Blog: Leonie BarrieA change is as good as a rest

Leonie Barrie | 29 March 2013

The theme of change was a common thread running through this year's Prime Source Forum in Hong Kong.

Change from the organiser's perspective saw the move to a new venue, a new layout that saw delegates seated around tables instead of lined up in rows in front of the speakers, through to interactive polls interspersed throughout the sessions.

And for the apparel sector and its supply chain, the over-riding message throughout the two-day event was that the industry has to continue to change and evolve.

"This industry hasn't changed since the Industrial Revolution," noted Bob McKee, fashion industry strategy director at Infor, who took on the role of master of ceremonies. "That's long enough," he opined.

Borrowing from Bob's summing up: "We have to look at this industry from a value chain perspective, not just a supply chain perspective. We continue to break this industry down into chunks and then attempt to sub-optimise those chunks; we have to recognise we're only going to become efficient as an industry when we begin to look at the whole value chain."

The devil's in the details, he noted. "Hedging philosophies and hedging strategies are critically important in any sourcing business. Global economic factors, currency valuation and trade customs and tax requirements are key to successful sourcing. Bear these in mind and keep them as part of the strategies you will all deploy."

These "devil details," he added, are critical "and they will be the things that spell success or failure for you as sourcing organisations."

Take differentiation. "We have to look for differentiation in the industry and we have to recognise that differentiation is key. We've gone into a great sea of sameness, our business models are all the same, our products are all the same. Differentiation is one of the things that will continue to drive this industry forward.

"Innovation. What are the new innovations in fibres, in fabrics, in treatments? Let's be ready to adopt them and take them to the next level. We have to recognise and shorten the time between innovation and adoption.

"Data. We talked a lot about data, about information, and there's a tremendous amount of data, 'big data'. We need to learn how to use it, and we need to do the best we possibly can with it. We have to learn how to deal with and respond, rather than attempt to predict or forecast.

"The best thing we can do is figure out better ways to respond more quickly. How do we optimise the flow of products through or supply chain or value chain in order to respond quicker to the consumer? We're never going to be able to predict what the consumer wants. We'll have to do the best we can using technology and logistics to really respond faster to the consumer's requirements. As soon as we think we've figured them out, they're going to change."

And of course there's China, dominating discussions as it has every year since the inception of Prime Source Forum.

"What China brought to the table in the 80s in moving a lot of subcontracting engagements to Asia was a very different environment," McKee noted. "Buyers no longer had to know anything; sourcing people no longer had to know how to make a product. China allowed the buying world to become stupid. Between Hong Kong and China this 'machine' was created that allowed the industry up to the point of manufacture not to have to know as much as they used to."

As for the future, the industry is being pulled in two different directions: "How do we make it like the designer wants it, and still make a profit?

"The future of this industry has to be listening to the consumer, and collaborating with the supply chain. When we as an industry figure out we can work together as a value chain, it's the only point at which we will really become productive. And when we optimise the value chain is when we've really succeeded."


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