An overwhelming number of innovative digital solutions have surfaced in recent years in the bid to help brands sell more effectively and save time and money. There are many brilliant solutions for ecommerce; marketing at scale has been democratised through social, and fulfilment is easier than ever. However, whilst innovation has been swift for the consumer side of businesses, global production supply chains are trapped in the dark ages.

The vast majority of fashion supply chains are inefficient and ineffective. Design to delivery lead times are 36 weeks, only 50% of products are delivered on time and only 5% of brands can trace their supply chain back to source. The production process is failing brands. In addition, consumers are demanding sustainability from the brands they buy from, yet brands are totally failing to deliver – only 1% of products are labelled as sustainable.

The core reason for these issues is that supply chains are fragmented, offline and inefficient. We know that the majority of tools are unfit for purpose, and that most communication happens through email and design development through Excel. Problems arise regularly due to ineffective communication, supply chain transparency, poor processes and a lack of collaboration between partners. The whole system needs a radical overhaul.

Single source of truth

A strategic re-thinking of supply chains has been overdue for some time, however recent global events have made this overhaul an immediate necessity. The good news is this is possible. Information needs to be centralised and teams need to be able to work collaboratively in digital workspaces. Furthermore, lead times need to be reduced and efficiencies increased throughout the process. To do this effectively production teams have increasingly been turning to product development and production management platforms to help digitalise their supply chains. These cloud-based platforms are the new way for brands to produce better, together – making sustainable sourcing easy and cost effective for brands and every player in the supply chain.

What’s more there is an ever-increasing amount of greenwashing that is occurring as brands scramble to ‘become sustainable’. However, building sustainable supply chains isn’t just about working with well-certified manufacturers or using sustainably sourced materials. It’s also about reducing waste throughout the design to delivery process and, with this, instilling better buying practices. The building blocks of sustainability are transparency and efficiency and both of these start with the digitalisation of data. Brands need to remove the information silos that currently exist within the supply chain and bring everyone onto a single source of truth platform. By doing this, all parties can make dramatic time, cost and quality savings. Fundamentally, the manufacturing process must work for the People, the Planet and the Economy.

Harmony between brands and factories

To get products to market faster, it’s crucial for brands to have standardisation of practices and better methods of communicating and collaborating. Mistakes and delays are still commonplace in production, often due to discrepancies in how each brand and manufacturer works. As brands develop their own unique style of tech pack and order processes, it’s hard for manufacturers to adapt to these different ways of working each time.

Standardisation across all players within a network is important to drive efficiency, and this starts at the very beginning of the design process. Bringing manufacturers into the fold as early as possible to comment on technical viability and to suggest materials and technical details can save hours in the sampling process. Real-time collaboration with a manufacturer on mood boards is a great place to start.

Greater transparency of the supply chain

To ensure a brand is compliant, it’s critical to be transparent – and this means knowing each party involved in each stage of your supply chain. It can be very time-consuming keeping up-to-date and accurate information of suppliers’ capabilities, certifications and production capacity. However, by digitalising this process and having reminders on what actions are needed and when, will not only help brands maintain a good supply chain but will also help with planning for the future.

Removing costly mistakes at speed

With greater visibility and interconnectivity between players, tasks can happen concurrently in full view of all. This in turn helps avoid delays and speed up lead times. When all parties are working from the same source of information and collaborating in real-time, with all actions recorded, it becomes much easier to ensure nothing is missed and the presented information is correctly processed.

The digitally sustainable future

Brands need a responsive tech solution in order to achieve a sustainable future. This solution needs to provide an efficient use of resources and materials, an efficient use of supply chains and time, and an efficient use of manufacturing processes that reduces waste. With technology, brands can exert much greater control over their production process and ultimately implement and measure sustainability. The robust, flexible business models that the industry needs can only be serviced with innovation and technology – and this is coming from digital supply networks, easy access to accurate data and heightened workflow collaboration.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact of Covid-19. The pandemic highlights, with renewed importance, the need for digitalisation across the industry. While many businesses are unable to scale up their teams to pre-Covid-19 size, they will need to upskill staff and use technology to drive efficiencies across the value chain. They will also need to gather more supply chain data to better anticipate, manage and mitigate risk should another global crisis happen again. If we’ve learnt anything from all of this, brands have the choice to digitalise or die.

About the sponsor: SupplyCompass is a product development and production management platform that enables fashion brands and manufacturers to produce better, together. The cloud-based software is transforming the fashion industry, by digitalising global supply chains and making sustainable sourcing easy and cost effective for brands and every player in the supply chain. The platform enables brands to manage the entire product development, sourcing and production process from design right through to delivery, all in one place.

SupplyCompass has also built a network of over 200 supply chain partners, visiting, vetting and handpicking only the best manufacturers, mills and suppliers to join. The majority of their network is in India, with some strategically placed partners in Portugal, Nepal, China and Spain. SupplyCompass is based in the UK (London) and India (Mumbai and Hyderabad).


McKinsey Apparel Go to Market Process Report