The 3 main challenges for product development leaders today

How the COVID-19 crisis and new fashion calendar have transformed the product development process




  • Fashion consumer behavior will change, due to the Covid-19 crisis
  • The rise of the non-traditional fashion calendar will create new challenges for product development leaders
  • Read this article for more insight.


The Covid-19 crisis: The urgent need for transformation in fashion

“The coronavirus also presents fashion with a chance to reset and completely reshape the industry’s value chain — not to mention an opportunity to reassess the values by which we measure our actions.”
 – The Business of Fashion, ‘Coronavirus Update’

Today’s unprecedented Covid-19 crisis has affected the fashion industry on every level, from shop assistants in Paris to garment workers in Bangladesh.  According to The Business of Fashion, global revenue is predicted to drop by 27-30 percent this year[1]. Before the pandemic, terms like ‘getting woke’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘transparency’ were already in the corner of every consumer’s mind. And with such economic uncertainty now, they will be all the more price-sensitive and conscious about the global impact of their purchase decisions. This crisis is, in a way, a wake-up call for fashion companies to re-examine themselves and their business practices. This COVID-19 pandemic has merely brought to light the many problems that fashion companies have been facing but not resolving for years: over-production, pollution, low-cost labor, lack of transparency, disintegrated value chains… and the list goes on.

The traditional fashion calendar was already starting to change before the public health crisis, and it will undergo a more drastic transformation during this period. Before, start-ups and new brands were disrupting the fashion landscape by releasing products at the pace defined by the consumer’s needs, making it more irregular and varied. Independent, smaller brands such as Everlane and Bonobos[2]  that were releasing one product at a time according to this momentum were thriving by disrupting the industry. This more environmentally sustainable, profitable and socially sound way of producing will not change. Instead, it will be more prevalent in this marketplace.

With this irregular production pace, product developers will be dealing with workloads of a different nature, handling many different product mixes of varied volumes at the same time. Product development teams are the heart and soul of every company, communicating with designers, merchandisers, manufacturers and salespeople to bring ideas to life. Behind each bestselling product is a capable product development team. A company’s success in adapting to new business environment is heavily dependent on their product development leaders’ ability to help their team members collaborate better while simplifying and speeding up their tasks.

The top 3 product development challenges of today

For our latest article, “How a new breed of product development leaders is driving change and innovation today”, we sat down with a few Lectra experts and customers to find out what the biggest product lifecycle management challenges of today are. Drawing from their knowledge and observations, public research articles and well-known case studies, we have identified three main issues that product developers have to grapple with:

Increasing store returns

According to WhichPLM, an estimated 25% of garments were returned to fashion companies, incurring huge losses, with customers citing poor fit as a major reason. As economists say, there is no such thing as free lunch. Consumers give data because they expect better products in return. Product developers need accurate feedback and data from final consumers to modify their measurement charts and continuously improve their fit. They also have to work with their external suppliers and partners to decide on which size charts to use by studying the morphology of their consumers. In a global context, the problem is more complicated because a company could be using various suppliers with different sizing and pattern-grading systems. They have to ensure that they and their suppliers are speaking a common size language before sending them their tech packs.

Different go-to-market collection development processes

According to McKinsey & Company, today’s companies have established four go-to-market processes to produce various collections of different volumes at the same time[3]:

  • The seasonal collection process for their standard collections;
  • The read and react phase, where companies produce more top-selling garments after analyzing their point-of-sale data;
  • Fast track, a quick design-and-development phase outside the normal go-to-market process; and
  • Never out of stock (NOOS), non-seasonal products that will always be replenished.

Product developers now have to be flexible and agile in handling different processes at the same time, especially for the read-and-react phase. It is important to note that with the exception of seasonal collections, these processes are usually launched while the items are already on store shelves. With information coming from both ends of the supply chain, they need to know which materials to pre-order and which products to focus on. They need their BOM libraries to be as organized and structured as possible, to speed up their decision-making process and be able to send tech packs to their suppliers or production teams on the spot.

 Environmental sustainability

The fashion industry accounts for more than 10% of carbon emissions and is currently the largest ocean polluter in the world[4]. As a response, many fast fashion companies such and Zara and H&M are rethinking their production and sourcing strategies. According to Lectra experts, many are improving their product composition by replacing one material at a time with an ecological one. BOM libraries are crucial in this process. The more varied, structured and organized the material information stored in the BOM libraries is, the easier it is to add new data, and identify materials to replace.

What should product development leaders do to ensure success today?

To overcome these challenges, product development leaders should combine new technology with modern management skills to empower their team members. One thing that most successful leaders have done is to equip their members with better data visibility, so that they can collaborate and communicate better, and make smarter decisions on the go. Product development leaders should not only be evaluated based on the success of their product, but also the way they manage their staff. By setting actionable KPIs, being a good listener, and ensuring career progression, they can cultivate a healthy work environment for their team members.








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