31 May 2022
Can we imagine a life without technology today?
The simple answer is no.
And the same holds true for the apparel industry as well. With the advent of Industry 4.0, we now see that technology runs the industry.
Now, the question I ask is:
Why has technology become this important in the apparel industry?
All this started with the premise that ‘Consumer is the king’ and we are here to serve them; hence the brands pushed the products to the consumer market. But, did we serve them or was it that the consumers were told by these brands what to buy?
Apparel companies historically have worked on a push-based model.
The designers started work about one or one-and-a-half years in advance, the buyers and merchandisers forecasted what and how much of it will sell, the sourcing teams procured accordingly and the sales team sold those.
Today the consumers dictate fashion, not follow it. They demand that brands cater to their needs, and if a brand fails to do that, they move on. Social media and e-commerce have democratised the market place and consumers influence and dictate fashion today. Digital markets have allowed consumers to buy what they want and from whoever they want. And this is the demand-based model every brand needs to adopt. Study consumer trends and social media influences and REACT fast.
For any brand to survive in a scenario like this, it needs to:
And this is possible only when Technology and Digitilisation is adopted by the brands/retailers as its backbone.
Technology in design
Image Courtesy: https://www.psfk.com/2021/10/browzwear-launches-digi-hubs-for-next-gen-3d-fashion-upskilling.html
Today advanced AI tools are helping designers be on their feet. These tools scout the Internet and give designers trend information on an almost hourly basis.
If an influencer wears a lilac shirt, the designer gets that information in a matter of hours and is able to turn around designs based on this trend in a matter of days.
And there is no more waiting for the laborious process of making a 2D sketch, tech packs and samples. The tech tools today allow designers to 3D render at the click of a button.
World over, 3D softwares are replacing the conventional process of sketching, sampling and sample presentations. Today, roadshows are also just a click away. Virtual roadshows, digital or video approvals on design and fits are reducing months from the calendar and making business faster and agile.
Buyers today don't have to wait for the season to end and then analyse data. Real time data is available to them at the click of a button. This allows them to react faster and take corrective actions on the go.
Industry today has shifted from a low width, high depth approach to high width, low depth approach. Buyers are no more talking volumes like 5000 pieces per colour. More and more buyers are shifting towards a wider width and low depth model. This allows them to react faster to market demands, also test products and replenish them. Brands and retailers are making less or opt for virtual products to test. Only the products which work are being manufactured. Quick repeat orders have become a reality. What sells is what will be made.
Sophisticated tech tools allow for the relevant data to be available at the right time. They also build transparency into the supply chain which benefits each stakeholder and ultimately the brand/retailer. It prepares the brands for smaller lots and multiple quick replenishments.
The apparel supply chain is a fragmented one, managing which is a mammoth task on its own. Adding in the complexity of faster turnaround time, smaller volumes and quick replenishments only leads to further adding to this complexity; one which is open to many human errors.
But today, we work with digital systems that simplify work and build transparency into each stage of the supply chain. A large part of the sourcing merchants’ day was spent on mundane activities like follow-ups and documentation. AI-based software handles most of this work, leaving the merchant with time to focus on decision making and value addition.
A sourcing merchant doesn't have to chase behind factories for updates on fabric inwards. He just logs into a cloud-based app on his phone and gets an update.
Smart factories are a reality today. There is no refuting this.
Factories are adopting technology, minimising mistakes and improving efficiencies. They are able to deliver smaller quantities, in shorter lead times because AI enables them to optimise every step from planning to delivery.
Manufacturing processes are fully integrated and all stakeholders are digitally connected. These systems are fuelled by data, lessening human errors and paving the way for smarter factories and a more profitable supply chain.
Overall every stakeholder and component of the apparel supply chain today has become digital. AI, virtual products and digital connectivity are the key to survival today. Any organisation that recognises and strives to achieve this today is going to win.
With the digital platforms coming into the mainstream, disaggregated components of supply chain are getting integrated into a single market place. Data is available at the click of a button to all. This ease of access has led to an integrated view of inventory, capacities, capabilities, prices, lead times and demand enabling a seamless supply chain.
Today’s technology is enabling all stakeholders of the business to collaborate on digital platforms. This is shrinking the lead times and enabling everyone to make quicker decisions. And presenting a single source of truth in the whole supply chain, which will virtually eliminate hours of agonising and hundreds of man days.
Sustainability and technology
Technology and sustainability go hand in hand.
Technology adoption in the supply chain helps cut down the negative impact on the environment. 3D designing, virtual fits, digital samples and roadshows etc., all lead to reduction in carbon footprint. Wastage generation is minimised by using technology in all aspects of the supply chain.
Apart from this, IoT helps in creating a transparent supply chain. With more and more consumers demanding for sustainable products and processes from the brands, this becomes a key component. Technology effectively facilitates end-to-end supply chain transparency and traceability. This helps authenticate the origins of the garment. No brands today can claim to be sustainable without this authentication. Greenwashing is effectively becoming a thing of the past. And a brand is also able to showcase its authenticity through this.
Technology today cannot be ignored. It is the backbone of the apparel industry and one which is bringing everything together. It's making the supply chain:
Speed, agility, adaptability and transparency are the pillars for success today. Only when brands and retailers adopt these, can they succeed in today’s market ecosystem. And without technology, this will not be possible. It is technology that has bought together a rather fragmented supply chain and made the industry ready for industry 4.0.
The article has been contributed by Anindya Ray, EVP and Chief Sourcing Officer, Arvind Lifestyle Brands Limited.