As COVID-19 has unleashed a wave of uncertainty and anxiety across the world, the fashion industry is sinking in a quagmire of its rundown systems that have simply been unable to withstand the brute force of the pandemic. This has undoubtedly accelerated the call for systemic change and a digital transformation in fashion supply chains that can not only enable the most transparent and effective teamwork and rearrange old systems of supply, demand, and production, but also ensure it is flexible and resilient enough to combat future predicaments, including that of the climate crisis.
Here are five tips to build efficiency in fashion supply chains through digitalization.
1. Use cloud-based computing to create digital versions of all your physical ingredients.
Digitize all product information including archives, tech packs, components, and material libraries. This allows for global or remote working teams and factories to access ideas and vital information, allowing for research, design, and product development to function productively without the need for physical proximity or access to resources.
2. Utilize technology for effective communication and collaboration.
Product development and workflow collaboration software and tools can ensure exceptional communication across every player in the fashion supply chain, essential to ensure maximum efficiency across production. From ordering a certain number of samples or lab dips, tracking efficiency, and rejection rates to comparing critical paths, accessing all this information from a single source of truth ensures access to accurate real-time data leading to rapid decisions and heightened cross-team collaboration.
3. Understand leverage points across the supply chain that hold maximum power to create agile and resilient supply chains.
Donella Meadows, systems thinking expert defines leverage points as “places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.” Recognizing these leverage points where the inclusion of digitization can create fundamental changes is paramount. For example, sampling is a multi-layered process in the production cycle that traditionally involves many rounds of back-and-forth reviews, approvals, and physical movement of product. Converting to 3D design systems can not only greatly reduce the environmental impacts of wastage, but also lead to much faster lead times and starts to the production process.
Embedding systems design thinking allows for building resilience in the fabric of your operations. Use this impasse to pilot digital systems and supply chain networks that allow you to access new responsible manufacturing partners, experiment with business models that stray away from conventional production quantities and calendar cycles and transition to demand-driven models.
4. Recognize that transparency is essential for smooth information flows.
Knowing your supply chain inside-out is not only an ethical responsibility but also the cornerstone of a resilient fashion brand and mobilizing technology is undoubtedly crucial to aid this process. Which country or state does your cotton come from? Where are your zippers produced? How much are your garment workers paid? What certifications do your garment manufacturers hold and till when are they valid? Tracking and tracing all this information and ensuring easy access to it through digital means ensures that your business is adequately equipped to respond quickly to any possible disruptions to the supply chain.
5. Do not forget the human factor across your supply chain.
In the midst of streamlining and turning to digital supply chains in fashion, it is easy to forget that people form the core of making any product. Invest in technology through a bottoms-up approach and involve every member of your supply chain in it, making sure that the use of technology is beneficial to their interests as well, and that they are equally invested in the process. Understand how your product and process impacts every stakeholder involved in its making and function and determine whether it stands up to both your personal as well globally established principles of ethics and sustainability. Establish trusted, credible relationships with your suppliers and partners, that can withstand any external and potentially detrimental forces. Equally important as feedback from your consumers is feedback from the people in your supply chain whose satisfaction can largely determine the success of your product.
Nayanika is a designer, writer and illustrator whose work spans research, storytelling and strategy for sustainability in fashion. Her interests specifically lie in sustainable supply chains, craft production/innovation, circular economies and design for social innovation. She graduated from the prestigious MA Fashion Futures program at London College of Fashion with a Distinction in 2019, and has researched at and written for Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Fashion Revolution, amongst others.
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