IMPRESSIONS from a Cross-section

Topic

In which areas of fashion, do you see the maximum changes happening? Do you think the ERP/PLM/supply chain management areas were sufficiently digitalised already?

Opportunity now to reimagine processes & systems in a digital environment
Even as the coronavirus pandemic has economies reeling across the world, it is increasingly clear that technology will emerge as a differentiating factor in the days to come. Fibre2Fashion spoke to some techexperts to find out what has changed in the fashion world amid worldwide lockdown; how brands, retailers and factories are increasingly looking at digitalising their supply chains and other areas.


Change is taking place across retail, product and supply chain, but the most change is likely occurring in the supply chain as brands, retailers and factories look to respond to trends and increase their number of seasonal offerings. While some brands have deployed digital technology in ERP/PLM/supply chain management, most of that work was focused on using digital technology to optimise analogue systems. Now, there’s opportunity to reimagine processes and systems in a completely digital environment. Introducing machine learning technologies to change how demand forecasting works, developing garment collections completely digitally to allow for stronger cross-functional collaboration, and even sampling garments digitally...it’s all happening.

I do not think so. There are multiple solutions and system upgrades that need to be implemented. These refer back to design, factory monitoring, inventory management, and then through the selling process. The innovation is there, companies just need to investigate and invest.

I believe that marketing and communication is the area in which the fashion industry has been able to quickly catch up with digital technologies available. However, the supply chain still remains at a stage where several changes need to happen. I’m talking about the possibility to track the products alongside the supply chains through IoT for instance, or about the digital prototyping that can open up new avenues for e-commerce optimisation.

As the supply chain is massively disrupted, we will witness new forms of digitalisation in relation to supply chain. Although this has been happening for some time, we have started to witness new forms of digitalisation, with smart technologies playing huge role, thanks to powerful data implementations.

It would be important for ERP to be integrated into blockchain for example which would potentially improve processes around flexibility, free flow of information, transparency, and efficiency. In terms of PLM, there is some degree of incompatibility with various new technologies and therefore the change might be slower. With supply chains becoming shorter, there will be challenges to fundamental concepts of PLM around life cycles, and centralisation, and this might not work efficiently (at least for now) with some technologies such as blockchain. On the other hand, there is a huge potential for the relationship between PLM, and Machine Learning, which would provide opportunities to improve CRM and productivity.

We see more adoption of consumer-facing technologies in the short term, and because of the impact that these technologies will have on business, the adoption of technologies for the backend (such as ERP, PLM and supply chain management) will also increase in the medium- to long-term. From robots that sew and cut fabric, to artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that predict style trends, to virtual reality (VR) mirrors in dressing rooms, technology is automating, personalising, and speeding up every aspect of fashion, according to a May 2019 CB Insights note. Though the adoption was slow in the last two decades, brands have begun using AI to enhance customers' shopping experience, analyse data, boost sales, forecast trends and offer inventory-related guidance, among many other things.

For instance, smart chatbots and intelligent touchscreens are being used in stores to improve customer experience and customised product suggestions. Further, smart clothing, wearable spaces, multi-functional designs, responsive sportswear, etc, use the Internet of Tings (IoT) concept with the help of sensors and AI to personalise fashion further. Trend forecasting and supply chain management are some of the most profitable avenues for AI. For instance, real-time inventory tracking has become key for brands as they save time and make for efficient warehouse management and operations. Last, but not the least, if we combine inventory tracking with AI's powerful data prediction tools for trend forecasting, brands could have a significant competitive advantage.

Every fashion company is focused on lean inventory, fast turns, and highest ROI on their inventory investment.

ERP has made good progress to manage customer orders, inventory, distribution and finance as consumer spending habits have changed. PLM, by definition, is digital. Supply chain management has come a long way, but has a much greater opportunity to become much more digital. Many companies still rely on manual processes like Excel and email for supply chain visibility and execution. The latest generation of digital supply chain platforms integrates all supply chain information into a single platform, then uses AI for scenario analysis and automated decision-making. The most technically advanced fashion companies are just starting to roll out these types of solutions.

During the early days of Supply Compass when I was living in India, I felt that many communication and production processes had been entrenched over decades, and few had paused to question why they were being done in such a way. It didn’t make sense to me that the retail and consumer-facing side of fashion was exploring all kinds of exciting technologies, but that behind the scenes product development, production, and supply chain management was essentially being done via email, Excel and WhatsApp. Whilst these are all great tools, none have been designed for the unique complexity of fashion supply chains. What’s more, with sustainability rising up the agenda of every brand, I couldn’t see how these ambitious sustainability goals would be achievable without technology at the core. I noticed that although brands and factories were quick to talk through the challenges that existed within fashion production and supply chains, technology was rarely seen as a viable solution to their problems. For me, the basics of how brands and manufacturers find each other and work together required a rethink and digital overhaul. It has been hard at times to get brands to see the benefits of using cloud-based software, but now everyone has been forced to work from home, they can’t go into the office to manually look something up. Overnight, working from home has brought about an immediate need to design and produce online. If we look at how fast everyone has adapted to this new normal in response to the global pandemic, imagine how fast businesses could adapt in other areas? Rather than reverting to how things have always been done, there is a huge opportunity here for brands to reinvent, adapt and experiment with new technologies and methods of working. This ranges from the radical—such as buying virtual clothing from companies like The Fabricant—to the practical, such as using virtual sampling software like Clo3D whilst closed factories are unable to produce physical samples. I’ve seen brands react fast to lockdown and experiment with digital fashion shows, virtual catwalks and virtual showrooms. Since most fashion brands have been forced to operate remotely, working from home has brought about an immediate need to design collections and manage production online. It’s important that teams use this time to explore and train themselves on new digital tools and bring product libraries into the cloud. Production software provides a necessary single source of truth and means teams can be working on the same collection or order at the same time, whilst at home. This reduces miscommunication, increases team visibility, drives efficiency and encourages better team collaboration, regardless of whether you are together or not. Slack, WhatsApp and Zoom are great tools for communication but aren’t built for product development, factory collaboration, or effective order management. The reinvention won’t just be limited to retail; we think this will transform parts of the supply chain too. We’re exploring virtual showrooms for factories so they can better showcase their capabilities whilst brands aren’t able to visit—and we wonder whether tools like this could last beyond the crisis.

We think the maximum changes would be in the brick-and-mortar retail stores. We are seeing a lot of retail stores coming back in business however operating under strict rules regarding hygiene and social distancing. The concept of the future apparel retail store would play a big part here. Under the situation of the fitting rooms still being closed, technologies such as 3D body scanner that helps with size recommendation or digital body avatar and 3D garments that enable virtually trying on clothing could help to cope with the issue. The interactive and immersive 3D garment displays in the retail stores allow customers to view, customise, and play with the designs that could help to attract customers to visit the brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Another big change we could foresee is the way businesses communicate with their clients and with their stakeholders. While people are still trying to perform social distancing, 3D digital garments and fabrics could be an option much better than 2D photos. With a 3D digital display, you could view the garments or fabrics from various perspectives, review the colours, textures, and other details in a true to-live context.

Published on: 16/06/2020

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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