Retailers are under intense pressure to deliver the latest products to markets faster

Retailers are under intense pressure to deliver the latest products to markets faster

The fashion industry thrives on its ability to react to trends. In the age of Instagram fashionistas, each with millions of followers, never has it been more important for these reactions to be lightning fast. Among the tools to help fashion firms meet these demands are unified technology solutions that offer substance over style.

Fuelled by 24/7 social media, celebrity and fickle media hype, consumers' fashion interests are changing more quickly than ever, meaning that product lifecycles are continuously accelerating – making it difficult for fashion retailers to keep pace with the demand. The route to customer itself is also very different to even just a few years ago, with fashion businesses having to fully embrace the omni-channel retail model if they are to remain not only competitive, but profitable too. 

Add to this the seasonality and long-standing unpredictability of the market, as well as the need to manage multiple vendors, factories and customer contracts, and you can see why fashion companies are facing an uphill struggle to ensure the latest, in-demand, quality products are delivered to markets faster and at a competitive price.

In order for fashion companies to keep up with these shifts in demand, making timely decisions and reducing time to market, agility is key. It's only with up-to-date, accurate information at their disposal that robust, well-informed decisions can be made, quickly and easily, ensuring the business is as responsive as possible. To achieve this, technology is crucial.

Thankfully, the days of having to choose between a best of breed PLM (product lifecycle management) system to facilitate great design, or functional ERP (enterprise resource planning) and finance system to ensure a combination of efficiency, robust processes and reporting, are long gone. There's a new generation of systems out there that combine these capabilities in a complete solution for fashion companies spanning PLM, order management, ERP and finance, providing that all-important end-to-end visibility and a whole host of other benefits that niche, disparate systems can't.

For creatives and designers in particular, these unified systems are hugely beneficial. Whereas disparate legacy systems separate the design process from production, finance, sales and CRM, an end-to-end solution ensures designers are 'in the loop' from the outset, furnishing creatives with the right information early on in the product development process to enable them to make informed decisions relating to material trends, cost and quality, for example.

With one unified solution, once designers have completed their part of the process, they can move on to next product, safe in the knowledge that they won't have to make amends or carry out a full redesign because the product doesn't quite fit the spec or the finances.

For a business's senior team, an end-to-end solution is a must-have to ensure the future success of the business. It's only with a comprehensive view of the business that specific areas of inefficiency can be identified, enabling the business to take the necessary steps to resolve this. These new generation solutions integrate all the core fashion processes, including design, development, sourcing, production, inventory management, multi-channel distribution and finance. Crucially, every aspect of the business is visible, providing the senior team with a solid platform from which to make robust, effective decisions.

This increased visibility improves a business's overall responsiveness. Fashion businesses have often been restrained by their systems, finding it difficult to respond dynamically to shifts in demand because of inflexible technology, affording limited visibility of the business as a whole.

An end-to-end system unifies the entire product process from design and concept, through to development and sales, incorporating material requirement planning (MRP) modules for intelligent and responsive re-ordering of stock, and a comprehensive warehouse management function, to name but two.

It's only by having easy access to all this information that fashion companies can make smart business decisions quickly and efficiently, with this increased agility accelerating speed to market and stealing a much-needed march on the competition.

What to look for in a solution for your fashion business:

  • Does the supplier have a fashion sector-specific solution? One size definitely does not fit all industries.
  • Choose a solution that will streamline processes, not add another level of complexity
  • Look for a scalable solution that will grow alongside the business
  • The international capability of a solution needs to be a true reflection of just how international your business is.
  • Carry out an audit of your existing systems – where are you lacking currently?

About the author: Rachel Unicomb is from Sapphire Systems, a global provider of ERP, financial and business management software.