We recently hosted a webinar with Flexport, a digital freight-forwarding platform, headquartered in San Francisco. Our panellists, Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of SupplyCompass and Christos Chamberlain, UK General Manager of Flexport, sought to unpack how employing digital technologies and harnessing the power of data across the supply chain can help fashion brands make better decisions—integral for the fashion brand of the future.
Technology, such as Control Towers, can help fashion brands solve key problems such as low visibility, as well as improve core business functions.
Digital platforms can provide data for comparison as well as historical data to make better choices.
Data for embedding sustainability can only be accessed through technology.
Building a strong foundation and getting the core basics right is vital while starting to digitize supply chains.
Both panellists introduced their businesses with brief descriptions of how they employ technology in their offering.
Christos explained that freight forwarding is like a relay race with traditionally very little visibility as the goods make their way, from point to point; Flexport’s aim was to execute this on a digital platform which ensures more visibility, better data and better management of inventory. Flora also touched upon the challenges that SupplyCompass addresses including fragmented communication and the importance of strengthened, real-time collaboration, between all the entities in the fashion supply chain.
Christos explained that digital transformation is a hot topic and that they asked their clients on what parts of the supply chain they were looking to improve, whether it be visibility over transit time, or understanding whether systems for inbounds scheduled into warehouses were set-up right. He further explained that technology need not necessarily only serve to solve a problem but can help a business function even better than they anticipated. Flora described how the role of technology in fashion supply chains has become an absolute necessity and that it can empower creativity and creative teams. She explained that the consumer-facing side of fashion has taken great leaps, but the back end needs to catch up as fashion is essentially a supply chain and logistics business as much as a creative business.
Christos explained that freight forwarding is like a relay race with traditionally, very little visibility as the goods make their way, from point to point while Flora described how the consumer-facing side of fashion has taken great leaps, but the back end needs to catch up as fashion is essentially a supply chain and logistics business as much as a creative business.
Benefits and Advantages
Christos, acknowledging the influence of COVID-19, described its impact as a series of shocks on the supply side, and then on the demand side as countries went to lockdown. Drawing parallels between Flexport and SupplyCompass, he described them as Control Tower technologies, and software for trade, connecting suppliers, retailers, brands and giving visibility and control over a larger network with multiple parties involved in contrast to smaller warehouse management systems that look at efficiency and data of a very small subset.
Christos also enumerated the benefits of embedding technology, including visibility over data for decision making in a supply chain, an area which needs more attention than employing other forms of technology such as blockchain or even drones. Flora corroborated this, stressing the importance of getting the basics of efficient communication right, that may not necessarily be revolutionary on paper but in practice, can make a world of difference. Moving away from fragmented decision making and moving towards a standardization of different processes, she explained, was critical for a strong foundation upon which one could build variegated models and supply chains. Christos noted the same in freight forwarding explaining that data on a platform provides a variety of options, whether it be onboarding vendors, or comparing air freight vs ocean freight.
Drawing parallels between Flexport and SupplyCompass, Christos described them as Control Tower technologies, giving visibility and control over a larger network with multiple parties involved, in contrast to smaller warehouse management systems that look at data of a very small subset.
Integrating sustainability was also a point of focus, with Flora elaborated on end-to-end supply chain sustainability, including mapping supply chains and authentication, how they necessarily need digitizing and that implementing technology like blockchain would not work if the core isn’t set-up right. She also explained that efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand, that the process is crucial to get right in areas such as making good buying choices, and that technology can be built to nudge brands, with features like simple cues, to make the right and sustainable decision that is fair to both brand and manufacturer. She also explained how data over supply chains and product information to measure impact needs to be made easy and accessible as these decisions can help brands make important decisions with the visibility they would get, such as understanding how much wastage of fabric is incurred with their buying decisions.
Christos also elaborated on their platform feature that calculates the carbon emissions and footprint of every shipment. He explained that they were early-adopters and their decision was fueled by their clients’ demands and their access to structured datasets. Flexport also offers carbon offset options and helps clients to optimise shipping through their insight tool that, for example, helps to determine how utilised are shipping containers, for individual shipment levels or over a time period.
Flora explained that efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand, that the process is crucial to get right in areas such as making good buying choices, and that technology can be built to nudge brands, to make the right and sustainable decision that is fair to both brand and manufacturer.
Key Challenges for Brands
The key problems in the supply chain that technology can address was the final topic of conversation. Taking the example of a T-Shirt as the focal good, Christos explained that there exist several black spots across the visibility of the supply chain, which Flora corroborated; she further explained that the fashion industry has accepted said black spots, citing goods arriving on time as one of the primary worries of fashion brands and a black spot. Since supply chains involve complex processes and possibly hundreds of touchpoints, miscommunication over mediums like E-mail is easy to occur; Flora explained that email or other chat mediums simply don’t work, especially when everything has to be coded and labelled. Christos further explained that with tech platforms, there is historical data to get analysis and insights, that can explain where the business should make changes based on past data.
Taking the example of a t-shirt as the focal good, Christos explained that there exist several black spots across the visibility of the supply chain, which Flora corroborated; she further explained that the fashion industry has accepted said black spots.
Questions were posed by the audience; one question asked how tech can help production forecasting and resource calculation. Christos cited an example of inbounding goods in a warehouse, a bottleneck due to low visibility and low certainty, making planning shifts of people difficult without the right technology embedded.
Another question posed pertained to the cost involved in implementing technology. Flora stressed the obvious cost savings from implementing technology in the long term, citing examples of tech-enabled, demand-driven models that can reduce up to 30% of stock. She also explained that SupplyCompass was built to be easily implemented by SMEs. Christos also explained that they were essentially freight forwarders but believed technology and building a digital platform helped them be better service providers.
The webinar thus concluded on a unifying note; that digitalization, with its innumerable advantages, was simply the superior medium to help fashion brands function smarter and better, in an industry that is rapidly changing for the years to come.