How Carton Suite Optimisation Provides Cost Savings in the Apparel Industry

Fashion trends evolve quickly. Apparel manufacturers need to be agile in response to rapidly changing fashion needs. Quickly pivoting production to respond to new fashion trends requires agile manufacturing and efficient distribution systems. Carton suite optimisation allows Southeast Asia (SEA) product factories to customize packaging systems that both increase efficiency and position SEA OEMs to adapt to frequently changing manufacturing and distribution requirements.

Global Apparel Brands can Help SEA Product Factories Acquire Optimised Cartons


Global apparel brands frequently source garments from SEA OEMs. Garment production is the core focus of these SEA product factories. Although SEA product factories understand that packaging is a necessary requirement of delivering the apparel to a brand’s distribution centers (DCs), e-commerce partners, and retailers, transport packaging secured by the SEA OEM may not be optimised for international supply chains. This lack of packaging optimisation can pose a challenge for brands.

Expert packaging designers can develop customized packaging solutions for brands to improve efficiencies and reduce costs for their international shipments.

Improved Product Density of Transport Cartons

Designing a thinner carton increases available volume for the carton’s interior. This additional cube volume allows more garments to be packed into each carton.

Identifying the Best Carton Size for Your Particular Supply Chain

When identifying the optimal Master Outer Carton (MOC) size for your individual supply chain, expert packaging professionals will consider how to increase cube utilisation in containers and DC's.

Optimised Garment Folding Patterns

After identifying the best MOC size for your brand, packaging solutions providers will determine the most efficient way to fold each garment. Standardized folding patterns allow apparel brands to increase product density for each MOC and also promote consistency in the selection of single-use poly bags.


Consistent Apparel Carton Quality Maximises Transport and Distribution Center Efficiencies

“Carton suite optimisation” in the apparel industry means designing the most efficient apparel packaging solutions for transit packaging. In some instances, carton suite optimisation also includes optimising MOC design to conform to pallet specifications. (Another term for “MOC” is “transport carton”.)

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When carton suites are optimised and transit tested, cartons travel seamlessly between the SEA product factory, across the ocean, to the DC and ultimately to either the retailer or the customer. During each of these touchpoints, the cartons need to conform to the physical needs of each transit environment. Whether being manually loaded into a container or processed via conveyor belts and scanners in a highly automated DC, optimised MOCs will travel smoothly through each touchpoint.


In highly automated DCs, cartons pass through multiple stations on a conveyor belt. These stations may include:

  • Barcode scanning
  • Weighing a carton
  • Accepting or rejecting cartons
  • Route sorting of the MOCs

In contrast, carton suites that have not been optimised may cause extensive processing delays which increases labour, requires replacement packaging, and drives up overall order fulfillment costs.  


Raw Material Specifications are Required for Apparel Carton Suite Optimisation

Achieving consistent carton quality requires a comprehensive understanding of raw materials. Corrugated cartons consist of liner and fluting layers. Each corrugated component of your MOC should perform in a complimentarily way with every other component in your transport carton to maximise the strength and durability of your MOC.  Each layer of material is carefully chosen to build a balanced board and provide the best performance of your corrugated MOC. Packaging solutions providers can help brands define corrugated board raw material specifications that ensure each MOC has the structural integrity and stacking strength necessary to endure the stresses of international supply chains.


Distinguishing Between Transport Carton Strength and Bulk

Sometimes DC Operations personnel confuse the concept of bulk with the concept of strength. It is, unfortunately, quite common to see MOCs at DCs that are far heavier than they need to be because unnecessary bulk has been included in their design. (Sometimes cartons are designed to focus on stacking strength without considering cubic utilisation or environmental impact.)

Excessive transport carton weight has a negative impact on sustainability in the following ways:

  • Higher CO2 emissions during the manufacturing process due to overconsumption and processing of raw materials
  • Increased CO2 emissions because the unnecessarily heavy transport carton requires more energy to ship

Increasing Product Density with Streamlined Carton Design

Billerud’s experienced team of packaging experts frequently design customized transport carton solutions that improve product density for international shipments. In one instance, reducing packaging materials from double wall to single-wall resulted in increased per carton. This expanded MOC capacity provides additional space for loading garments into transport cartons. Improvements in product density also provide additional storage capacity on DC racks and in sea containers.


Packaging Oversight at SEA Apparel Product Factories

Once a brand has optimised an entire packaging suite for a product line, there needs to be on-going oversight at the product factory to ensure that only specified packaging materials are continually sourced and that cartons are constructed to adhere to design specifications. Without this oversight, unpleasant surprises, like collapsed cartons in a warehouse, may occur. Unplanned packaging failures drive up costs by requiring the purchase of replacement cartons, increased labour hours (to repack products), longer order completion lead times, and, in worse case scenarios, replacement product costs.


Optimised MOC Stacking Patterns Reduce Shipping Costs

Apparel brands typically pay transit carriers based on shipment volume. Optimising apparel carton stacking patterns enables brands to fully utilise available container volumes. As apparel shipments rarely go overweight for a container, filling the container completely helps reduce your transit costs.


Eliminate “Shipping Air” in Apparel Containers

Each apparel MOC placed on the container should be filled to maximum capacity. Although apparel product geometries are fairly uniform, various brands differ in the specifications they provide to SEA product factories regarding how each garment should be folded in preparation for shipment. Some brands have exacting standards that specify folding specifications. For example, Nordstrom provides apparel suppliers with a 45 page guide that specifies folding requirements for apparel. In contrast, other brands allow SEA product factories to autonomously decide how to fold each garment in preparation for shipment.


Understanding specific folding requirements or pack counts enables external packaging providers to create customized solutions to maximise space utilisation within each apparel MOC. As product density increases, each MOC can be filled more completely.  Headspace (a.k.a “air space”) within a carton will be either completely eliminated or significantly minimised.


Carton Suite Optimisation can Save You Money

When you view cartons on DC racks, all you see are the cartons. Without taking the time to open individual cartons, you will not know how much headspace is in each carton. 


Even if a small percentage increase, like 15%, of additional volume can be achieved through the elimination of headspace, that increases your DC capacity by 15%. At scale, this can result in significant gains to your DC capacity.



When brands are on the cusp of requiring additional DC capacity, they may consider building a new DC or outsourcing to Third-Party Logistics Providers (3PLs). The costs associated with building a DC include land acquisition, construction, and a myriad of other costs. There is also a significant lead time associated with new construction.


Due to the need for customization, will vary with each business case. General costs associated with 3PLs include:

  • In and out fees
  • Storage fees
  • Picking and packing

In contrast to incurring additional costs associated with either new construction or contracting with 3PLs, improving the utilisation of space within your current DC provides an immediate and inexpensive alternative for expanding available DC space.


Apparel Carton Suite Optimisation Reduces Labour Costs

Cartons go through an extensive journey at your DC. Inbound shipments are unloaded, cartons may be placed on a conveyor belt, scanned, opened, and, in some instances, be reused for outbound shipments. Each step in this process provides an opportunity for an error to occur. Common MOC failures at DCs include:

  • Cartons that are not the appropriate size may get stuck on the conveyor belt
  • Cartons made with improperly sourced raw materials might collapse under the weight of stacking

Each time the process breaks down, manual labour is required to correct the error that occurred. Proactively preventing processing errors reduces labour costs by allowing each carton touchpoint and process to function as intended.


Optimising apparel carton suites requires taking a holistic view of the supply chain journey that your MOCs will take while delivering apparel products to your customers. Carefully balancing out the needs for current quality, packaging oversight at SEA product factories, efficiently filling MOCs to eliminate headspace, designing stacking patterns that allow you to make maximum use of your contracted container volumes, reducing labour costs, and eliminating the need to build new DCs are just a few of the many benefits that you can achieve with apparel carton suite optimisation.


If you'd like to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of your transport packaging, we're happy to provide you with a quote.
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