Fast fashion companies are facing greater pressures and more complex supply chains in developing products and getting them to stores quickly. Planning ahead to ensure quality, as well as having the flexibility to make swift decisions and changes, is key to success.

Munir Mashooqullah, founder and president of US-based Synergies Worldwide, notes that while established fast fashion companies have efficient and well-organised logistics operations, their challenges can be intensified by import rules differing among target countries.

Likewise, UK-based Go Supply Chain Consulting Ltd has also highlighted the challenges of moving products across borders. “The fashion industry is fast-paced and highly globalised, with clothing designed in one country, raw materials sourced from another, manufactured in yet another, and despatched to customers in any number of other countries,” it says in a briefing note.

Mashooqullah adds this is especially difficult for smaller, newer companies.

In terms of organising shipments, he advises firms with only a few stores in some markets to consider carefully which routes would be the most efficient, and whether to bundle them. “There are countries with eight stores, seven I know if a fast fashion company has 80 stores in Mexico City, they probably ship them to Mexico separately. But if you have eight shops in Saudi Arabia, another maybe 20 or 25 shops in a non-EU country for instance, then what are you going to do?” he asks.

Emerging markets are particularly challenging for smaller companies to organise, says Mashooqullah. For instance, Asian countries have higher duties, higher import costs, and may lack the convenience of being geographically close to brand headquarters in countries such as Sweden or Spain.

Complex sales environment

On top of this, the sales environment is more complex than before, according to a July document from Go Supply Chain. Where once fast fashion firms focused on providing trendy garments on time at the right price, of acceptable quality, and in an attractive store setting with helpful salespeople, bricks-and mortar retail companies today must also compete with growing digital retail alternatives.

These include on-line e-commerce websites easily accessible using social media and mobile technology. “Companies need the flexibility to fill orders and manage inventory while satisfying customer needs across the many sales channels,” says the document.

One common challenge is how to manage distribution within a complex and rapidly evolving multi-sales channel environment, it says, noting flexibility and the ability to respond quickly are key to a brand’s success.

Fast fashion brands are also working on providing more direct customer experience with services such as click-and-collect, mail order, a wider range of online offerings, free delivery, free returns through any channel, and mobile-friendly websites, adds the company.

Software solutions

Software providers can provide solutions – like product lifecycle management (PLM) systems – that help brands manage flexibility, and developers are updating their systems to tackle the increasingly complex fashion environment.

PLM can help companies avoid shipment delays caused by poor quality products, says Laurent Dubuisson, vice president of EMEA client services for California-based Centric Software Inc. “To make sure you still comply with different regulations…that needs to be controlled ahead of time,” he says.

For instance, Centric 8 PLM offers a Factory Audit Mobile App that allows companies to conduct and document onsite factory audits with any iOS-enabled mobile device. The app links the audit information to a vendor scorecard in the PLM, which helps companies track whether they comply with government, social and contractual regulations, document compliance and mitigate risk.

Centric also provides the Capture It for iPhone App, with which users can capture and upload photos of products directly to the PLM. They can be instantly reviewed and marked-up, making the sample review process significantly more efficient.

The app can also speed up transactions and customisations as representatives can capture initial offerings, which the brand’s developers can quickly comment on and request changes.

Centric is focusing on these mobile applications so that users can collaborate more easily and faster, allowing for faster processes and responses to changes in demand. “If something doesn’t go well at specific moment in the store, they are able to react to this much faster [than a company without PLM],” says Dubuisson.

He adds mobile technology also gives the PLM more flexibility by giving access to users that “sometimes don’t work behind a computer.”

Similarly, Philippe Ribera, France-based Lectra’s marketing director of software, told that a collaborative platform is essential to a successful fast fashion enterprise. “If you don’t collaborate in this business model, you are dead. Because people are travelling all over the world, they are making decisions on the fly…You have no time to waste,” he adds.

The company released the latest version of its solution, Lectra Fashion PLM V4, in March. The updates focused on improving the user experience and making it more intuitive, says Ribera.

The updates also focused on collection planning and calendar management.

Ribera notes software needs to be simple for users, no matter in which country they are based, and should require minimal training. “We need to simplify the user experience…the more complex the business model, the easier must be the technology to use that supports it,” he adds. 

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