Fashion industry must rethink supply chains

26 September 2013

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27 September 2013 | Helen Gilbert

Fashion retailers and manufacturers are being urged to rethink their supply chains to adequately respond to the unpredictable 24/7 nature of consumer shopping and make them “fit for purpose”.

The recommendation was made in Fashion Unleashed: Supply Chain Innovation is Everything, a white paper based on the views of senior executives from the fashion industry and research conducted on behalf of DHL Supply Chain, which included a survey of fashion suppliers.

The report identified the internet had “raised the stakes exponentially”, together with mobile phone technology and growing spending power, which had helped create an environment of “light speed change” making volatility and complexity the norm rather than the exception in the fashion sector.

Firms were responding to the challenges in a variety of ways, the white paper stated. It cited the example of vintage-style online retailer ModCloth, which uses social media and customer feedback to drive a leaner supply chain.

Rather than buy hundreds of items months in advance and try to sell them as traditional retailers do, the company uses the information it gets from customers before and after it launches an item to predict supply, adjust inventory and understand what type of products will do well as quickly as possible. This includes using social media to monitor the ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ of customers, which helps them adjust demand planning, production and inventory accordingly.

Report author Lisa Harrington, president of the Lharrington Group, warned supply chains would only prosper by developing processes that were “fit for purpose”.

“This means being able to serve markets around the world with a supply chain that is resilient enough to withstand shocks, agile enough to respond quickly to sudden or unexpected change, flexible enough to customize products and efficient enough to protect margins,” she wrote.

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