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‘Tis the Season for Fundamental Transformation

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Expert in digital photography and digital asset workflow, Eric Fulmer (VP Operations & Strategic Growth at Capture Integration) builds on his earlier work with WhichPLM (The Zara Effect) – a very popular piece with our readers – to explore how this trend is revolutionising our industry.

Earlier this year, I published an article here describing “The Zara Effect” – the phenomenon that consumers are now leading brands, instead of the other way around. This trend is up-ending the entire industry, and brands are in a panic to “catch up” to their own customers, who no longer look exclusively to brands for taste leadership, but rather look first to their social network of influencers.

Since the consumer isn’t going to wait for the next seasonal collection to make their fashion choices, the entire fashion business model must adapt. This includes building new supply chains and systems, investing in technologies such as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) to maximize assortment efficiencies, re-imagining the entire retail experience, and re-thinking every aspect of how the brand communicates with the customer.

This transformation includes taking a hard look at seasons. Historically, the rigid structure of fixed seasons was the “heartbeat” of each brand’s operational process, and every activity in the business was aligned to that steady cadence. The ritual of changing out one’s wardrobe with the weather created a natural alignment with the introduction of fresh product to catch the eye of that customer in transition. And so the entire fashion organization has lived by the structured campaign model of defining a theme for each season and constructing product and messaging across all touch points to reflect and amplify that theme. But just as in the other areas of the business, this “Zara Effect” is rippling through the executive suite and challenging every assumption that built the world’s top brands.

As we work with brands today to accelerate and scale their content production in this “brave new world,” the traditional seasonal structure is being questioned and re-engineered to reflect the new realities of global demand operating on a continuous, rapid pace, no longer tied to the seasonal cycles of Paris and New York. It’s not just that seasons are getting shorter (although they are), it’s questioning whether a seasonal model is – for many fashion brands – even relevant anymore.

Not only are many brands adapting to sell globally, where natural seasons have very different cycles (if they even exist), a global audience is much more diverse and complex when it comes to taste and messaging. We see fashion brands facing a fundamental choice about how to move forward: embrace a “horizontal” global approach that necessitates re-engineering their entire business model to address a global clientele, or choose a “vertical” path of targeting a specific client profile and going “all in” on aligning the entire business model to serve that persona. Either case likely means radical change for the majority of fashion brands, and many won’t survive the transition. But staying “in the middle” as a brand without a clear mission and strategy looks like certain death.

As a technology and services provider in the creative operations niche, we see this “Zara Effect” impacting the brand marketing technology stack like a Category 5 hurricane. The technology tools deployed at most brands are generally weak to begin with, due to a variety of systemic problems in the fashion business model (historic lack of focus on ecommerce and technology in general, poor communication between creatives and the enterprise technology teams, reliance on “safe” tech vendors with old architecture, etc.). But this industry revolution demands a massive commitment to relentless efficiency in the creative space, tied to analytics engines that can feed the right “big data” to the creative side of the brand in nearly real time.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, the answer is not more “big iron” type systems. Beware the real-world meaning of “enterprise”— it often just means expensive and overly complex, promising everything but the kitchen sink, yet unable to adapt to the constant changes in the fashion landscape. Rather, a series of lightweight, agile tools that flow data and content seamlessly across traditional business silos, is the only model that makes sense for a fashion brand intent on thriving in the coming years. So it’s not about throwing more money at the problem, but a willingness to give up on legacy systems that the brand may still be depreciating, but that were built around a marketplace that no longer exists. It can actually cost less to adopt a holistic technology approach that touches every operational area, but it requires a commitment to change that many fashion brands have been unable to embrace due to cultural roadblocks.

You can explore my thoughts on a transformative vision for the fashion asset management workflow in Viva la DAM Revolution!

In this era of low cost, cloud-based systems with extensive APIs and pre-built “connectors” to work with other tools, there is huge opportunity to accelerate a fashion business model that is willing to break from its traditional boundaries and assumptions about season, design, clientele, and geography. And the market will relentlessly punish those who cannot step out of the shadow of a dying business model.

The time is now to “clean out the closet” of ill-fitting assumptions from a bygone era, and embrace the new realities of the fashion business.

Eric Fulmer Eric Fulmer has been a pioneer in digital photography and digital asset workflow since the early 1990s when he joined Fuji’s Digital Imaging Division, where he worked with major corporations and cultural institutions including The Smithsonian Institution and The Metropolitan Museum of Art as they adopted digital workflows. Later, Eric worked with leading photography studios at both Leaf and Phase One, pioneers in digital capture systems and image processing workflows. He has led DAM integrations at major government institutions and played multiple roles in a startup SaaS platform vendor providing end-to-end creative production solutions for the world’s largest fashion and retail brands. He now leads the software team at Capture Integration, developing the ShotFlow One visual content production platform.