Paul Rogers looks at how technology can keep manufacturers’ feet firmly on the accelerator when it comes to fast fashion
The perfect storm of low-cost clothing, increased choice, the flexibility of internet shopping, and wage and employment growth has meant that spending on textiles is definitely on the up. In 2015, British shoppers spent almost £66 billion on fashion and textiles, an enormous figure, but one that’s particularly staggering when you consider that 2004’s spend was only half of this, coming in at a mere £33.4 billion.
With this global need for fast fashion showing no signs of abating, speed-to-market is key for retailers, leading to somewhat of a resurgence in UK fashion manufacturing. As more and more retailers are realising, moving manufacturing back to the UK makes real sense in a fast fashion environment, where a product can go from catwalk to high street in a fortnight, without the often long lead times that are part and parcel of offshore manufacturing. Add to this recent price hikes in the cost of manufacturing in certain developing economies and you can understand why we’re seeing more ‘Made in Britain’ labels in our shops.
For manufacturers, this fast fashion culture means the pressure is on to find quicker, more flexible ways of working, to not only satisfy customer requirements, but also optimise operations in an environment where keeping on trend and maintaining a loyal customer base means nothing if already slim profit margins are compromised further still. What’s required is real-time, in-depth insight into demand, trends and opportunities, as well as full oversight of all aspects of business operations, across all departments and right along the supply chain.
Greater control and visibility over the business enables quick, informed and effective decision-making, leading to optimum levels of business flexibility, and it’s here that the right technology can make all the difference. Many fashion manufacturing businesses are data-rich, with each and every department generating numerous figures and reports. This information only realises its maximum potential if it’s delivered to the right people, in real-time, in an easy-to-use format, with the right analytical tools in place to make real business sense of the data. Then it can be used as a basis for intelligent decision-making, underpinning strategy and helping to predict demand.
Without the right tools in place to make sense of the plethora of information coming in and out of the business at every stage of the supply chain, fashion manufacturers will be hard pushed to keep pace with the ever-increasing speed of fast-fashion. In the past, fashion businesses often had the luxury of time on their side, with the fixed seasonality of the fashion world leaving plenty of time for forecasting and demand planning. The sheer speed of the fast fashion model necessitates continuous, responsive forecasting across all lines, something that the spreadsheets and systems of yesterday simply can’t handle. Fast fashion needs fast systems, software which can process and analyse the right information in real-time, resulting in real results and, ultimately, increased profits.
While the fashion sector has seen a definite boost over the last five years, the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, particularly concerning overseas trade agreements and the free movement of labour, are casting a large shadow over the industry. Again, flexibility is the key to survival, with those businesses most in control and therefore most agile, highly likely to be those who best weather the inevitable business turbulence of the next few years.
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