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Pragmatism in the Age of Covid-19


Our Editor kicks off our coverage of Covid-19, and how it relates to our industry with a piece on PLM. Over the coming weeks we will focus our editorial (mainly) on the positives we can take from this crisis.

The world today looks starkly different to the one we were living in just a few weeks ago. With the spread of Covid-19 we are all living through a global crisis – whether you choose to admit it or not. And it’s changing rapidly; from the time I write this to the time you are reading it (a matter of days), so much will have happened.

Politicians are being criticized for their (mis)handling of the situation (cycling through the denial, acceptance, then action stages), countries are being turned upside down, and a disconcerting amount of ignorance is being displayed. The United States has now surpassed China for the highest number of confirmed cases in one country, the Tokyo Olympics has been postponed for a year, and we are all watching helplessly as the situation worsens each day in countries like Italy and Spain.

Countries around the world are responding to the pandemic in ways that merely confirm the severity of the situation. In Europe, leaders have announced the closure of all of the EU’s external borders; the UK has (finally) followed suit and implemented a nationwide lockdown; France – a country known for the Tour de France – has banned recreational cycling; and Spain has declared a state of emergency. We’ve learned that in the US 1 in 4 Americans have been ordered to stay at home; and earlier in March, Canada closed its borders to anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident. In Asia, Hong Kong has extended travel restrictions, United Arab Emirates has ceased all inbound and outbound flights, and the entire population of India (1.3 billion people) is in lockdown.

And what about the impact this pandemic is having on the Fashion industry thus far?

There are some obvious negatives: the closures of bricks and mortar stores across the globe and the decline this is having in purchases; a shortage of materials and components due to decline in manufacturing power; the issue of job security (Bangladesh has now stated that, across the supply chain, 4 million people will be out of work); and the numerous fashion shows and major industry events throughout the world that have been postponed indefinitely – including four around the world that WhichPLM was involved in. Drapers penned a piece back in February entitled, ‘Coronavirus: the fallout of fashion.’

It’s unnerving to say the least.

Now, I’m a realist (which we all know loosely translates to a ‘pessimist’), so the constant barrage of frankly apocalyptic news stories each day is exactly the type of content I’ve been expecting. But, in a world where pessimism often wins out, how about we look at what we can do, what we can control, and how we can all move forward, together.

Because this situation has also shone a light on humanity at its finest. Celebrities have donated considerable amounts to help the cause ($1 million from Kylie Jenner to LA hospitals to help with the purchase of PPE, and $1 million from husband-wife team Blake Lively & Ryan Reynolds to food bank charities in North America, for just two examples). We’ve seen videos from around the world showing residents on lockdown partaking in socially distant communal workout sessions, and group singing. The NHS in England has been inundated with more than 750,000 volunteer signups following a newly launched scheme, and there’s been a surge in free virtual events and classes. Just last week, my household took part in a live ‘virtual pub quiz’ on YouTube that attracted more than 500,000 responses.

And let’s not forget the multitude of ways people are offering support locally, giving thanks and showing their appreciation for healthcare workers in their respective countries. The sense of community really is uplifting.

And if we shine a light on the Fashion industry specifically, the positive stories are abundant: Donatella Versace has pledged €200,000 to a hospital in Milan; LVMH has halted production of their perfumes to make antibacterial gel instead; Christian Siriano is answering a plea from New York to help overcome a shortage of masks and other PPE; Saint Laurent, Gucci, Jenny Holloway and Balenciaga are also producing face masks and other PPE for healthcare workers; and factories in China are rapidly producing protective masks to donate to other countries now that they are reportedly over the worst of it. Gap Inc. and Canada Goose will create medical scrubs and patient gowns; Prada is financing the ICUs of three new hospitals in Milan.

And it’s not just the big names: more than 100 jewellery brands of varying sizes have banded together to provide meals to children across America via charity No Kid Hungry; and a small Brooklyn-based designer is manufacturing medical masks. The list goes on.

It seems that our industry is trying to push forward and turn this crisis into a success story. I don’t mean to make light of the current situation – I’m well aware it’s a tough road ahead, and it’s a stark truth that not all businesses will make it.

But, there are instruments out there that can at least help.

Specifically, PLM. Communication and collaboration are, and have always been, cornerstones to any good PLM solution – cornerstones that we need now more than ever. PLM has been providing us with the tools to enable efficient remote working for some time, and now they’ve been forced into action. With companies throughout the globe rolling out mandatory remote working, effective communication has never been more important.

The right PLM can successfully integrate all departments meaning, even though workers may no longer be in the same space physically, those working in the creative department can collaborate with the materials department, planning can continue to connect with development, and both management and marketing can cooperate with every department necessary.

With marketing in the virtual loop, brands will be able to engage with their consumers like never before. Social media usage and the VOC are ramping up during these times, with unfiltered thoughts coming through from an entire world stuck at home.

And this enhanced communication isn’t only helpful across teams and core businesses, but across the extended supply chain too. Global remote working for an extended period of time is likely to push technology vendors to open up their platforms to connect with one another – something we’ve been advocating for years. This could well be the push that’s been needed. And this potential future of open platforms will help to join the dots in both the up and downstream supply chain, adding value to all partners.

I believe this move to digital working will also prompt those retailers and brands who have not yet begun their digital journey to make the change – to become digitally aware for a future that is only going in one direction. Further adoption of digital solutions – like PLM and 3D – could see a rise. And a more switched on world, one that is in-tune with our environment, should be a driver for more sustainable production, which is something that the use of solutions like 3D and PLM can really help with.

Yes, we won’t all survive the hardship, but we can do our damnedest to try. Yes, when we come out the other side of this (and we will come out the other side of this) the face of fashion will be very different, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

It is in the toughest times that the greatest innovations can thrive.





[Editor’s additional note: keep your eyes peeled for thoughts on Covid-19 from Lucy Blackley (Bombyx PLM) later this week, then Prasham Kamdar’s (Ptex Solutions) article on virtual PLM implementations, and Dakota Murphey’s advice to small retailers for Covid-19 hitting WhichPLM next week.]

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.