Blog: Leonie BarrieWhy digital supply chains are top of mind

Leonie Barrie | 3 April 2017

Confirmation that digital supply chains are top of mind for apparel industry executives came last week with the news that global sourcing specialist Li & Fung is reorganising its businesses into two major divisions as it focuses on speed, innovation and digitalisation for its next three-year plan.

Blaming a tough retail environment for almost halving its full year profit, the company is now building a fully integrated digital platform that connects every stakeholder and process in its global supply chain network so that real-time data can be captured and shared to enable smarter, faster and more effective decisions.

A first taste of its vision emerged a week earlier when Li & Fung inked a new deal to provide value-added services, such as integrating consumer insights into new collections more quickly, for PVH Corp, owner of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands.

At the heart of its plans are tools such as virtual design and prototyping technology. Indeed, a report on just-style last week describes 3D CAD as the next major advance for the sewn products industry in a world where speed to market, cost reductions and the elimination of waste are paramount.

Likewise, US apparel giant VF Corp is to place more focus on supply chain demand and agility, digitalisation and investment in China, as part of a new five-year plan outlined by the owner of brands including The North Face, Timberland and Wrangler.

And a new strategic partnership has the potential to help apparel brands and retailers make better fitting clothes by giving them access to big data and analysis on the shape and size of the diverse and complex US consumer population.

Also hitting the headlines last week was the triggering of the two-year process for Britain leaving the European Union (EU). Within this, a critical but little-discussed problem for apparel importers – especially in fast fashion – is not just the prospect of tariffs in a new customs regime, but disruption to the free flow of goods.

But on the other side of the Atlantic, the US textile industry sees the election of US President Donald Trump and his promises to reinvigorate domestic manufacturing as "the best opportunity in a generation" to usher in a new era of growth.

Despite a strong rise in US sportswear sales,sporting goods retailers are struggling as consumers change their purchasing habits, sportswear brands focus more on direct channels, and new players enter the market. We take a closer look.

And C&A Foundation has launched a new global initiative called 'Fashion for Good', aimed at helping brands, retailers and manufacturers find more innovative and sustainable ways of producing fashion.

Meanwhile, in other news, H&M will launch a new brand in the UK this year, and has revealed the latest winners of its $1m Global Change Award; Nordstrom has named a former Walmart and Amazon executive to lead its supply chain; and a new sustainable fashion app rates over 100 UK high street brands.

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