Fashion is finally catching up with the “on-demand” economy.
As digitization has made its way to the runway shows, the speed of trend adoption has also evolved to the point at which fast fashion often beats the original designs to market. See-now-buy-now is a real opportunity for many companies to quickly monetize runway coverage to the benefit of its creator.
At the same time, this strategy brings a fair share of inherent tension: within production departments, components of the supply chain, retail and wholesale constituents, and amongst editorial and commercial entities.
Much of the talk around the “buy-now” trend is focused on the B2C impact — changing consumer behavior and evolving new marketing responses — while the B2B, back-end impact has yet to be tackled or addressed. For an industry that perpetually celebrates aesthetic innovation, production innovation needs to be more deliberate than simply pushing the calendar forward and beginning sourcing six months earlier. The stakes are too high and solving the speed-to-market challenges will be a competitive advantage for those who can implement new solutions properly and profitably.
It is undeniable that brands and designers have created a huge challenge for themselves and their partners by making this leap, but it’s not an insurmountable one. Just as the concept of see-now-buy-now was made necessary by the way consumers interact with brands through technology, the challenges in the production process can be solved through technology.
With that in mind, here are five tactics to help businesses usher in this new era and achieve long-term success working on fashion’s new calendar.
Speed Up and Streamline Discovery
In our research, we’ve found that design professionals spend a significant chunk of their time — five hours every business day on average — locating materials, components and suppliers that fit their aesthetic, compliance and production needs. This is time that could be spent on creating and differentiating their product lines. Trade fairs, often the source of innovation for designers, are biannual events, yet apparel and accessory deliveries are a monthly if not a weekly occurrence.
This requires new, “always-on” approaches to sourcing. Innovative, tech-enabled global platforms are streamlining the process, enabling designers and sourcing professionals to discover new textiles and materials, connecting them directly with trade fairs and suppliers all over the world, 24/7 and 365 days a year. This access means creatives can step outside of their established networks and find inspiration from new sources all over the world, while reducing costs and increasing speed to market.
Get Instant Access to Information
In an industry that operates on minutia of detail — think fabric, finishings and fit specifications — real-time access to information at the supplier and product level is an urgent necessity in an on-demand world. Currently served only by antiquated spreadsheets and long e-mail chains with a 24-hour time-zone delay, brands need immediate indications of lead times and pricing, as well as technical data at their fingertips in order to make decisions in a faster and more efficient way.
There is no room for nostalgia here: this is information that is being digitized now and can be delivered instantly. Even a one-day delay is unnecessary.
Constantly Evaluate Your Vendor Base.
Supply chain innovation may mean greater transparency into its elements, whether for compliance, speed, quality, efficiency or payment structures. Everything is up for grabs, but you can only change what you can see.
Tighten Feedback Loops
As a tighter calendar shifts the way designers, merchandisers, production and suppliers work together, faster decision-making and approvals at all stages are required. New communication tools like WhatsApp, Slack or PLM systems, may not be perfect but are available to manage communication and collaboration throughout complex and international networks.
It’s not the tools as much as the way they are used — stakeholders need to ensure cross-functional teams are operating in complete transparency, while also retaining the flexibility to take conversations offline when needed.
Adopt and Adapt
Lastly, adopting see-now-buy-now — or any change of delivery schedule — is not easy…and adapting processes that make them successful and profitable is even more difficult. Brands of different sizes and scales will adapt differently, and what works for a large-scale brand with its own distribution networks and omnichannel retail capabilities isn’t going to work for smaller or independent designers.
The fashion industry supply chain has been sub-optimal for years, but the ‘see now, buy now’ strategy may just be the catalyst for the industry to embrace technology improvements that have enabled other industries to make operational leaps. And the same technology may also accelerate the demand chain, improving product differentiation and trend response.
Jag Gill is founder and chief executive officer of Sundar, an apparel sourcing firm.