In 1990, with encouragement of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a self-selected group of faculty members from several of Harvard University’s faculties agreed to come together and focus our research on the U.S. based textile and apparel industries. The aim was to uncover ways to improve the performance of the channel—from fiber to apparel. It quickly became apparent that the channel needed to be expanded to include retailing, the driver of overall channel.

While four members of the original group of five focused on the industry public policy features, manufacturing techniques, and systems dynamics (Abernathy, Dunlop, Hammond, and Weil); the fifth member of the original group (Milenkovic) sought to apply modern ideas and techniques of computation geometry to the efficient layout of apparel parts for cutting—so called Marker Making.

The book, A Stitch in Time: Lean Retailing and the Transformation of Manufacturing—Lessons from the Apparel and Textile Industries, published by Oxford University Press in 1999 offered a historical based approach of the developments and performance of the industry from the early industrial revolution in the U.S. to the present when modern technology created the building blocks of lean retailing. Apparel retailers using bar codes and modern IT technology have shifted inventory risk of carrying basic apparel items from the retailer to manufacturer influencing sourcing decisions.

Anthony Volpe and Abernathy have found a way to combine point of sale information with the ideas of option to offer retailers an opportunity to reduce their inventory risk with fashion merchandise.

Professor Milenkovic’s Marker Making research has become an important stand-alone research effort, and now forms a separate section of the HCTAR site.

Professor Weil’s research on Labor Regulations has expanded too and is now presented in its own section on the HCTAR site. Before being appointed as the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor, he published a book entitled The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So many and What Can Be Done About It, which provides a new perspective on the structure of employment, its impacts on workers and businesses, and how the situation could be improved.

After completion of A Stitch in Time, Professors Dunlop, Weil, and Abernathy joined forces with Kermit Baker and Kent Colton of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies to explore ways of improving efficiency of residential home building following the approach developed by HCTAR. This research is now a separate section on this site called The Residential Construction Industry. In 2011, they published a book entitled Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better: Lessons from the Harvard Home Building Study.