by David Wilcox, Head of Communications, PI Apparel
What lessons can be learned from an industry that’s turning itself around through modern practices and smart supply chains?
We find ourselves in a state of complete flux: legacy IT systems, which seemed so capable a few years ago, are rapidly becoming obsolete, and new industry players are disrupting old models of working, changing the rules and transforming the landscape of competition. As a result, customer expectations are constantly shifting as they demand digital and hyperconnected experiences. Because of this, the IT function is under unrelenting pressure to deploy leading-edge capabilities such as data analytics, advanced cyber-security and automated processing in an effort to keep up.
Leading decision makers in sourcing, supply chain and logistics need to be prepared for what’s to come as technological advancements and ever-changing consumer habits force companies to adapt, survive, and thrive. The integration of one real-time system will benefit organisations with increased productivity, scalability, speed and cost-competitiveness. The digitisation of corporate business processes will make your business more accurate and shorten lead times during the production and distribution cycles.
The fashion industry remains one of the worst environmental offenders, without doubt – although many manufacturers can be accused of making the same mistakes. However, emerging technologies are helping to realise a whole new set of capabilities and business models that can help this sector embed sustainability into the very core of the value chain, from product ideation through to after-care. While many companies recognise the importance of sustainability for their business, they often don’t know where to start. Ultimately, if you are to become truly sustainable, your practices must go beyond PR spiel, and sustainability must be positioned at the very centre of all you do, in a manner that remains commercially viable. With a fragmented and non-digital supply chain this will be much harder to change, so traceability, enabled by tech such as blockchain, is going to make a gigantic impact.
For too long academia has focused on theory over practice, but that is changing. Consumer-focused industries are moving at a blinding pace, from supply chain digitisation through to retail trends. They are looking specifically at how to attract and maintain a strong consumer relationship resulting in a profitable business model. The realisation that the academic community must shift to better prepare students for positions in this new and very real world is evident, and so the focus of some institutions is shifting towards skill-based education. The retraining of “other-skilled” individuals is equally important as new training is to the “less experienced” youth. In today’s world, age is but a number – you will be judged on your merits.
This is a practice that is perhaps more applicable, though not unique, to the fashion industry. US and European mass-market brands were rushing to move as much production to Asia as possible in order to gain a cost advantage. Some of them have successfully done this, ensuring high quality, speed, and compliance, and have been able to deliver quality products to consumers at the best price. This mindset is changing, mainly because of the unit-cost adjustment that has gone in line with regional socio-economic developments. Increasing nearshoring (production sites closer to the end-consumer) and more automated production models will make you more sustainable, certainly, but will that result in less profit?
Over the last 20 years there has been an ever-increasing demand for greater speed and variety, but at a lower cost and with a more environmental outlook. Deploying digital technologies and advanced processes within product creation is a start, but once the product leaves the factory how are you going to achieve the kind of connectivity, transparency and consumer satisfaction that will set you apart from your competition?
Unless you realise the end-to-end potential, you will never achieve the kind of ROI you, or your organisation, need to succeed.
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