To better reflect cultural differences and fast-evolving social concepts, such as body positivity and gender fluidity, the fashion industry is becoming more diverse. Consumers now expect to find a genuine choice of on-trend and core products that suit their size, identity and cultural considerations, and not just a few token items.
While fashion brands are keen to meet demand and create inclusive ranges, producing styles that are adapted for a variety of different consumers causes new challenges on the merchandising, design and product development side. It is for this reason that emerging, independent brands that are specifically targeting consumers seeking less mainstream fashion are largely dominating the inclusive market.
There is a huge opportunity for established fashion brands to make the most of this opportunity and respond to changing consumer demands. A modern Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution can tackle product development challenges and structure the new set of requirements needed to create inclusive clothing.
68% of American women wear a size 14 or above. However, until recently, most mainstream brands produced clothing in US sizes 0-12, sometimes adding on a ‘plus-size’ collection with a limited selection of styles. Change is in the air, and brands are responding with greater diversity in sizing to answer this market, that was worth $165.2 billion globally in 2017 and is forecasted to continue to grow.
Varying sizing is complex and styles need to be adapted in order to flatter all sizes and shapes. Ill-fitting garments can be damaging for a brand. Costing visibility typically only includes sizes 6-12 but visibility for larger sizes is also needed as costs of material and trims, labels and scaling/placement of prints and graphics are all different. Companies need to factor these additional costs in and there is the question of how: blend all costs for a constant cost/item or charge more (or less) for different sizes, trims or colors? Then there are challenges in grading and Points of Measure (POM) subtleties, additional samples and time spent adjusting designs to create garments that are comfortable and flattering at any size. This is particularly difficult in categories such as lingerie, which involve complex measurements and many, many different components.
A modern and flexible PLM can help to address sizing, costing and execution challenges by streamlining all product information into one single collaborative platform. Core libraries of materials, components, trims and styles can be created to allow design and development teams to efficiently adapt existing styles in new sizes. PLM provides full costing visibility so that margins and pricing can be adjusted as needed. With PLM, brands have the tools to manage the full sampling process including leveraging real-time information from fit sessions and improved communication with suppliers to reduce time to market. Accurate data ensures that sizing is as consistent as possible across products and the smooth product development process puts less pressure on teams despite the introduction of more sizes.
PLM solutions that offer 3D capabilities are particularly useful for companies expanding into new size ranges. The traditional sampling and fit review process is one of the most time-consuming and expensive parts of getting a product from the design stage to final production for retail, and businesses are turning to 3D, virtual reality and augmented reality tools to solve the fit challenge. PLM with integrated 3D sampling can significantly cut the cost and time spent on getting the right fit. Whether you use 3D or not, with PLM the process of designing, developing, sampling and producing new sizes is more streamlined, efficient and accurate.
In a globalized world where most societies are multicultural, brands must also consider the variety that exists within markets they might previously have considered homogenous.
For example, modest fashion, designed for religious or conservative women who want to maintain traditional dress while enjoying a choice of on-trend styles, is a growing market. The modest clothing market is expected to hit $368 billion annually by 2021, up from $243 billion in 2015. Producing modest fashion designs requires the clever use of elements and materials to make new styles that are creatively aligned with collections but satisfy the modesty requirement.
PLM allows designers to iterate quickly and easily on staple modest designs from previous seasons and apply this season’s on-trend materials, colors and design elements.
Planning assortments for local markets, regions or other groups is made simpler with a modern PLM as teams can drag and drop products to configure the best assortments that fulfill specific customer requirements and help meet financial goals.
Special occasion dressing which includes made-to-measure products is also a growing market that brands are starting to explore on a larger scale. PLM can streamline this process and keep track of individual orders, aligning designers and manufacturers so that everyone knows where to find the specific information they need, and orders can be produced quickly. The ability to be agile is essential when keeping up with a global marketplace.
Fashion brands need to consider how to answer the transgender, non-binary or other gender identities that consumers are demanding, and more generally, cater to non-conforming or unisex clothing markets.
Fashion brands often still divide collections into men’s and women’s, and employees such as designers and buyers are separated accordingly. PLM’s ability to connect teams on one platform with a ‘single source of truth’ can foster greater collaboration between people working on men’s and women’s collections to create crossover unisex designs. Designers, product teams and merchandisers need to be very clear about how these products fit, especially since many consumers shop online and can’t try on clothing before purchasing. PLM can assist with creating clear fit guides so that product returns don’t increase, as well as streamline the merchandising process to bring these products to retail.
Sustainability often goes hand-in-hand with inclusivity in the minds of consumers, who expect brands that appear ‘woke’ in one respect to be equally conscious of their impact on the environment and the people who make their clothes. Sustainability needs to be more than a buzzword for brands that have inclusivity at their core.
Brands can use PLM to track sustainability initiatives, maintain internal accountability and improve supplier transparency and communication. Greater visibility throughout the supply chain makes it easier to monitor compliance and set quality expectations, while more streamlined workflows reduce energy use in production as well as costs for your business. Having a materials library in PLM makes it easier for brands to assess how sustainable particular materials are and this extends to the factories and suppliers they work with too.
With the reporting functionalities offered by modern PLM solutions, a brand can pull analytics to demonstrate the sustainability of its full business model to consumers, employees and investors and check that any predetermined benchmarks have been met.
3D integration with PLM also has a significant part to play in reducing the raw materials, carbon footprint and shipping costs associated with sampling, allowing brands to produce fewer physical samples, speed up production times to drive faster time to market and adjust collections on the fly to reduce the risk of wasted inventory.
Making fashion more inclusive isn’t an impossible challenge. Customers are crying out for choice, and brands that react with genuinely inclusive collections will be rewarded with loyalty. The key is to incorporate inclusive styles as a core part of each season’s planning and execution, rather than an afterthought.
Investing in a modern PLM solution will allow you to meet the challenges associated with creating inclusive ranges, from creating clothes that fit at every size to managing additional material needs while protecting margins. With PLM making it easier to communicate across teams and collaborate with suppliers, cut sampling times and costs, and streamline the creation of new design variations, inclusive merchandising, design and retailing can become second nature.