In the short space of 6 weeks, the famously fast-moving fashion industry has been forced to slow down, or in some cases, come to a screeching halt. At SupplyCompass, we’ve spent much of this period speaking to brands, industry experts, and factory owners around the world, to get their perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on the fashion industry and on how we can re-emerge stronger, together.
I moved from London to Mumbai, India during the early days of SupplyCompass and spent the majority of my 2 years there inside factories all over the country. My aim was clear – ask questions, listen, learn and build long-term relationships in person. I wanted to get to the bottom of why things were done the way they were and understand how to digitalise production and supply chains in a way that worked for manufacturers, as much as for brands.
I often found that whenever I’d question why something was done in a certain way, the response would be: "…because this is how it has always been done". It was clear that processes and habits had been entrenched over decades, and few had paused to question why.
I noticed that although brands and factories were quick to talk through the challenges that existed within fashion production and supply chains, technology was rarely seen as a viable solution to their problems.
It didn’t make sense to me that the retail and consumer-facing side of fashion was exploring all kinds of exciting technologies, but that behind the scenes – product development, production, and supply chain management was essentially being done via email, Excel and WhatsApp. Whilst all great tools, none had been designed for the unique complexity of fashion supply chains. What’s more, with sustainability rising up the agenda of every brand, I couldn’t see how these ambitious sustainability goals would be achievable without technology at the core.
Time to re-think
Over the past 6 weeks, something has happened we didn’t expect. Organic inquiries into SupplyCompass have increased by 400%. Brands and manufacturers are all of a sudden seeking out new solutions and are open to changing their ways. With time to explore new solutions, I’ve noticed a profound, and positive change in attitude and an appetite for experimentation. I reflect now, that perhaps the main barrier to change wasn’t, in fact, a lack of want, but a lack of time.
Design and production teams were so busy struggling to keep up with the exhausting pace of the fashion calendar, they weren’t afforded time to pause and think – “is this really the best way to do this?”. Many teams were, understandably, too busy to change ingrained habits because it was easier in the short term to stick with what they knew. This period of lockdown has been the Fashion Industry’s version of Bill Gates’ famous Think Weeks. Downtime is something in short supply in the fashion world. Such time is invaluable, to reflect on old habits and build new ones, mental space to be creative, and an opportunity to re-think and re-build things better than before.
WFH is changing how teams work
Since most fashion brands have been forced to operate remotely, working from home has brought about an immediate need to design collections and manage production online. It’s important that teams use this time to explore and train themselves on new digital tools and bring product libraries into the cloud. Production software provides a necessary single source of truth and means teams can be working on the same collection or order at the same time, whilst at home. This reduces miscommunication, increases team visibility, drives efficiency and encourages better team collaboration, regardless of whether you are together or not. Slack, WhatsApp and Zoom are great tools for communication but aren’t built for product development, factory collaboration, or effective order management.
Many businesses will be focusing heavily on cutting costs throughout the rest of 2020, with many not able to scale their teams up to pre-Coronavirus size. This means it will be about up-skilling teams and looking to technology to enable more informed choices.
With global travel restricted, the traditional methods of finding new manufacturers and suppliers, which requires teams to fly around the world to visit trade shows or factories, are off the cards. Brands will need to look online to access to vetted, compliant digital supply networks as their main source for new partners. This move online will enable brands to more effectively manage complex global supply chains and achieve greater traceability and visibility. Cloud-based PLMs, 3D sampling and virtual showrooms will also enable design, production and procurement teams to source smarter, be more sustainable and find efficiencies across the product lifecycle.
Now really is the time for change.