Over the last year and a half we’ve seen how critical digitization is as a foundation for business continuity in fashion. We’ve seen more change happen in the fashion value chain in 2020 and 2021 than in the previous 5 years combined. From the emergence of 3D design to digital showrooms, digitization might just be here to stay. Finally! After seeing so many digital projects being started and subsequently abandoned over the years, the fact that many brands now see digitization as a top priority is encouraging.

There is one thing we all need to address, though. Let’s call it the elephant in the room.

Digitization is not just about technology.

*gasp*

Yes, it’s true.

Turns out, digitization is actually mostly about managing change.

Let’s unpack that.

While technology is a big driver for digitization – especially now – it’s only part of the picture. Real value from digitization is unlocked when brands use software as a catalyst for reinventing their core processes. Meaning: change the way they work and make it better. Leveraging digital technology to actually change the status quo, rather than maintain it. It’s deceptively easy to say and, as many brands, retailers, and suppliers reading this will know, disappointingly hard to do.

Why is that? The answer lies in quantifying and managing change. Digital transformation, when done right, brings about a lot of change. Different roles & responsibilities, shifting organizational structures, new skills required – and sometimes even changes to incentive mechanisms. And all this change presents us with a big human challenge: being creatures of habit, humans are unapologetically resistant to change. And it’s this resistance that makes it so hard to successfully drive digitization.

Let’s take 3D design as an example. The dream outcome here is that all design and product teams work directly in 3D: streamlining the design and development workflow, working iteratively, with digital prototypes, in clear communication with the suppliers and reducing waste along the entire product creation cycle. Yes, that’s amazing! But in order to do so, your designers will need to be trained in 3D. Your design & development milestones will need to shift. Your system landscape will need to be adapted to facilitate the new workflow. And all product related teams, from patternmakers to product developers, will need to change their ways of working.

So what happens in instances like this, is that companies start looking for the path of least resistance. And in the case of 3D design, the path of least resistance is to outsource 3D creation. Either at the supplier level or with other third parties. While this is a valid way to create momentum in the short term and to overcome some of the hurdles of the past year, it’s not the game-changing, long-term reinvention of the fashion value chain that we’re all hoping for.

At some point, we’ll need to also change our internal ways of working if we want to create even more value from digitization. And that means, we need to tackle the human side of digitization along with the technology side, to effectively drive lasting change. So how to effectively overcome the hurdles of change and tackle this human challenge?

Let’s take a look at an example in the digital showroom space. For this, we’re going way back in time, pre-COVID times.

It’s 2016 and Tommy Hilfiger is about to open their new headquarters in Amsterdam. The big goal for the company is that all showrooms will be completely digital, no samples on the showroom floors. Wow – a big deal!

For a while, the team at Hatch had been working on building the Digital Showroom and rolling it out across markets. We had brought the solution to a place where the technology was really starting to prove itself. It solved a clear problem – the ability to sell without samples wherever and whenever you wanted.

Still, somehow the sales teams hadn’t made the big transition yet to digital-first selling. We were still seeing sales teams sell with samples. Yikes! How were we going to get the users to change their ways in time for the new showrooms to open? Why were not all users using the new Digital Showroom? How could we ensure that they were ready for this ‘new digital normal’?

After investigating the technology side, we concluded that updating or adding new features wasn’t going to move the needle. We had to consider more than just the software, more than just the Digital Showroom product. We had a human challenge on our hands!

So we started observing the sales teams, sitting in on selling appointments, hoping to learn what set apart a successful sales appointment from a not-so-successful one and comparing traditional selling appointments with digital ones. After a couple of days, a trend started to emerge.

In traditional appointments, sales teams were really comfortable selling with samples: they knew the drill, were in control of the conversation, able to easily handle buyer objections all while guiding the buyer in the right direction. In the Digital Showroom, however, the sales teams had to find their footing. What if the buyer didn’t like the digital experience? How would they handle objections? What happened if, god forbid, they came across a bug?

And that’s when it hit. That Eureka moment. The common denominator for successful appointments was confidence. We need to find a way to bring confidence into the digital world. So that sales would feel as comfortable selling digitally, as they would physically.

This went beyond just training sales teams in the software product. We started building a playbook that would immerse the users in this new way of selling. And three clear approaches emerged:

  • Communicate clearly on the why. Explain to all sales teams why the brand was moving to digital selling and how it would benefit them. Having this base-level understanding helped us to get sales users on board in the first place.
  • Build competence through practice. We created safe spaces where the sales teams could practice digital selling. We brought in actors to play reluctant buyers, trained the sales users in improvisation and ensured that they had the right toolkit to be able to handle any kind of scenario in the digital showroom. Yes, even a bug!
  • Emphasize positive experiences. Whenever a successful buy was conducted digitally, we would take the best practices and share them widely across the sales teams. Seeing more and more successful examples pop up, encouraged others to continue moving in the right direction.

So how did this story end? The showroom opening was a big success. Tommy Hilfiger has since then fully digitized their selling processes and other brands have followed the same path.

We believe that the unlock to fully embrace digital is a combination of technology and a human-centered approach. While the example above relates to digital selling, the same philosophy also holds true for design. One of our foundational beliefs is that for brands to fully reap the benefit of digital product creation, 3D design cannot be outsourced. This stems from the fact that in order to really change, users need to work with the new tools and  build competence through practice. It’s the only way for teams to accept and eventually embrace the change.

The world is moving so fast and change is truly becoming the norm. Building the capability to deal with change can be a game changer for the future. But change is not easy, especially if you’re digitizing existing ways of working. In the end: I truly believe that the benefits of digitizing the fashion value chain far outweigh the possible downside of the change. We have a chance to create meaningful impact on both brands as well as the entire industry by leveraging digital. And considering the human element will help all of us succeed.

Go and create meaningful change. Make an impact.

About Hatch & Stitch

HATCH (hatchstudio.co) is a Digital Showroom Platform born from fashion and built for fashion. Hatch empowers fashion brands to transform their wholesale process, driving better sales at scale while reducing the costs of servicing customers. Big name brands like TOMMY HILFIGER, Clavin Klein and HAVAIANAS® use the HATCH Digital Showroom to sell better. It’s Hatch’s mission to digitize wholesale selling by creating a better sales experience for all fashion brands.

STITCH (stitch3d.com) is a Software as a Service startup that helps fashion’s product creators scale 3D collection development across their organizations. It steers fashion into the digital era with a creative blend of software, industry expertise, and education. Founded in 2018 and based in Amsterdam, the team was born in PVH’s Digital Ventures incubator and will go to market in late 2021.

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