Time and again, there have been talks about fashion industry to behave responsibly and move on to work more towards seeing long-term business stability. But, it took a pandemic like COVID-19 to make the industry realise that the business structure is going to change forever and all traditional methods will become redundant.
Overall, every human interaction has been affected in these unprecedented times. People are more likely to want a flexible working arrangement; nobody knows what travelling would look like and what shopping would look like. There will be less physical interaction and people will communicate more with digital methods, which saw an inception long ago, but the only thing lacking was that these technologies were taken for granted previously. This situation requires companies to be flexible and agile.
Amidst this entire rapidly changing business scenario, it is not at all sustainable and advisable to have a business that designs one year in advance, placing orders with large quantities to factories on the other side of the world after a long process of sampling or having warehouses full of items waiting for customers to come to stores. All of that is gone and no longer is a board/executive decision, but the new reality won’t let a company working like that to stay in business.
So, what’s the solution? What’s the way forward? The answer is – Digitalisation!
Endorsing the need of digitalisation, Leonardo Silva, Senior Manager, Global Brands Group, explains his take on it. “I don’t think digitalisation is THE saviour of the apparel industry, but it is ESSENTIAL for any post-COVID-19 survival strategy,” opines Leonardo, adding, “Companies that started successfully on the digitalisation path fared much better during COVID-19 and have a good competitive advantage even in the post-pandemic world.”
He further sheds light on two important aspects –
- To be more agile in development, it is necessary to have a fully digitised product development process that involves suppliers. Otherwise, it’s going to be a chaos.
- Retail is also changing rapidly, and to take full advantage of e-commerce, it is necessary to have a well-developed structure for digital sales.
“Development time needs to be drastically reduced by designing better products. To design better products, you need to know your customer better. PLM allows users to have a flexible working arrangement and agile communication with counterparts in other parts of the world,” says Leonardo highlighting the magnitude of PLM.
However, it’s imperative to understand here what exactly a PLM is all about and what PLM does before understanding how it does that…
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a tool which ‘digitally’ handles and integrates four main phases of the fashion industry: conception, design, production and distribution.
Going digital is for everyone in all these phases, and through the integration of PLM tools that can support teams within an organisation with their to-do lists and communication, it doesn’t just enhance overall efficiency, but also improves the company culture. Integration with planning tools and good data analytics can give visibility to what needs to be designed.
The cycle begins with a new product. The question remains – how to choose a new product? In 2020, when fashion industry has been disrupted more than ever, no experience-based prediction will stand true and hold ground as far as the future product assortment and quantity are concerned. There will be an intense market research involved to ensure clothing brands are building a product which end customers would actually want to buy.
“To reduce stock, better data management is needed to know how much to order and how to allocate stock,” avers Leonardo. This is possible by PLM integration, and once this data management is done, the process involves defining manufacturing requirements for the selected product and identifies whether or not the product is actually feasible in production.
Design and product development
PLM starts its job from this phase to help designers and merchandisers manage their time better who are under serious pressure as far as timelines are concerned. After settling upon a product concept, designers create prototypes and look for ways to attain seamless product development phase. Every element of a company’s technology infrastructure will have to contribute significantly in terms of connectivity of their communication with team members if they want to stay relevant to ever evolving needs of the industry in difficult times.
PLM assists companies manage product style and component information such as description (identification and classification), attributes (size, colour, supplier, SKU per size & colour), status and development type. During the product development phase, merchandisers need to deal with cost and margin effectively, retail and wholesale price, and manage composition. This is all handled in PLM.
“Communication with suppliers and factories can be simplified by involving them in PLM and letting them have an active participation in the development process. Integration is key for the success of digitalisation, and PLM is the perfect platform for integration of different roles/locations,” shares Leonardo.
Another simplification that an effective PLM offers is data integration. A master data across different clothing brands, product categories and enterprise systems is always integrated in PLM which eliminates the need of doing all those old paper work manually, hence saving huge cost. Just imagine the amount of money that is being wasted by the companies in paper work!
This master data can be updated in real time. If there is any issue in design at the sampling or production stage, the designer or production manager can make changes in real time through a mobile app (which PLM software offers to streamline processes) and a notification is sent to all the concerned persons.
This way, PLM software doesn’t let team members to recompile data at each stage because it can be reviewed concurrently via the platform. One doesn’t have to send updated product design files back and forth and wonder if everyone has the latest version. This is generally called ‘Single version of Truth (SVOT), and thus, PLM lets team members to spend time on other creative work which adds value to the organisation.
“I have seen a reduction of samples, and once PLM is implemented, teams can be restructured to be more productive. If before you had people checking other people’s mistakes or double-checking something (which is, sadly, a common practice), now those hours can be used to be more productive,” elaborates Leonardo.
Production process and distribution
When it comes to production process, it’s often seen that unplanned schedules or last minute addition/deletion to a design derail the entire timelines. This means distributing the product to the appropriate sales channels for sale to customers will end up getting ruined. An adherence to PLM standards is needed from the companies to reverse these challenges.
“The real problem is that implementing PLM for some roles/people implies a big learning curve that will affect the entire process. Implementation needs to be fast but not rushed,” suggests Leonardo.
What’s the way forward?
Role of digitalisation in apparel industry can’t be denied. However, as we know brands are going bankrupt, factories are shutting down and the entire supply chain is severely impacted. Amidst this, it’s quite possible that apparel companies might not have investment capacities in today’s tough time to go for digitisation.
“PLM is not enough to drive this change, but it plays a key role as the connecting place for other initiatives like planning, 3D design, material development, ERP integration and involvement of suppliers in development. Without PLM, all these initiatives would be individual projects with local benefits, but without an integration tool like PLM, none of them can really make an impact if implemented at all,” mentions Leonardo.
He further advices that the investment in PLM is part of the overall digitalisation strategy. Without that, it’s just a matter of time before the company joins the already long list of bankrupt companies.
Furthermore, though many brands and manufacturers have it on their list to go digital, they are usually getting away with immense operational pressure created on a daily basis. This also strengthens the fact that they need to adopt a robust system (PLM) which eases the job within an organisation by eliminating all manual and analogue practices.
“I think it is always good to emphasise that NO system/app/technology can make any substantial change without changing culture/process/mentality. If you’re in the privileged position of having a job post-COVID-19, being open to change and thinking how technology can help will be key for future success,” concludes Leonardo.