In her latest exclusive for WhichPLM, resident expert Lucy Royle discusses the digital-social way of working that is becoming the norm in the fashion sector. She explores how socially-oriented PLM platforms are helping designers (and other key role owners) to quickly create fashion collections with the consumer very much in mind.
THE SOCIAL PROFILE NORM
Love it or loathe it, social media has changed – and continues to change – our fashion industry landscape. It’s a tremendous visual resource, granting a level of connection between brand and consumer never before seen.
It’s also maddeningly addictive; combine ease of user experience with tantalising insight into the lives of others and you have a powerful platform for connection.
Today’s fashion consumers are looking to buy into brands that are in line with their lifestyle and offer what they want – not what they’ve been told that they need. I discussed this point in an earlier article – The Retail Revolution. Consumers are turning to social media platforms to tell brands exactly what they want to spend their money on. And if the brand doesn’t supply, they’re not going to pay.
These social platforms are facilitating a dialogue between brand and consumer, opening up conversations and insights that we’ve never before been privy to.
So we’ve seen how social platforms can enhance the connection between fashion brand and fashion consumer, but how can these shared platforms benefit on a day-to-day business level between a common team? We all know communication is key, so it stands to reason that the fundamental principles of these connected social platforms – that we all find so addictive to check, like and comment on – can bring benefit to the everyday working environment.
Since I established my freelance business, I’m increasingly using social platforms to engage with like-minded creatives who find themselves on the same professional journey as I do. My mindset towards social media has shifted from a personal photo sharing tool between friends and family to a global platform of industry connection and intelligence insight, and it’s really quite incredible.
The irony of sharing personal social media profiles amongst colleagues is that we can expose more information to each other about what we got up to at the weekend than what we have done during an average working day at the office, sitting just metres apart. And when we’re talking about a team environment, this can be an odd notion to comprehend. Providing we’ve approved the digital connection, we can easily access each other’s images of our latest home improvement purchases, gym workouts or impressive dinners …but when it comes to finding the images we each took on our latest product inspiration trips? That can be a little more difficult.
So, if we can translate the freedom with which we share information on our social media platforms to the way we connect within our teams and colleagues on a professional level, we can start to see the potential for building better business communication. From a fashion design perspective, this is fortunate, because it’s the sharing of visual image that really makes us tick.
A SOCIAL DESIGN PLATFORM
The first ideas for this article were triggered by reading up on a range of PLM solutions now available on today’s market. With sleek, easy to navigate interfaces, they all hold the principle of collaboration at the core of their offering. After all, you can’t expect to create a fashion collection without it. It made me question what makes a truly connected design team, and whether the benefits of collaboration can extend beyond the walls of the design office?
More collaborative fashion design processes across a digital platform help bring together a ‘meeting of minds’ across different disciplines and experiences from within a business. We know that it’s not efficient to work in departmental isolation, and fashion collections are much better received when they’ve been informed by intelligence from buying, merchandising, sourcing, customer insight and legal departments.
As fashion designers, we’re filtering information from many sources each day; sampling issues from overseas manufacturers, inspiring imagery from creative directors and numerical figures from buyers, in addition to everyday administrative tasks like tech packs, line sheets and general team management. We juggle a lot of information and processes, and on top of these, we’re always expected to be ready to react to consumer demand and trend opportunity. So we need solutions that are focused, with the capability to input and share information across an entire business in a clear, logical and productive way.
Today’s PLM solutions offer a level of interaction with our colleagues that we’re accustomed to on our personal social media accounts. These new product platforms are visually engaging and easy to navigate by enabling us to store, upload, share and access information easily. We can post our collection mood boards, tag active links to original image sources and add our comments in one collective place. The value of this means that it keeps digital conversations transparent and easy to find, by minimising the reliability on email where conversations can be held in isolation and hidden away in overloaded inboxes.
By connecting across a common digital platform, all teams of the business can work to real-time data, communicated in a common visual language and layout to clearly inform creative direction.
(After all, we’re all using the same social platforms to share images of our weekend because we know the audience we want to reach will be scrolling the exact same social feed).
As a designer, the majority of my research is done visually. With hundreds of images pulled together each season, the way I store these images has always been a challenge – very often, they’re sitting idle on my desktop for the bulk of the season, and pulled straight into the Trash once the design season has passed. No-one else sees them except me, and even I can find myself struggling to find what I need!
With a digital social platform, I can instantly upload my images and be able to sort through them by defining key metadata in the search box. I can filter images by date and colour, or even by the location they were taken (a useful feature for when designers are travelling the globe for inspiration). And just like we’re used to on our social accounts, we can add comments to the photos too. We’re still keeping our finger on the creative pulse, but using technology to help us work with more logic and transparency; who knows what ideas or product opportunities might be generated from shared images?
Once designs are created, CADs can be uploaded to the shared platform where the range can be viewed in its entirety. It gives designers, often segregated by product category across a team, visibility of the whole range. Jersey designers can see what outerwear is in development, the soft separates team can see what the sportswear team is up to. It simply puts us on the same page, by enabling us to work in a more engaged and connected way, with ease of user experience at its very core.
SOCIAL INTEGRATION WITH CAD
These new platforms integrate seamlessly with programs that designers use on a day-to-day basis. Our CAD files can be dragged into the PLM system and auto-populate information into organised libraries. Whether fabric, trim, colour or print artwork swatch, seasonal design assets can be uploaded and stored within an accessible system.
I often write about the importance of collaborating with creative design assets (brushes, colour swatches and re-useable garment components), and this has always been possible with efficient use of CAD and a localised file sharing platform. But socially driven PLM solutions further enhance the process by enabling us to work in slick and organised digital environments.
With these social platforms, designers can be confident that they are working with design assets that are up-to-date, correct to production specification, and easy to find. It means that designers are working efficiently from the get-go, with the design tools they need at their fingertips to turn around a CAD quickly and accurately.
A COLLABORATIVE FUTURE
In a world that’s populated with product, a fashion designer’s role is not to just create more of it, but use data insight to inform product creation in a responsible way. When we talk about social design, we’re not just talking about using software that enables us to ping an instant message to a colleague across a design office. Social design is about opening up wider conversations that give designers visibility of the impact of their creative decisions across the entire supply chain. As a result, we benefit from the right product to the right market at the right time, but also an overall increase in product quality and finish – because every individual along the supply chain has been equipped with the information that they need.
Working from the same digital platform isn’t about computerising the creative process, but enhancing it through new ways of interacting and communicating. Whilst I would be the first to argue that we shouldn’t lose the traditional craftsmanship and the artisanal skills on which our industry has been built, this digital-social way of working is a simply becoming a normality. How else can we store and process all the data that today’s fashion industry requires?
So today’s fashion designers are not only creative, but digitally savvy with the know-how to navigate, collaborate and interpret streams of data and translate it quickly into fashion collections that relate directly with the consumer. It sounds quite some task, but socially-oriented PLM solutions are making it possible.
PLM has always driven more efficient ways of working. But by facilitating transparent conversations across a business and an entire workflow, it can start to improve social responsibility and environmental impact. Designers are better informed to make considered decisions, and equipped to respond with the right CAD tools. Put simply, we’re all working with more efficiency in streamlined processes.
In a previous article, I discussed the possibility for a globally connected design database and collaborative design processes are a huge step towards making this possible. We’ve always known the value of team-working, but combined with seamless accessibility to digital collaboration platforms that PLM is now offering, the potential for a united supply chain is truly conceivable.