Digitising the fashion industry: The latest supply chain technologies

  • Written by Peter Needle
  • Published on 17 May 2018

As the global fashion market becomes increasingly competitive, fashion brands are looking for ways to streamline their supply chains. A great number of moving parts are involved in the garment supply chain, and few high street retailers can manage their complex processes through spreadsheets alone. The risk of human error is too great – and that’s where supply chain technologies come in. Don’t know where to begin? Here’s our introduction to the topic…

PLM

The garment industry operates on tight margins. Efficient product development helps to control the amount of time and money invested in the design and development of any garment.

Companies that use product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions achieve a new level of control and visibility over their production process. PLM systems work by collating the wealth of data relevant to a product’s complete lifecycle, producing a blueprint available for anyone involved in its production, with all inputs, outputs and processes clearly outlined.

Gartner states: “As part of the strategy that apparel companies have pursued to use IT to scale efficiencies, enable innovation and make consumer-centricity possible, PLM can play a crucial role in creating fresh and innovative products and delivering them to market in a timely and profitable manner.”

The business intelligence company studied the role of PLM software in the apparel industry and found that 37% of respondents had experienced a reduction in product development time as a result of its use. The speed at which retailers can get new trends to market dictates their success and profits in the new world of fast fashion, and PLM systems are therefore an increasingly important part of any garment supply chain.

ERP

With online retail booming, consumers have more choice than ever in where they purchase apparel, and it is vital that retailers get customers spending in store by keeping inventory levels optimised. Consumers also expect to be able to buy their clothes wherever they like, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are essential to handle the huge amounts of information needed to run a modern multichannel retail business.

A recent article on CFO.com refers to ERP systems as “the heart, brain, and backbone of a company”. These solutions track business resources and manage the logistics of getting products to market, handling activities such as accounting, distribution and shipping. Many fashion retailers will use an ERP system to gain real-time visibility over stock and sales information, with this business insight enabling brands to react quickly to fluctuating consumer demand.

RFID

Alongside data management software, new hardware is making waves in the fashion industry by improving inventory intelligence. Last month, Inditex announced plans to extend the use of RFID technology across all Zara stores by 2016 to provide the brand with enhanced visibility over stock, enabling individual garments to be tracked around a store.

We’ve discussed how Zara’s supply chain is strengthened by a localised sourcing model in a previous blog post. Centralised distribution centres and local suppliers enable the fashion brand to deliver small batches of new designs to stores with an average turnaround time of only 24 hours, and this reactive behavior requires strict supply chain visibility and control. RFID technology will now increase supply chain efficiency even further, helping Zara to meet changing consumer demands and desires. Inditex CEO Pablo Isla described this use of RFID as “one of the most significant changes ever in how the group's stores operate”.

Originally published 18/08/2014

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