Supply chains need to be customer centric to  be effective

Supply chains need to be customer centric to be effective

Fast fashion is all about getting product to market quickly without over-spending – and fabric platforming, data metrics and new technologies such as digital printing can all help to speed up the process.

Guido Schlossmann, president and chief executive officer of Thailand-based sourcing specialist Synergies Worldwide, tells just-style the key issue is getting the balance right.

"To get an order from production to delivery can take 70 to 80 days in some circumstances. It is critical for the fast-fashion supply chain to secure fabric platforms in which people are informed about the whole of the strategy and plans – it is this that makes fast-fashion faster than classic fashion," he says.

Schlossmann adds that technology could bring elements of fast fashion outsourcing back to where brands are based. He recalls a recent trip to Italy, assessing "the most sophisticated digital printing machines" that could help turn production around in just five days – including fabric finishing – using grey fabric from China.

"From catwalk to retail, following a catwalk tweak, Zara can now move from garment assembly to retail within three weeks," he says.

One way to get a range of products to market quickly is to use the same base material but treat and finish it in different ways to give clothes with a completely different look and feel.

"Raw denim, for example, offers itself to different styles and techniques so that two different products made from exactly the same material can look totally different. You can colour the product at the last minute so that you can respond to fashion," Schlossmann explains.

He says designers must learn about the strengths of new technology and co-ordinate production with technicians to develop relationships that can deal with the last-minute design changes that are a hallmark of the industry.

Developing relationships

Developing relationships for potential last-minute changes is incredibly important stresses Nick Banich, business development manager of operations for Miebach Consulting in the US, using the example of Leicester City FC winning the English Premier League title this past year.

"They've generally been one of the worse teams in the Premier League, often being relegated one year and back in the League the next. When they went on their Cinderella run last year and won the championship despite 10,000 to one odds, it was incredible. But as it became trendy to cheer for the underdogs, retail outlets and fan shops actually ran out of Leicester gear," he explains.

He continues to say that as a result of this unpreparedness, many levels of the supply chain missed out on a great revenue stream.

"Yes, it is often cheaper to do apparel manufacturing in places far away from the US and Europe, but when unexpected events happen, such as a whole team's worth of gear suddenly becoming the hottest thing on the market, why didn't someone have a relationship with a possibly more expensive manufacturer but one that is located near the local market so they could have ramped up production when merchandise was sold out?

"It would have cost more and they'd get less margin on that product, but what was the amount of revenue missed out on by not being able to stock their shelves?" Banich questions.

Data metrics and social media

Technology, through the likes of data metrics and social media monitoring, is key to being prepared, he adds. By knowing what customers want and are talking about, a company can respond to demand. This reinforces his belief that despite traditional methods, a fast fashion supply chain should be designed backwards – starting with the consumer first.

"One thing we're seeing in the fast fashion industry is that you need to be customer centric in the design of your supply chain to be effective. You need to start with the needs of the customer and work backwards. What do they want, how fast do they want it, how sustainable do they need products to be, and from there, look at how do they want it distributed – online, in retail stores etc," Banich explains.

But technology can also be problematic. In particular, e-commerce can add real complexity to a supply chain, especially for manufacturers or brands that deal with their own store channels or wholesale merchandising.

"Going from a situation where a company is shipping big cases and large quantities to their stores whenever a new season begins, to suddenly having to ship many individual items that have been ordered online every day, can be a drastic change – for all levels of the supply chain. Manufacturers need to be ready for quick turnaround; distributors need to be ready to send the goods out quickly and deliver them on time," he says.

But having an e-commerce option has become a necessity in the modern fashion industry, Banich continues. "From a distributor, seller or manufacturer's point of view, it is much more expensive to be in the e-commerce space, but the industry is at the point where a company needs to have an e-commerce site because everyone else does," he told just-style.

Click on the following links to read other articles on the fast fashion supply chain:

Fast fashion – The choice to air freight or wait

Fast fashion – Why sustainability adds sourcing complexity

Fast Fashion – Tech tools to transform supply chains

With additional reporting by Mandy Kovacs.