LONDON — As more and more countries head into lockdown, limit movement and practice social distancing measures due to COVID-19, maintaining business, as usual, has become challenging for myriad industries, including retail and manufacturing.
It’s no surprise that digital services such as SupplyCompass, a design and production platform, have seen an uptick in demand as retailers are having to adapt and work remotely.
“What we’re really seeing is that it’s only made people more aware of how much they need to start transforming to digital solutions so that they can navigate uncertainty much more effectively in the future,” said Gus Bartholomew, cofounder and chief executive officer of SupplyCompass, which launched in 2016.
SupplyCompass currently works with around 50 brands across U.K., Europe and Australia to digitize the value chain, from allowing brands to “ideate” with sketch and chat tools, all the way to selecting fabrics from their partnered manufacturers. The software platform has attracted the likes of smaller contemporary companies such as Kitri, Billionaire Boys Club and House of Sunny.
Not only has this cut down on lead times, according to Bartholomew, it’s a more sustainable and traceable method.
“Traditionally, things like design would have been done in person and passed around e-mail, [lately] we’ve had interest from brands who perhaps weren’t as receptive before, especially in the luxury space, as they realize that they can’t get on a flight and speak to their factories,” he added.
While the core of the business is working with smaller companies that have a headcount between 10 and 60, Bartholomew says digitization for everyone is inevitable. He said that, in particular, it helps smaller brands in need of growing rapidly. With a service like SupplyCompass, they have structured processes to guide them.
“Both brands and manufacturers work on centralized information, there are photo uploads and approval processes and there is a single source of truth. Everything is stored in one place and that has been massively beneficial for brands,” he said.
The platform provides brands the ability to annotate and comment on designs in real-time with a dashboard that helps them manage multiple purchase orders, while manufacturers are able to upload textile information all in one place.
The company works with 300 handpicked factories, and Bartholomew says they have a very rigorous vetting process including their approach to sustainability. By partnering with so many factories, SupplyCompass is able to offer a digital library of around 300 sustainable materials that brands can browse from.
One of the features they are working now is to allow brands to bring their own manufacturers on board. Their next focus is to work more closely with manufacturers to build out tools they might need for internal management, as well as different modules for delivery and sampling.
The COVID-19 crisis is driving change along the value chain, and Bartholomew believes those changes will be lasting ones.
“The big thing is behavioral change. I think people inevitably change, but it takes time and there needs to be a good reason. I think this is a catalyst to drive it, so I do believe that if we switch to digitization and see the benefits it has — how much quicker, more efficient it is for the business — I think companies will stick to it,” he added.