The Future of Fashion is Digital, post-Covid-19

Lucy Blackley shares her silver linings from the Covid-19 pandemic. Lucy is a PLM and Product Development expert.

I strongly believe the shift in our buying and trading behaviour was due a revamp in order to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, which apparel had a huge part to play in.

And then, unfortunately, Covid-19 happened.

But, are there silver linings to be reaped from all of this that will really kick-start our actions to a brighter future?

It’s fair to say that the Coronavirus does not discriminate when it comes to who it decides to pick on, but manufacturing and the supply chain industry is taking an absolute beating. As one part of the world is slowly coming out of hibernation, the other side is now lying somewhat dormant, and orders are in chaos. At first the West couldn’t get their orders, but now the East are having their orders cancelled, amended and delayed left, right, and centre.

If it isn’t the back-end, it’s the front-end of our industry, and some of the big boys are throwing their toys out of their pram and refusing to part with money to pay the rent on their stores, despite some of them being up on sales through online purchases.

It feels somewhat unethical to me that there’s still a feeling of ‘me’ in all of this. If the virus has (re)taught us anything, it’s about connectivity and compassion; we’re still going about our business in ways, but acting as if our own businesses are the only ones affected by lockdown.

The future of business is to collaborate, so what better time to start than now? There is a huge concern amongst the environmentally conscious that we’re going to have much of our incoming stock destroyed and burnt, adding pollution back into our newly clear skies for the sake of it not being ‘on trend’ or dumped in landfill.

But, if we’ve stopped the clock to some extent, why can we not stop the clock on fashion? The only fashion that people are going to be wearing for the next 3 months are lounge pants and hoodies.

Those ‘last season’ pieces are not to be sniffed at, and let’s be honest, especially in the UK, does our weather drastically change that much that the clothes held in warehouses ready for shipping are to be disregarded as ‘current’?!

It is our job now more than ever to be responsible, and in the short-term of the aftermath, we need to rethink our businesses and the roles of our teams temporarily in order to not go back to ‘business as usual’, but evolve to be ‘business unusual’.

Times are changing and there is no denying that this pandemic is going to change how we do many things forever. And as much as it has been a tragedy overall, I am confident there are some silver linings in all of this

Although we’ve seen less physical interaction, people have been connected more than ever through digital means. We’ve had access to this technology for such a long time, but it takes something as serious as this for people to see the true benefit of technology – which prior to this was taken for granted.

Alongside connectivity, we’ve seen kindness skyrocket, people really looking out for each other, and businesses stepping forward to support the fight in one way or another.

When we’re on the other side of this, how do we maintain what we’ve been taught from all of this? With so much downtime for many, there’s a huge opportunity here to look at the way we currently do business, and ask ourselves; “How can we do what we do, but better?”

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and going digital is for everyone in the product design and manufacturing sphere, and through the integration of tools that can support teams with their to-do lists and communication, it doesn’t just aid business efficiency, but it also improves company culture. Using this time to reach out to teams on how to pivot the business post-Covid-19 could really give you a head start upon the turn to normality. It not only serves your business when operations open back up, but is the perfect opportunity to approach and get everyone in one (virtual) room to kick off a project that will not only help to keep people’s minds off uncertainty and look towards the future positively, but give teams excitement for their return by looking at all the ways they currently do things, and work towards doing them better, digitally.

We need to promote the notion that the current chaos is temporary and, through teamwork, businesses can come out of this stronger than when they entered it.

Getting around to finally going digital

We normally hold off on looking at projects that are going to disrupt our business, but with Covid-19 well and truly interfering with our 2020 plans and targets, it’s time to put the fear of disruption aside, and fight fire with fire.

Many brands and manufacturers have it on their list to go digital, but are usually swamped with their already heavy workloads on a daily basis. Despite this being a sign to actually take some time to question the lack of time on their hands, and how analogue and manual processes are hindering improving their business structure, many companies choose to ride this wave. It can take years to get to a solution that works for them, and even then, sometimes the solution isn’t right for them, because they haven’t invested enough time into researching the needs of their teams, and aligning that with the solutions reviewed.

It’s the perfect time to engage with the people that once surrounded you on an almost daily-basis and reap the silver lining of Covid-19, which is that feeling of connection and community.

Use this time wisely, to further connect, by reaching out to plan the future of business post-pandemic. There is no business on this planet that has ‘nothing to do’ at present; there’s always a to-do list with things that need doing but have not seemed like a priority. That is, until now.

We’ve slowed down, but by using this time to ramp up by looking at opportunities to remove aspects of our processes that could be done better and replace them with tools to not only complete the task efficiently, but enable us to harness data that keeps everyone connected to a single source of truth through live, collaborative workflow software solutions.

Every element of a company’s technology infrastructure plays a vital role in aiding staff members to do their jobs, and should be in place to improve on previous manual efforts by making teams more efficient and connected, and overall streamlining processes, to enable all to work smarter.

This not only brings in results, but also leaves room for them to further innovate and feel actively engaged in the business, it’s projects, and taking it beyond its current successes.

To successfully deploy and deliver a PLM software solution that will gain you the best possible return on investment starts and finishes by ensuring your teams are onboard and using it properly and to its full potential. They need to be making full use of all its functionality; untapped functions are not cost-effective.

A significant part of the focal point of effective advanced change is either about taking care of existing operational issues or wasteful aspects, or getting to business knowledge that previously went unharnessed. For the two zones, you need the contribution of your staff before setting out undertaking change to best comprehend where you can drive upgrades.

There is a leader in everyone, and by initiating your digital transformation and starting bottom up, you’re able to engage employees by bringing out their inner leader. Initiating projects by handing the reigns over before it’s even begun shows employees that their knowledge is truly valued, and they are able to steer this project in a way that benefits them and the company by implementing tools that aid their daily workload, as they know more than anyone, the trials and tribulations affecting their workflow.

In that capacity, an inability to connect enough with your representatives either before you start a procedure of advanced change, or once you have sent the innovation being referred to, can definitely diminish the advantages picked up from the venture.

Use your time wisely to tap into potentials within your business that can somewhat future-proof you upon the return to normality. We’ve seen the fragility of our business models and supply chains over the course of the last few months, and although nothing is 100% bulletproof, you’re able to use tools such as PLM to your advantage by investing in a system that is available on demand, shrinks time to market, provides savings through the re-use of original data, and overall improves operational efficiency.

The benefits are endless and the above are just a few. Not all of us are going to come out of this thriving but being flexible in the current situation we see ourselves in is key to longevity beyond all of this. We’ve seen brands and manufacturing plants re-jig and produce products they probably never thought about manufacturing.

This article is also available in audio version here.