Interview: building local resilience
October 20, 2023

Many regions in Europe are looking for strategies to fortify local and regional production capacities. There are many reasons for this, including building resilience against recent years disruptions in the supply chains. In Sweden, there is a research project that addresses how businesses can build such local competence.

– The increasing disruptions are reminding us that we need to find ways to gain different potential benefits of local production, even if there are some challenges and trade-offs. Different calculations may be used depending on the region and country, but a lot of the key issues apply throughout different high-cost countries. Other countries might even have a somewhat better situation than Sweden… (note: for example, less lost production capacities).

These are the words of researcher and senior lecturer Sara Harper of the University of Borås, Sweden. Her words underscore the complex landscape faced across Europe, as they work to strengthen local and regional production.

there’s a lot of possibilities, but also a lot of challenges.

A new approach to local competence
After years of offshoring production, there exists only a limited understanding of how labour-intensive industries can be rebuilt or strengthened locally, particularly in high-cost contexts. The Swedish project in Borås seeks to navigate this largely uncharted territory, highlighting innovative solutions such as small-series manufacturing, remanufacturing, and collaborative efforts within the textile industry. Sara again:
– There’s a number of really interesting, diverse companies that are still able to compete and work in the Sjuhärad region in particular, as this region is the one that specialises in textile and clothing in Sweden. So, there’s a lot of possibilities, but also a lot of challenges. And what’s crucial to understand is how can these local supply chains be more resilient?

We now know the risks associated with global textile supply chains, prompting a shift towards more local and regional production. However, this transition is not without its challenges. The Borås project aims to provide insights into how to design and manage resilient local supply chains. While, at the same time, acknowledging the complex trade-offs and challenges in such a transformation.

Building resilience in Sjuhärad and beyond
The research goal – to understand how to build resilience – is at the heart of this Swedish project. With this comes the goal to identify and prioritise important factors that enable the resilience of local textile manufacturing in high-cost regions. The Sjuhärad region is the focal point for this research, exploring limitations in current levels of resilience. While also uncovering some complex relationship between localisation and customisation. This project adopts a practical, industry-oriented perspective, acknowledging the holistic nature of decision-making and supply chain design.

Anticipated contributions and results
The anticipated contributions of the project to Sjuhärad and the broader European textile landscape are multifaceted. By supporting both existing and aspiring textile/clothing manufacturers, the project aims to elevate knowledge in the area. Moreover, it envisions highlighting companies in the Sjuhärad region that are acting as pioneers. Pioneers in sustainable textiles, digital manufacturing, fostering job creation and economic growth.
As the project unfolds over the course of a year, it will be marked by four main activities, including a Delphi study, interviews, workshops, and feasibility analyses. Through these activities, the project seeks to lay the groundwork for future studies and pilot initiatives.

The first report
This research project has now published the first report in the project, a Delphi study. Interesting enough, the first findings confirm both benefits and challenges from local production in the context. On the positive side, companies which have established tight relationships saw this as an important advantage in times of crises. Collaboration is key.
The results indicate a moderate level of resilience, underpinned by several enablers that, when lacking, pose significant challenges. The three most crucial types of enablers are: 1. Capabilities and performance priorities, 2. Processes, and 3. Relationships. Showing, that some well-known strengths of local manufacturing are also key for building resilience.

Awareness focus
A notable takeaway from the Delphi study is the suggested need for managers to possess robust situational awareness. This crucial facet emerges as a key area for development, indicating that honing the ability to navigate and comprehend dynamic situations could significantly contribute to enhancing resilience within the textile manufacturing context.
The research project “Resilient supply chains for local textile and clothing production in small series” will continue and is planned to produce its final report during spring of 2024. Some other project activities have already been held. But the final report is only one more stone on the pathway towards a more sustainable future.

Read the Delphi study report here (click)
Read more about the research project here (click)
Sara Harper on LinkedIn