Why are we so slow?

It’s not about cutting down time, it’s about supply chain flexibility.

Why are we so slow

Fashion companies have to change their mentality towards speed to market in order to keep up with their consumers.

Fashion’s Creativity Crisis

Fashion is undergoing a creativity crisis – in fact, it has been, for years since the rise of e-commerce. Thanks to technology, consumers can now browse and shop online, share ideas and identify trends using their cell phones and tablets on the go.  Trends seem to be changing a lot faster than ten years ago, when consumers were browsing around brick-and-mortar stores. With consumer tastes changing at lightning speed, designers have to develop collections at a faster pace. According to the 2017 McKinsey & Company – BoF ‘State of Fashion’ report, high-end designers are now developing six collections per year, dramatically shortening their creative processes. 

This has led to major instability in the industry, with a high turnover rate among burnt-out creative directors from Christian Dior, Lanvin, Calvin Klein and Saint Laurent. As The Cut puts it succinctly, “These designers have studios, dollars, and huge publicity machines at their disposal, but they don’t have the luxury of time: time to develop an idea, time to set it aside, time to fail in the way that you inevitably need to when you’re starting any kind of creative enterprise.” Unfortunately, this problem seems to have trickled down to other sectors, such as fast fashion giants and retailers such as Gap and J.Crew. Design quality has significantly decreased as a result, along with the rise of alleged plagiarism.  

Reducing Lead Times: Changing the Standard Approach

Many fashion companies associate production factors such as material and labor costs with profitability, but not time to market.  But in this time and age, this mentality has to change, as the ability to jump on trends quickly has become the key profit driver for companies. Waiting for one more week could lead to missed trend opportunities, and hence, forgone earnings.  According to this article by McKinsey & Company, most companies thrive by ‘bringing the best of the best to consumers when they want it’.  The most successful players are often retailers such as H&M and Zara that produce faster than the average – 36% faster than other companies, to be exact. 

However, for most fashion companies, making speed to market a priority often leads to a catch-22 situation: accelerating production speed means sacrificing creativity and quality because of shorter design cycles. That’s where most companies have gone wrong. They have focused on cutting down the time spent on design and product development, which has killed creativity and quality as a result. What they tend to overlook, however, is that reducing the design-to-production process is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It’s about gaining supply-chain flexibility to respond to changes quickly. 

Gaining Supply-Chain Flexibility to Respond Faster 

If we study fast-fashion companies like H&M and Zara closely, what they excel in is read and react. According to McKinsey & Company, read and react is when companies respond to positive sales results by reproducing their top-selling garments in larger quantities.  This go-to-market approach is the driving force that pulls these companies closer to the market, allowing them to jump on trends easily. This requires optimum supply-chain flexibility, as companies have to analyze their point-of-sale data and switch gears, and deviate from their standard production processes to reproduce bigger volumes of their bestselling items. 

While fashion companies don’t need to adopt the fast-fashion business model to produce faster, they can work smarter by integrating read-and-react mechanism into their production processes. However, what most companies worry about is how they can gain the agility and flexibility to manage multiple production modules and workflows, from big and small-batch production, to capsule collections and limited editions while keeping their standard production process in check.

There is one solution: on-demand production.

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