Home Editorial PLM for Fashion: the Importance of Education

PLM for Fashion: the Importance of Education


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At the beginning of this month WhichPLM’s Founder and MD, Mark Harrop, and WhichPLM Editorial Board member and Independent Advisor, Morag Ashworth, paid a visit to the University of Huddersfield to attend and participate in a PLM focused workshop. This is Morag’s exclusive report.  


Jo Conlon, Senior Lecturer in Fashion & Textiles at the University of Huddersfield, invited WhichPLM to the establishment early November to attend a classroom session; the session comprised around 25 students, lecturers including Jo, course leaders and, of course, WhichPLM’s Mark Harrop and I. All students were enrolled on the Buying Management BA (Hons) course and all were into their second year of study.

The reason for this specific session? Further development through education. WhichPLM was called in to help students develop their knowledge and understanding of the opportunities, challenges and benefits of a modern day PLM solution. Education has been the overriding goal for WhichPLM since it’s inception, and what better place to impart the vast knowledge accrued over decades past, than a university?

Upon arriving at the session, the usual introductions were made and we were welcomed warmly. The students had been split into seven groups, each with three to four members, during the previous class. In preparation for our session each group had been asked to research a different PLM supplier; in our session they were to deliver their findings in the form of a supplier analysis and business case. 

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In turn, each team presented a summary of their preliminary investigation, which included: the company origin and brief history, some statistics, the key marketplace, market share and some key customer names. The students also explained some key system features and functionalities, advantages and disadvantages (in other words, the pros and cons for each solution), SWOT analysis, a summary, and concluding speech.

This article isn’t designed to replicate the students’ presentations; it hasn’t been written to talk up or indeed talk down any one supplier or one solution, but rather to report on the level of knowledge (and in some cases the level of misinformation) the students already possessed. Considering it was not possible for any of the groups to actually view the software they were presenting on, each team managed to present a good understanding of the basic functionality of a PLM system.


Whilst Mark and I were truly impressed by the knowledge each team displayed, at the same time we were slightly bemused by some of the ‘marketing speak’ that had been taken as fact. One example would be the marketing spin surrounding rapid implementation. Students were led to believe that a PLM solution could be implemented in as little as twelve weeks, including all of the necessary preparation. Said preparation includes the business case, process maturity, ROI (return on investment) calculations and analysis, master data refinement, configuration, implementation, training, testing, and going live with the solution. In reality, we know this is not the case.

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A twelve-week target is simply not realistic when we take into account the sheer magnitude of work that must be undertaken when preparing for, and implementing a PLM solution. That the students accepted this statement as fact only reinforces the damage that underhanded marketing can play in the apparel marketplace; we are constantly dealing with actual PLM customers who have had the wool pulled over their eyes when it comes to understanding the real depth of planning and introspection that goes into a PLM project, and who are bewildered when their project fails to deliver against the words in their PLM supplier’s brochure.

This isn’t to put readers considering undergoing the selection and implementation process off doing so, but it is simply to make such a reader aware of the facts at the outset. I cannot stress enough the importance of planning: plan, plan again, and then plan some more.

After each presentation, Mark and I critiqued the analysis and assumptions that each team made, providing expert feedback from decades of experience and using some real-life situations as examples to cement our points. I suppose a lot of this feedback could be categorised under “The things a PLM supplier will never tell you”. As a duo, Mark focused on explaining more clearly the attributes of each supplier, whilst I focused on the reality of business processes.


Following the day’s session was the obligatory Q&A, and what was apparent was just how knowledgeable this group in fact was. Mark and I were delighted with the level of enthusiasm and commitment coming from each student, and with the glowing feedback we received from the lecturers and course leaders.

After such a successful session, I am thrilled to announce that WhichPLM have agreed to work with Huddersfield University on a continuous basis. The partnership begins with our commitment to granting the team access to exclusive WhichPLM content, and to assist them in developing the material necessary for a PLM subject matter module to be included in their course next year.

We are extremely excited to see a university like Huddersfield leading the way in developing one of the first PLM-specific fashion courses – a course that we hope will play a large part towards setting a formal qualification around the subject of PLM in the retail, footwear and apparel space.

Senior Lecturer, Jo Conlon, had some kind words to say on the matter: “We recognise the opportunity that PLM represents for the industry and are keen to see our graduates enter employment with a rich understanding of PLM. We are grateful for the generous support of WhichPLM as we embed PLM software into the curriculum.”

Mark and I were (and are) delighted to be given the opportunity to help educate the generation of tomorrow, and we would like to thank the lecturers and course leaders for making the day happen and for making the future possible, and the students for their superb work.

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Thank you Jo Conlon, Andrew Taylor, Jane Ritchie and Rosemary Wilkin; Harriet Boyden, Kelly Brown, Faye Carter, Rebecca Charlton, Chloe Egley, Lois Elliot, Hannah Fox, Susana Gideon, Katie Johnson, Danielle Kay, Ashleigh King, Lewis Lane, Kate Lingard, Clare Linsey, Laura Mcmahon, Charlotte Napper, Billie Nixon, Chelsea O’Connor, Stella Robson, Jaime Sandlands, Ellen-Kate Sexton, Alexandra Todd, Gemma Townend, and Rebecca Welsby.

Morag Ashworth With more than 30 years’ experience Morag Ashworth has firmly established herself as a prominent industry figure. She has been an independent consultant since 2008, and contributor to WhichPLM and WhichERP. Morag is a passionate clothing industry practitioner who has realised the benefits of applying technology to assist in adopting best business practices. This has enabled her to assist companies to successfully select and implement both PLM and ERP systems.