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The goal is the same but we’ve decided to change the game we’re playing.

4 minutes Jul 14

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by Gus Bartholomew in The Right Thing, Thought Leadership

The goal is the same but we’ve decided to change the game we’re playing.

TL;DR – We have stopped our sourcing agency service. This article explains why and what we’re doing instead. Hint: We no longer help brands find manufacturers. Instead, we are the software that helps brands collaborate more effectively with THEIR manufacturers. Our mission is the same – but our solution has evolved.

Just over 4 years ago we started SupplyCompass with the vision of building a company that could drive positive, meaningful and long-lasting change within fashion production and global supply chains.

After 2 years spent living in India and extensively researching supply chains, it became increasingly clear that existing solutions and legacy systems weren’t designed to solve the most fundamental problems facing the fashion industry today.  Siloed and disconnected tools, highly customized (internal) processes, and systems that focus on creating value for only one side of the production equation. 

We knew we needed to focus on a cross-organizational, cross-functional solution that could  ‘catalyze’ the transition or transformation of the industry. Our approach needed to be holistic, with a big focus on driving greater equity and a re-balancing of power across supply chains. Collaboration, mutually beneficial change, shared goals, and long-term thinking were key.

In the initial years, we shaped up the solution of a Sustainable Sourcing Platform as our initial hypothesis. The plan was to consolidate a handpicked network of leading partner factories and then build a platform making the management of the production process fast, efficient, easy, and collaborative – with sustainable sourcing at the foundation.

In essence — a digitally enabled sourcing agent with a focus on sustainability.

This was the original plan:

The plan was to design and launch a technology platform solely for our network of manufacturers (with whom we had a vested interest in making more productive) and for the brands who outsourced production to us. Our team was to sit in the middle and manage production and the relationship using their expertise.

 

But, we soon realised there was a fundamental limitation with this model: it was only suited to the relatively small pool of brands that needed help sourcing. This wasn't going to transform the majority, let alone the whole industry—rather, it was preventing us from achieving our long term vision.

Here’s a summary of the main challenges we experienced with the sourcing platform business model:

  1. We weren’t enabling the right kind of relationships: We took responsibility for brand-manufacturer relationships, rather than empowering them to foster better ones. Although we truly believe that agents are a key player in the ecosystem, us sitting in between the manufacturer and the brand was NOT helping us achieve our vision. It meant our brands were more removed from their manufacturers and we were preventing them from developing long-term, strong relationships together.
  2. Only one part: Operating as an outsourced function meant many brands worked with us on only part of their production—it was only an incremental improvement, reversible and fragile.
  3. Hand-picking and managing a curated network is hard to digitalise. It requires a lot of capital and people to manage a sourcing network. Technology can’t always replace the need to personally find, visit and onboard new manufacturers. But we wanted to focus on technology as our core, largely because we believe it’s the fastest and most effective way to reach the most people and drive the change needed.
We had a model that worked—what if we could make it possible for any brand, manufacturer or agency to use the operating system that we had created?

We decided to change our approach.

We stopped helping brands find manufacturers and decided to shift focus to build software to help brands collaborate more effectively with their manufacturers. We call it a Collaborative Production Platform, the operating system for delivering better products and faster at a higher margin with sustainable principles embedded.

Collaborative Production, for us, is:

🎯 Shared goals and accountability

🤝 Synergetic systems

❤️ Accurate data at the heart

💰 Better, fairer buying practices

🕸 Structured workflows

How could we make it possible for our Collaborative Production Model and Sustainable Principles to be adopted by any supply chain network? For real impact and system change, we needed widespread adoption.

Of course, the new model comes with its own set of challenges but we can now see a pathway through to achieve our long-term goal.

So, how is it going so far?

Since we launched the Collaborative Production Platform in January this year we’ve onboarded a significant number of completely new rapidly scaling SME (£10m+) E-Commerce fashion brands and their manufacturer networks. Plus, we’ve helped our existing clients who originally came to us for outsourced production to get set up as platform customers, onboarding their other manufacturers too. Our reach has thus multiplied 10x.

We’ve gone from competing with sourcing agencies to actively seeking to partner with them. We’ve been on the same journey as many of them and felt the pain of trying to patch together a complex blend of Excel, email, WhatsApp, CRM, PLM and project management tools to manage clients and our supplier network. You simply can’t scale this model, in the way the industry needs, without technology.  Now our product is also uniquely suitable for design, sourcing and production agencies too. 

Our total addressable market is now much much larger — a good thing for impact too. We can now work with brands that have long-established supply chain relationships and brands who liked our principles and model but didn’t want to leave their existing supply chain partners. We’re finding that many brands do want to invest back into their manufacturers, increasingly hearing “We want to take our manufacturers on the sustainability journey with us.”.

We still remain as we began — open and flexible on how to best solve the core challenges that exist across the apparel production process (from concept to delivery of finished goods). We don’t believe we have all the answers, we’re not striving for perfection, and we will continue to always keep an open mind, to research, to listen, to learn and perhaps most critically; to adapt. 
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Gus Bartholomew
Co-Founder & CEO at SupplyCompass
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Gus is CEO of SupplyCompass. He is responsible for driving sustainable growth across the business. He believes that we now live in a world of connected and conscious commerce and that brands and manufacturers are grossly underserved by their current tech stack to change the way they work for the better. He is building SupplyCompass to help brands and manufacturers collaborate more effectively from design through to delivery and embed sustainable practices into their everyday operations.

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