In the second instalment of a new two-part series, Laurie Stewart, Founder of Consciously Curated and Mindless Mag delves further into the world of conscious fashion – this time in relation to how PLM can support it.
A seismic transformation is taking place across the globe and the effects can be seen rippling through every industry; it’s a shift in consciousness and one that brings the built-in obsolescence of fashion under the spotlight. Our throw-away culture is being phased out by changing consumer behaviours and retailers have no choice but to meet our new demands.
Today, for brands big and small, old and new, luxury and mass market, a few token ethical promises is not enough – true sustainability is the only way to survive.
In the UK, those that turnover £36m or more are now being asked to state what they are doing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking as part of The Modern Slavery Act. Then on social media, campaigns such as The Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes, which had over five hundred million hashtags posted in 2018 alone, is demanding more information about where and how products are being produced.
It’s the rise of conscious fashion and we’re asking the right questions, but the problem is that brands don’t know where to find the answers.
As technology catapulted us forward into the age of digital shopping with smartphones in our hands, retailers had no choice but to quickly refurbish their front end to keep us coming back for more. It became all about shiny, new, mobile-friendly online stores with seamless user experiences and all you could ever want in terms of delivery options. Our screens began to seduce us with a dazzling bombardment of exciting new collections every time we hit refresh.
But behind the scenes of these glossy, tech-savvy boutiques we see on our devices, everybody was, or maybe still is, scrambling around trying to somehow pull everything together for ready for sale and the back-end operations have been completely neglected.
Many rely on information stored in disparate systems, burning platforms and archaic paper-full processes. They have a chain of Excel spread sheets that are paper-clipped together and strung from one corner of the planet to the other with years’ worth of insight stored nowhere but inside their employees’ heads.
The same data is entered over and over again and the same mistakes are made. Hundreds of thousands of samples are shipped around the world, the majority of which won’t make it to the final collection and while suppliers already bear the costs of sample production and postage, they’ll often also be penalised for not meeting the requirements of a very vague brief.
Buyers don’t have the time or the visibility to collaborate across product categories, consolidate shipments or bulk buy materials; they’re too busy focusing on the trend-reactive day-to-day to make a strategic move. Time is wasted, money is spent and everybody keeps going round in circles.
This disconnected supply chain not only carries a heavy operational and financial burden to any business but it also increases the risk of ethical and environmental issues and makes sustainability an almost impossible feat.
However, while on the one hand it could be said that technology is what got us here in the first place, to the damagingly mindless consumption of fast fashion, you could also say that technology will be the only thing to save us.
Throughout the twentieth century, technical ingenuity lost seamstresses, tailors and artisans to big, clunky machines and brands began styling us en masse. They bulk manufactured, they outsourced, they sped things up, they got costs down and they turned bi-annual seasons into weekly churn-outs. They used marketing wizardry to rid themselves of surplus stocks and technology to take things forward; the commercial carnival was in full swing.
Today, technology is being woven into every step of the value chain and profits are no longer the only goal – preserving the planet is on the list too.
Data is being used to design, robots are being used to sew, and virtual reality is being used to sell. We’re seeing smart technology garments, 3D printing, fabric innovations, waterless dyes, material recycling capabilities and more.
And while these snazzy solutions strut their way along the catwalk wowing everybody in the audience, backstage there’s an unsung hero that’s keeping the show together: PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) technology.
Although it was originally built for streamlining manufacturing processes, then later adapted by fashion and retail to increase speed to market, deliver efficiencies and drive bottom line growth, PLM is now being seen as a critical tool for spurring on sustainability.
A PLM solution acts as a dream catcher for designers; bringing together the thoughts and ideas, harnessing their hopes and collecting their scrapbook collections into neatly presented mood boards, colour palettes and trend packs. It’s the technical guru with a measuring tape in hand, keeping together everything you could possibly need to know on size, fit, grading, quality and samples.
It’s the PR team for customer and supplier collaboration, it’s where ideas are shared and conversations happen. It’s where pricing parameters provide guidance for negotiations and allows buyers to stand back, taking the holistic view needed to optimise sourcing. It’s a treasure chest of data secrets; everything and anything you could possibly want to know about a product can be found inside.
It provides a single source of the truth and captures granular level data to provide supply chain visibility that would otherwise be impossible. It allows for true traceability so that brands can hold their hands up and say with conviction where and how their products have been made.
They can ensure the right factory audits have been carried out so that human rights and environmental practices are being respected. They can measure their carbon footprint and their water consumption. They can make strategic sourcing decisions to reduce material usage and eliminate waste.
The opportunities for sustainable improvements are endless with PLM in place and that goes for everybody; from the large, multinational label to the sustainable micro-brand. It’s a technology that enables transparency, builds trust and paves the way for the continued rise of conscious fashion.