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FashTech: What does the future look like?  [In Focus]

A snapshot of the latest fashion retail and supply chain technologies and the brands at the forefront of adopting these.

27 March 2019

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Written by Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of Supplycompass. Supplycompass is a sourcing platform that enables brands and manufacturers to find each other and work better together.


We all know, every good story has a beginning, middle and end. The fashion supply chain is no different. There is a beginning, middle and end - each of which is ripe for innovation and adoption of technology.


For the fashion brands of the future, the beginning of the supply chain is no longer about designing hard, but about designing smart. Exciting new fashion design software such as Optitex and CLO are revolutionising the design process. CLO uses digital simulation to create true-to-life 3D samples; avoiding the typical back-and-forth of the sample and review stage between brands and manufacturers. The software decreases the average brand’s lead times by weeks and counts Adidas, Hugo Boss, Dsquared2 and Disney as clients.

Speed-to-market is no longer just a 'nice to have' for brands but essential to their business model. Brands like ASOS and Zara that utilise the latest tech for shorter lead times are able to create ultra-responsive designs and are therefore top of mind for today’s Instagram-obsessed, trend-hungry consumer. Though elements of the fast-fashion business model come under criticism, their use of digital innovation to make the design process faster and more agile provides them a huge competitive edge. There is no reason why fashion businesses anchored in responsible production cannot adopt the same technologies and become faster, too.


Tech-adoption has been crucial to the industry’s growth, though it has heavily focused on the front-end and the back-end of the supply chain. Some tools ensure a seamless customer experience, while other innovations focus on personalisation or round-the-clock customer service. John Lewis and JD Williams are using Dressipi for personalisation and building insight about their customers, which helps plan their future buying using machine learning models. A recent report by McKinsey & Company and The Business of Fashion revealed that 75% of fashion retailers plan to invest in AI in 2018/19. AI may deliver more than just automation at the delivery stage. AI enhancements could drive the industry forward across many touch points from design to manufacturing to returns. GAP and Uniqlo have built augmented reality dressing rooms so that users can try on clothes from home, which reduces returns.


It’s no wonder that disruptive retailers such as Zalando – who have aligned themselves with cutting-edge technologies not only in operations, but in ethos – have financial growth profiles well ahead of their peers. With an estimated worth of over $5billion, digital innovation is the key conduit to the retailer’s success and market share growth. Zalando has over 1500 people working in IT, focusing on functions such as AI design, app development, platform development, pricing algorithms, personalisation and logistics functions.


Clearly, a company that holds technology core to its values and operations, can expect a more innovative output. But what about the middle of the fashion supply chain? Much like a good story, a supply chain cannot exist without the middle. That is where a story comes to life.


Over last 15 years, driven by the relentless growth of e-commerce, most focus on innovation has been either on the beginning of the fashion supply chain (design process, consumer analytics) or the end (online and mobile retail, distribution, customer data). Until recently, the middle of the supply chain - sourcing, production management and manufacturing - has been considered by many as too complex to tackle even for FashTech. To turn a product from an idea into reality, brands have had to work with an array of offline solutions that are neither integrated with each other, nor built for their industries. From SME retailers to luxury juggernauts, many are still using Excel for tech packs (and even fax!) for business processes that would be sped up infinitely by using digital platforms.


There are generalist project management and planning tools, including and Wrike, which can be a good starting point for fashion brands seeking better tools. These intuitive, visual, digital platforms radically improve on Excel. Unlike a huge Excel file with complex formulas, these platforms are lightweight, flexible and adaptable, making them useful for management of processes and complex projects. Using one of these platforms to record and manage production can facilitate better collaboration across departments, increase employee engagement and foster creative solutions.


However, the middle of the supply chain is best served by using a tool that is fit for purpose. When it comes to production, there is enormous potential to digitise, disrupt and win competitive advantage. Supplycompass is specifically designed for this purpose.


The future of the fashion industry will be written by those who adopt technology throughout their supply chain. Leading SME brands have the ability to adopt and implement new technologies much faster than their larger competitors. Solutions for the beginning and end of the supply chain are plentiful. It is vital not to overlook the middle of the supply chain, where processes are the most complex and tools most manual. Take inspiration from brands like Zalando, who show that innovation is key to gaining competitive advantage and can spur enormous growth.


At Supplycompass we harness the power of tech to bring greater trust, transparency and collaboration to global fashion supply chains, helping brands make their supply chains leaner, faster, more flexible and more responsible. 


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