to the customer.  This was a major focus for THL. The Most recent project:

a.     Compagnie Mauricienne Textile (CMT):  2006-2007.  The goals were as follows:

i.     Provide range of services starting with design (through mini-design offices located in customer’s home countries:  London, Paris.)

ii.     Complete the entire pre-production process in 21 days

iii.     Complete the entire production process in 16 days (quantities as low as 500 pieces and as high as 50,000 pieces

2      Importer/Retailer Sourcing Strategic Planning:  The goal is to purchase garments at the lowest full value cost:  Projects include the following

a.     Marks & Spencer:  1999-2000:  The goal was to move away from M&S traditional buying through dedicated suppliers to independent in-house sourcing.  Birnbaum was specifically retained to carry out the following:

i.     Act as in-house  consultant to advise on work carried out by other retained consultants.

ii.     Analyze current full value cost for all major garment products (55 products)

iii.     Select countries best suited to manufacture these products (21 countries)

b.     Tommy Hilfiger (2005) :  The goal was to completely reorganize the entire product cycle, from first design to final in-house stock garment delivery

i.     Analyze the entire process both in the U.S. and at the overseas buying offices

ii.     Redesign critical path to cut out unnecessary steps

iii.     Reorganize the sourcing system

3      SME Factory Survival Strategies:  Working with the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva, the steps were as follows:

Ø    Search out SME factories in the client country where the product or services may be of interest to SME importer/retailers

Ø    Train these factories to provide the services necessary to work directly with an overseas buyer

Ø    Assist each factory to create a mini-collection which would impress the customer

Ø    Introduce marketing specialists who would take the factory to one of three agreed countries to meet directly with customers

Ø    Market specialist to work directly with the factory and the customer for 1 year to create a viable relationship

This has been carried in three countries

a.     Vietnam (test country) 2004

b.    Sri Lanka 2006

c.     Mauritius 2007

4      National Garment Industry Strategies:  A garment factory cannot survive in a competitive environment unless government and other stakeholders cooperate to ensure the industry has the necessary means of survival.  This does not mean subsidies.  Rather it means that government and other stakeholders must provide the things they are supposed to provide,—infrastructure, education, logistics, a streamlined and efficient bureaucratic process, etc.   There exists no single one-size-fits-all strategy.  Each country is different.  Each garment industry is different.  As a result each project is different.  The goal is to create and implement a quantifiable, practical and achievable strategy which is both comprehensive and integrated.

One of the most serious challenges is cost.  This is not a question of just consultant fees (which are relatively modest), but rather the cost of implementation which can reach in excess of $100 million.  Overcoming challenges of logistics, finance, electric power, etc.  is very expensive indeed — usually well outside the discretionary budgets of governments.  However, recently, international development banks — notably the InterAmerican Development Bank—have taken an interest in directly assisting specific industries. This has made industry garment strategies practical and achievable

Typically, the strategy is divided into two phases:

Ø     Research and Development (4 months):  The consultants meet with all stakeholders including factories, customers, government, trade unions, associations, banks, shipping, academics (political scientists, sociologist and economists), and of course the development bank.  From this and other research they develop the comprehensive integrated draft strategy.  The draft strategy is informally presented to the stakeholders who may request modifications and are then enrolled in the strategy.  At that point, the strategy is formally presented to Government, stakeholders and the development bank.

Ø     Implementation (6-8 months):  The strategy has a specific schedule with milestones.  The interim goals have been pre-set.  At the end of the implementation period either initiatives have been completed or are far enough along that local groups are in a position to ensure completion.

Previous projects include

a.     Indonesia 1997

b.    Yucatan Mexico:  2002

c.     El Salvador:  2004

d.    Dominican Republic (Phase I) 2008:

e.   ASEAN

1      ASEAN:  Retained by Nathan Associates (for USAID) to creates a strategy for 8 countries — Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia Philippines, Singapore Thailand and Vietnam) to make that region more competitive in the  global garment export market. The strategy involves moving from factories as  products makers to service suppliers.

Given the scope and size of the regional industry, the Source ASEAN Full-Service Alliance (SAFSA) is the most far-reaching garment industry strategy thus far attempted. The first stage involves bringing in 10-15 of the worlds largest garment importer/retailers together with 10-15 of the largest ASEAN suppliers.  In this regard Birnbaum has already started to enroll senior executives at the world’s largest garment importers/retailers.  This currently includes Avon Corp. JC Penney, Polo-Ralph Lauren, VF Corporation, Max Mara and Debenhams, as well as SGS who will carry out the audit work.

On the supplier side, Birnbaum has enrolled major factories located in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia

2      Dominican Republic (Phase II):  Retained by the InterAmerican Development  Bank to assist the Dominican Garment Industry to become more competitive.  The project has four deliverables

a.     Create an industry organization  which will represent to government and other stakeholders;

b.     Increase access to DR-CAFTA qualified fabric

c.     Develop sales to EU

d.     Develop training and education programs


Birnbaum also lectures and  when time permits teaches.  Most recently (2009) he taught a one semester graduate course at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Strategic Planning

Birnbaum has been retained to advise  the following organization on the global garment industry:

InterAmerican Development Bank

World Bank

Asia Foundation

International Trade Centre (WTO and UNCTAD)

Birnbaum is the author of  the following books:

Importing Garments Through Hong Kong¾A Guide for the Perplexed:

Hong Kong 1993

Birnbaum’s Directory of Garment Factories and Agents¾Hong Kong & South China: Hong Kong 1995

Birnbaum’s Global Guide to Winning the Great Garment War:

Hong Kong 2000, Second Edition New York Fashiondex 2003

Birnbaum’s Garment Imports¾Annual Report 2003:

New York Fashiondex  2003

Birnbaum’s Global Guide to Material Sourcing

New York 2005 Fashiondex

Source It:  Global Material Sourcinjg for the  Clothing Industry

International Trade Centre (UNCTAD/WTO) Geneva 2005

Crisis in the 21st Century Garment Industry and Breakthrough Unified Strategies

New York Fashiondex August 2008

Birnbaum also writes The Birnbaum Report a monthly newsletter for international garment industry professionals He has also written numerous articles relating to the international garment industry.



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