Fashion

Do data control centers hold the key to the future of the fashion industry ?

Fashion companies are resolutely embracing the digital world.

Fashion data centers

Sometimes in a stylish futuristic way, such as Chanel’s 2017 spring collection, with models emerging from a digital wall in Daft Punk-inspired robot masks, hitting the runway in a Grand Palais turned into a data-control center overflowing with technology. More often, in a more practical way.

A handful of digital-savvy fashion companies are starting to design and operate highly organized data control centers. Manufacturers such as China’s Judger are already very much involved in this approach. Their data control room acts as a detailed dashboard helping them monitor real time information across their entire value chain, from the number of orders received to the product delivery.

There isn’t much that escapes Judger’s attention – the latest orders received, today’s pending orders, the percentage of orders completed, statistics such as time-to-complete per pattern, warnings on equipment that needs maintenance, finished product quality information, and even factory environment data such as temperature and humidity ratios.

Spanish fashion group Inditex has also had a data control center for several years, but with a different purpose. It isgeared toward monitoring sales data rather than production. From its Galicia headquarters, Inditex connects and controls the different parts of its business – purchasing, design, retail, etc. On the data center wall, massive screens allow dozens of people to track every Inditex operation across the globe in real-time 24/7. This covers every single store, logistics center, factory and website.

As reported by the Business of Fashion (BoF), “everything is monitored in the form of maps, graphs, tables and spreadsheets. If a light is left on in Zara’s Shanghai store, someone in this room knows about it.” The main advantage of this is to implement a business model that is responsive to customer demand (as described by Wharton University Pr. Fisher) while expanding fast geographically.

“Technology has changed the model dramatically. In the past, everything was done by phone — and it is still like that to some extent. However we have now moved beyond the phone to an approach where we are trying to be in as close contact with the customer as possible,” explained Jesús Echevarría, Inditex’s chief communications officer, to BoF. “It was previously all about human relationships, but now you also have a lot of tools for analysis and you can react far more rapidly.” The result is that Inditex plans only 15% of its production in advance, versus 60% for conventional high street retailers, and designs the rest in immediate response to customer feedback.

Another key benefit is sustainability. The traceability allowed by tight digital monitoring facilitates the implementation of environmental policies. And by producing to demand, far fewer products go to waste across the entire supply chain.

Whether it is to monitor manufacturing, collection development or sales, or to facilitate traceability, data control centers might appear in more fashion companies in addition to these two pioneers. They are a harbinger of the way data analytics is starting to reshape fashion businesses at the core.