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The Retail Revolution

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Lucy Royle shares her fourth exclusive article with WhichPLM here, exploring how brands and designers can adapt to keep up with pace. In her first instalment in this series she explored ‘The Pencil Revolution’ and the transformative ways of working for designers in our industry; in the second piece, she delved into the world of 3D and what it means to designers; in her third piece she pushed for designers to really think about the way they use Adobe Illustrator.

In today’s interconnected tech world, the fashion consumer landscape is changing. The power of image sharing across social media platforms is making trends more momentary than ever before. Today’s trends are immediate, fleeting and transitory; consumer led, with an insatiable appetite for the next thing on the social media scrolling feed.  Newness is key to a fashion brand’s success and its products need to reflect the demands of today’s consumer who no longer need catwalk shows to know ‘what’s next.’ Brands and designers need to be ready to react, equipped and poised to capitalise on retail opportunity. Missed trend opportunities can prove damaging; not just to sales figures, but also to brand reputation.

We’re certainly entering into a retail revolution – with social media changing the fashion trend landscape, advances in virtual and augmented reality are enabling consumers to make savvy and informed choices by engaging with the product prior to purchase like never before. Retail platforms engaging with this new technology empower the consumer, rightfully making them more aware of fit, fabric, colourways, styling and manufacture. It’s making the consumer more product-aware with a growing demand for transparency of brand information, values and principles to enrich the shopping experience.

Consumers have become expectant of a tech-world that reacts and revolves around them; particularly millennials, who have become accustomed to accessing a personalised world from the convenience of their fingertips. Traditionally, fashion brands created a vision and expected customers to follow, but this is no longer the case; consumers have a lot of power these days and in order to keep relevant, brands need to engage with their customers with understanding and innovation.

So how does such a digitally connected consumer centric marketplace impact at design level – at the very origin of a product’s lifecycle?

Where a Product Begins…

The origin of every garment in a retail environment – whether online or the shop floor – begins with noise from social media analytics, fed to merchandisers and designers. And behind every design is a document known as a ‘tech pack’ ; a digital file created by designers to detail all the information required by the supply chain to get garments sampled and through production. Long after styles are sold-through and stock inventories are cleared, the digital techpack remains a reference to the garment that once was – a documentation of its season, date of creation, designer, trims, fabric content, construction detailing and, of course, its drawings. In a quaint way, it somewhat records a piece of history. Where office space limitations restrict companies from storing a back-catalogue of physical production samples, a digital filing system of tech packs can neatly house an extensive reference library of every style ever produced over years of product creation and evolution.

Aside from these romanticised notions of a techpack being, to some extent, a product development diary on a practical level, it provides a valuable resource of information across a business and establishes product truths from the get-go. Beginning with designers, information provided in the techpack goes on to be used and accessed by suppliers, manufacturers, garment technologists, sourcing departments, buyers, merchandisers, quality auditors and legal teams. Its content, whether in whole or in part, is required across the entire business workflow as an authority of information – a clear, concise and accurate record of a product’s lifecycle.

Once the product takes flight from its development stage, and begins on a journey of mass retail production, the techpack remains a consistent document of reference. The information it contains ensures that manufacturers place orders precisely, therefore producing garments correct to specification that can be shipped and delivered on-time to a retail market eager to purchase new collection pieces.

The more efficient a designer can be with the creation of tech packs will ultimately expedite the process of getting product to market. It’s not just about working at speed, it’s also about working with accuracy and organisation in order to ensure that the end product meets consumer demand. We can demonstrate this idea in the example of a pair of yoga leggings. Customers want to be brand loyal – and in the case of a purchase of yoga leggings, customers like to know that they can return to the brand from which they were originally purchased and repeat buy into their fit, quality and price with confidence. On a design level, everything that made those yoga leggings so covetable to the customer that they want to buy on a repeat seasonal basis, needs to be documented and filed. A tech pack should record:

  • Key metadata: season, date of tech pack creation, dates of amendments
  • Fabric: mill, reference code, weight, composition and price
  • Design: an accurate drawing of front, back and detail views
  • Colour: recorded as a Pantone reference
  • Trims: a record of trims, branding and placement positions
  • Artworks: any prints or graphic artworks, drawn at 100% scale and detailing clear colour information
  • Fit information: key points of measurement
  • 3D Virtual samples: allowing the designer to test design, artwork, construction detailing and fit across the complete size set.

Alongside this digital file, designers should keep a physical organised documentation of lab dip and fabric quality approvals. In the case of those yoga leggings, an up-to-date record of fabric quality approval ensures that it remains consistent across production orders – no customer wants to return to a brand to re-purchase their favourite workout leggings to find that the fabric has less stretch than previous, or worse, goes embarrassingly sheer.

The Strive for Design Utopia

Yet in the frantic nature of a design season, it can be difficult for a designer to keep organised on top of a heavy workload. Filing, sorting and organising approvals and fabric standards can often fall to the bottom of a heavy to-do list as designers prioritise range planning meetings, design presentations, business travel and research. As the design office buzzes, just about keeping apace with the momentum of the season, keeping organised can be difficult.

Over the course of a development season, designs can be changed numerous times – sometimes going through a cycle of changes to end up reverting back to their original design. Each change triggers a rippling effect of communication throughout the supply chain, alongside a tech pack update, which can result in a complicated filing system of back-dated files. This in turn makes the process of just searching for information more time-consuming. Combined with heavy administrative tasks of line lists, overview creations and Excel sample development trackers, it’s arguable that a designer actually only spends a small percentage of their time in the office actually designing and developing product. (And we never account for enough time to mop up the devastation caused by unexpected technical glitches of excessively large tech pack and range overview files corrupting on opening, slowing down servers and causing printing issues.)

their time in the office actually designing and developing product. (And we never account for enough time to mop up the devastation caused by unexpected technical glitches of excessively large tech pack and range overview files corrupting on opening, slowing down servers and causing printing issues.)

For an industry that’s known for its speed, the disparity between ways of working throughout the product lifecycle are surprising. We all know how fickle the fashion industry is – it’s been this way for years; so it’s time that we should be adapting our working habits at design, sourcing and product level to allow for a way of working that we know to be so changeable and transient. After all, if technologies at retail level are making the consumer experience more accessible, convenient and enjoyable, it’s only right that designers, sourcing and manufacturing teams are exposed to the same levels of innovation in order to keep up with demand and expectation.

Retail Tech vs Design Tech

We have entered a  fashion revolution, whereby technology that has been shaking up other industries over the last few years has set its sights on the fashion world; and we’re finally listening. Today’s consumers have become accustomed to accessing the world quite literally from their fingertips, and they expect the way they engage with fashion brands to be no different. The concept of ‘see-now, buy-now’ is causing a seismic change in the mindset of the fashion industry – consumers no longer want to be led by a brand, they want to buy into a brand that is responsive to them. And the retail model makes perfect sense; reacting to consumers in the ‘now’ takes out the guesswork of designing what we think they will want in 6 – 12 months time (and hoping that they will follow).

Burberry’s latest catwalk show is the perfect example of this. Pieces from their Spring/Summer 17 show were made available to buy immediately. That’s incredible. I remember looking at catwalk shows throughout my student days and accepting them for their inaccessibility; their beauty and vision outweighed by their actual commercial value – in today’s world, how does that make any business sense?

So designers and manufacturers need to work quicker – but try telling that to teams that are already working at capacity to meet the demands of the more traditional seasonal-led design calendar, weighted down in heavy administrative tasks of design changes, tech pack updates and line lists – not to mention production changes.

*Image copyright: Browzwear

The Benefits of PLM & E-PLM

In light of today’s PLM & E-PLM solutions , those arduous ways of working can change. With a PLM platform, the entire business can be working simultaneously from live-data, eliminating the risk of working from out-of-date information. Designers can populate overview sheets and linelists from the click of a button; tasks that would otherwise take hours and hours of time. Businesses can work leaner and smarter by being equipped with the right information to inform better decisions, connecting teams and improving quality of communication across departments. From a common PLM platform, unnecessary repetition and duplication of work can be avoided as everyone reads from the proverbial ‘same page.’ It takes out assumptions, giving suppliers and manufacturers transparency of information to make fewer errors and increase the hit rate of right-first-time samples. On a merchandising level, sales can be acutely monitored, therefore helping guide designers in the most productive way based on real-time knowledge of bestselling items and reactions to newness. Overall increasing speed to market, the benefits of using a PLM platform integrated to many Extended-PLM solutions far outweighs the more laboursome ways of working.

As a designer myself, I know that the word ‘technology’ often brings about a creativity-inhibiting shiver. But its benefits can actually bring more opportunity for design by allowing us to approach it in a more logical way; after all, no-one likes wasting time. Working with Adobe Illustrator in conjunction with PLM can bring significant efficiencies as it integrates seamlessly into the greater workflow, meaning that designers aren’t working in isolation. And the benefits of collaborative sharing of libraries and pre-drawn assets has to be one of the biggest time-savers. On top of being more organised using the PLM platforms, E-PLM (in the form of virtual 3D) brings with it a new creative dimension that would otherwise be impossible to achieve and with the new digital inkjet printers samples can be made in a matters of hours.

Fashion companies can no longer claim ignorance to the impact of digital technology on the way they work; it’s already here , and it’s going to change the fashion world forever!

After all, there’s a lot of people, processes and resources that go into the creation of that image that gets uploaded to social media. The fact that a consumer can ‘like’ or disregard it so freely, just proves that technology at design level needs to accommodate for today’s liberated consumer who knows exactly what they want. And they wanted it yesterday.

Lydia Hanson

Lydia Hanson has been part of the WhichPLM team for over four 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 the Annual Review, 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.

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