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Building a fashion business blueprint for a successful 2023

Let’s start our reasoning by quoting McKinsey Apparel: “We propose a set of bold moves to cope with ever-changing customer demand. The successful organization of the future, will completely revamp their operating model when it comes to tools, capabilities, and processes”.

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As we head into 2023, the latest Accenture / S&P Global UK Business Outlook shows a decline in business confidence. Levels fell by 10% in October, to a 13-year low, amidst challenging economic conditions. Inflation and recession, along with supply chain disruptions and changing levels of consumer demand, are expected to be recurring themes throughout 2023. It’s clear that we shouldn’t expect the next 12 months to be plain sailing.

There is cause for optimism however, but this must be tempered with realism as well as a clear plan of action to confront the roadblocks that lie ahead. UK businesses are more optimistic than the European counterparts for example, and many firms expect employment to rise. They do, however, foresee challenges recruiting the right talent. Manufacturing output is also expected to grow, but simultaneously capital expenditure plans are being dialled back on expectations of smaller profits.

Building an agile, efficient, and resilient business is more important today than ever before. Here, we look at how this can be achieved in 2023 with our blueprint for success.

Point 1: Stamp Out Data Silos

A data silo is a collection of data which is controlled by one department and remains inaccessible, or difficult to access, to other departments. It is often incompatible with other data sets.

This situation is not uncommon in large organisations, where separate business units may operate independently, each with their own sets of tools and rules. This approach may allow the individual business unit to work faster and with agility, but problems arise when the data needs to come together.

Separate teams, inputting their data in separate spreadsheets and using different formatting or keywords, can quickly create complexity and confusion. Any time saved by the individual teams, will be lost trying to make the data sets match. Often, with disparate data sets, the data pool will need to be cleaned to get rid of errors and remove duplicate data, costing both time and money.

Even if the transition is relatively seamless, the main problem of the silo mentality remains. No one is able to oversee all data with a top-down, 360-degree view of what’s happening across the organisation at any given time. This muddies what should be a unified vision, and throws up hurdles on the path to long term growth.

A unified approach is key. To achieve that unity, it may be necessary to abandon old tools, and embrace new.

Point 2: Break Email Chains

Long email chains are a black hole, where important data disappears. Was this important piece of information sent in this chain, or the other? Which email exactly? Did everybody receive that information, or is it languishing in someone’s spam folder, or among their unread emails? Did someone accidentally reply to one person, rather than to all people copied in?

If email chains are the basis of how information is relayed and exchanged within an organisation, it is only a matter of time before something gets lost, or fails to reach everybody it should reach. More often than is comfortable, that can cost you.

Unless everybody is on the same page, the organisation won’t be able to respond quickly to changes and challenges, and this in turn may hurt your bottom line.

Emails are excellent tools for communication, but, they are not meant for sharing highly specialised data across entire organisations. They are also not the only tool that the fashion industry has outgrown.

Complex development processes, involving a myriad of different teams, departments and suppliers, require systems which integrate these crucial communications with decision-making. Systems like WFX Cloud PLM.

Point 3: Leave Spreadsheets Behind In Favour Of Smart Digital System

Excel spreadsheets: do they haunt your dreams too? Excel and other similar spreadsheet tools are very good. There is no argument against the tools themselves. But, like many other industries, the fashion industry has become far too complex to be managed by spreadsheets alone.

Production plans and technical product information, milestones, order lists, cost calculations and sample progression: it all changes quickly in the fashion industry, and it’s near-impossible to keep up with by updating a series of spreadsheets by hand. There is a high risk of working with perpetually outdated information.

Errors, duplicate data, inconsistent information affecting decision making. The list of problems goes on. Fixing each of them, requires time and resources. Adding that degree of complexity and frustration into teams, already dealing with ongoing supply chain disruptions, changing consumer demand, sustainability efforts and the ecommerce boom, simply isn’t sustainable.

McKinsey Apparel’s CPO Survey 2021 concurs, noting that: “Production efficiency and transparency remain key issues in today’s supply-chain challenges. Smooth interactions with suppliers, via platforms or other digital links, are crucial. Knowing production and shipment status, on a daily basis, is becoming more and more important. Keeping up “manually”, with Excel and email, is no longer an option.”

Point 4: Invest In Cutting-Edge Software

A good investment pays for itself over time, and in the case of ‘best of breed’ software, that could be a very short time.

Technology has solutions for almost every need across any industry, and fashion is no exception. From product lifecycle management, to materials requirement planning. From enterprise resource planning to warehouse management and digital showrooms. There is nothing that is unavailable, and many fashion businesses are already beginning to embrace the benefits of digitalisation as a result.

A centralised data environment, with tools taking care of different aspects while being able to ‘talk’ to each other, so you don’t have to, is the way forward for the fashion industry. It saves time, as your workforce no longer needs to manually pull data out of different sources, and it improves accuracy, ensuring all data is aligned in real-time. It also allows for greater confidence and speed, as well as more efficient supplier relationships paired with greater agility.

In a sector where ESG efforts are not just desired, but also required, data visibility is also absolutely essential. The widespread assumption is, that it costs more money to run a sustainable fashion company. However, usually, embedding sustainability across the organisation can turn out to be more cost-effective. Particularly when technology is used to visualise data, that would otherwise be manually kept, for better decision-making.

From yarn to fashion, sustainability blueprint thinking also involves the tracking of the total supply chain.
From yarn to fashion, sustainability blueprint thinking also involves the tracking of the total supply chain.

By way of example, through understanding the true effects of certain component movements, by detecting and eliminating excess waste throughout the supply chain, or indeed by increasing stock control effectiveness.

Digital systems empower quick decisions, based on accurate reporting and insights: you can calculate, rather than guesstimate, precisely what you need, all while employees can use their time and talent on other things, such as preparing your digital showroom.

Point 5: Engage Buyers, With Digitised Showrooms

Like many other digital solutions, virtual and digital showrooms received a big push during the Covid-19 pandemic. Traditional showrooms had to close to curb the spread of the virus, and now, even as in-person events have resumed, variations of digital showrooms are set to stay.

With virtual or digital showrooms, it only takes a few clicks to set up selections of collections that are specifically suitable for certain buyers. Collections can be created and organised online, with product details, pricing, photos, videos, and delivery information. Fully digital environments could even be combined with 3D virtual sampling functionalities, which enable brands to digitally visualise samples, before purchase decisions are made.

A practical application can include a combination of digital showroom tools for physical showrooms, where a buyer can receive an interactive session with the sales and marketing teams of the brand, with online order and account maintenance facilities. This kind of hybrid approach is particularly popular on the European mainland, where brands are quick to adopt efficiencies, and marketing teams like to provide their sales colleagues with a consistent brand and collection image to use during their presentations.

Presentations can showcase collections in detail during selection meetings, and buyers will also be able to explore collections further from their office or the showroom, with an engaging, immersive experience. The evidence is that this leads to closer relationships, higher order values and more add-on, and replenishment orders. The main limit in how much the collaboration between systems, sales, marketing and product teams can achieve, is imagination: the tools to make it all a reality are already here.

Colect.io is one of the leaders in this space. Its suite of impressive tools transforms how fashion brands sell their collections by combining digital catalogues, smoother ordering, brand portals and multi-screen showrooms.

Conclusion: The Bigger Picture for a Blueprint

You may have noticed a common thread in this fashion business technology blueprint: centralise, centralise, and centralise. Quick decision making, visibility, flexibility and efficiency are vital for fashion businesses to successfully confront the challenges the future may bring, and embrace the opportunities that 2023 presents in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

If you haven’t already begun your digital transformation, make 2023 the year you leave the old and inefficient behind. Schedule a consultation with us today.

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