Mass production of apparel began in the mid-nineteenth century, and since then, the Fashion Industry has grown, matured, and evolved as a key contributor to the world’s economy. This industry generated $2.5 trillion annual revenue globally in 2019. To put that in perspective, France is the world’s seventh-largest economy with a GDP of $2.6 trillion. However, what’s strange is that despite being one of the largest industries, it has been a late adopter of technology and digitization. Most fashion brands still rely on manual processes and disconnected information systems, which create inefficiency in the development and production process.

Successful companies will be the ones that make moves early, focus on boosting earnings over revenue growth, and work out how to improve productivity while ensuring operational and financial flexibility.

The State of Fashion 2020, Mckinsey

Leading fashion brands across the globe have started reevaluating the way they work to improve visibility and information flow across their company and supply chain.  A key step in this pursuit is a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution. Industry experts see PLM as a one-stop solution that makes the industry more resilient, relevant, and smarter.

What is PLM?

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a software solution to manage products from the cradle to the grave. PLM centralizes product data and provides 360-degree visibility from product creativity, design, development, production, and vendor collaboration.

Fashion companies use PLM systems to reduce product development costs and production and accelerate its time to launch new products to market. PLM fashion software is often integrated with 3D design, Adobe Illustrator, and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems.

PLM software has fast become a priority for every fashion brand. Growth-oriented companies have realized the importance of moving beyond spreadsheets and email to collaborate with internal teams and vendors. Businesses do not want to invest time and resources in error-prone, manual tasks that do not enable real-time collaboration. A lot of the fast-growing fashion brands would not have been able to grow efficiently without a capable PLM solution.

What are the different types of PLM solutions?

All fashion PLM solutions are not built equal. There are a variety of different PLM solutions, each with different feature sets. Some just allow for creating tech packs, while others manage the end-to-end product lifecycle from design ideation to Purchase Orders.

PLM moves businesses towards data accuracy, transparency, and automation.

PLM technology can differ vastly as well. Traditional fashion PLMs are “on-premise” solutions, where a dedicated server is a setup to run the PLM software. This server would typically be hosted by the customer or at a data center and offered “on the cloud.” These PLM solutions require extensive customization and a team of in-house IT personnel/administrators to manage them. They are highly customizable but at a high cost and tend to have legacy or “older” software interfaces. Upgrade cycles are once or twice a year and require the software vendor to “install” every upgrade as a different version.

Cloud PLM or “cloud-native” software solutions are built ground-up in the cloud and delivered on-line, in a multi-tenant infrastructure. This means multiple customers leverage common infrastructure, think Gmail or salesforce.com. This reduces the cost of PLM, making it more affordable and faster to deploy. True cloud PLM systems come with rapid upgrade cycles, typically once every 8 weeks and all customers are always on the latest version. Cloud PLM solutions have more intuitive interfaces leveraging modern user interface and user experience design principles.

In the future, cloud PLM will help fashion brands close the loop and bring data from IoT(Internet of Things) devices and the production floor into product development. 

Why Fashion PLM software?

As a brand, you want to:

●       Centralize product information

●       Keep teams up-to-date on any product changes in real-time

●       Accelerate time to market

●       Reduce product development costs

●       Reduce number of samples and sample iterations

●       Increase on-time delivery

●       Improve product quality

●       Build transparency across the supply chain

●       Drive ethical sourcing

●       Reduce carbon footprint

A good fashion PLM software offers all of the above and much more. Moreover, PLM increases team efficiency so companies can do more with less.

6 Ways in which PLM Helps

1.   Collection planning and targets

In the fashion industry, seasonal collections start with a plan and targets. Businesses need to define goals for the collection to act as a blueprint for the design, merchandising, and buying teams. Plotting how many styles are to be developed, new designs vs. carryovers, how many color ways, what quantities, prices, margins, etc. A PLM helps you define this plan, push this information to other departments, and start a transparent and collaborative product development chain.

2.   Design and Conceptualization

Design is a core attribute of a product’s success. Manually building design data with spreadsheets, email and files is slow and cumbersome. A PLM solution shortcuts this process. Fashion PLM helps you collaborate on a new design idea with your team and develop design briefs. Then helps you create products quickly by using pre-built blocks, automatically reading designs from Adobe illustrator, annotating images to define construction information, care labels, call-outs, bill of materials, and finally creating clear and concise tech packs. PLM shares visual snapshots and product details with all stakeholders in real-time as changes are made. PLM ensures your product specs are accurate and easy to understand, and can be shared with vendors. 

3.   Costing and budgeting

Fashion brands need to be able to quickly and accurately cost an entire collection and detail the buying and landed cost of each product. This includes defining margins and selling prices across regional markets, currencies, and sales channels (on-line vs. wholesale). Numerous fashion companies still rely on costing using manual spreadsheets with lots of columns that are difficult to comprehend. This is highly error-prone and inefficient, often leading to calculation and margin mistakes. A fashion PLM software helps by providing pre-configured rules and values, so costing is accurate and specific people only access the cost components they need. Cloud-based PLM also enables costing data to be directly entered by vendors saving teams time and money.

4.   Procurement and supplier collaboration

Fashion buying involves figuring out how much quantity of each product should be purchased. This requires analysis of multiple implications such as budget, expected sales, vendor capability, vendor capacity, sustainability, quality, and customer expectations. It is a delicate balancing act and needs to be completed well in advance to leave enough time for production and distribution. Using manual processes to define quantities (styles, colorways), vet suppliers, check compliance records, price and delivery negotiations, and so on is very time-consuming if done without PLM. A fashion PLM streamlines buying and vendor management by centralizing procurement and purchase order processing and enabling easy collaboration with suppliers on-line. This offers greater visibility on purchase orders, shipment tracking, quality standards so buying is accurate and timely.

5.   Sample and approval management

Sampling is a key element of the pre-production process involving multiple stakeholders, manufacturers, designers, developers, etc. Samples often go through multiple iterations before they are approved, and the product can go into production. This requires a dynamic flow of information from design teams to developers and vendors often located overseas and in different time zones. PLM provides a platform for all these stakeholders to collaborate, reducing the cost and time required to get samples correct and reducing the number of samples needed. 

6.   Reporting and tracking

 Personalized dashboards, alerts, time and action tracking, are critical to bringing efficiency to the product development process. A powerful PLM for the fashion industry integrates your departments and provides easy-to-understand metrics that enable quick decisions. This means teams are not wasting time manually putting together reports for meetings just to discuss the status of a collection or a specific product.

Customized dashboards ensure immediate visibility of product data needed for various stakeholders (i.e.senior management, product managers, procurement team, etc.)

Dashboards and metrics keep people informed of their action items and alerts them when tasks require their attention. Instant access to business data also removes the need for emailing, calling, and coordinating with people across teams, global offices, factories, and business units.

Conclusion

 A PLM solution can make your life easier if you run or work for a fashion brand. It is no longer a “nice to have” but an essential tool that every fashion brand must use to succeed in today’s competitive landscape. Fashion PLM software improves quality, speeds time to market, and also provides visibility across the product development lifecycle.  

If you want to improve the way you design, develop or produce products, you should consider switching to a smart Cloud PLM solution. We at WFX can help. WFX is the leading provider of cloud-based PLM and ERP software for the fashion and consumer goods industry, with 35,000+ users across 40+ countries. Since 2000, WFX is the first company in the world to offer a true cloud-based solution for the fashion industry. Connect with our solutions consultant to learn about how PLM software can help your fashion business succeed.