First published in The PLM Report 2022, this instalment in our series of exclusive interviews celebrates the changing role that product lifecycle management (PLM) has played in our industry, and how it will continue to adapt with fashion’s wider recovery.

How do you define PLM, and how has that definition changed as the fashion industry has evolved?

Traditional PLM systems are expensive and rigid engineering tools with lengthy implementations. They are IT-driven devices evaluated without the needs of designers and developers in mind. Legacy PLM tools create friction, forcing designers to drive creative work outside the system. These platforms are necessary to maintain a competitive edge, but they are out of reach for more than 900,000 fashion and apparel brands with a Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of less than 10 million dollars.

Modern PLM tools provide a design and development solution to transform products from concept to creation, centralizing product data to streamline creative briefs, production schedules, supplier communication, and more. Fashion PLM software acts as a collaborative environment for designers and product developers to integrate colors, size specs, and materials. It also provides a platform to manage sample development and mitigate risks throughout the supply chain.

While the industry has evolved, the traditional apparel calendar is fading away in favor of a continuous production cycle. Supply chain constraints further compress development timeframes and leave no room for mistakes or miscommunication. Skyrocketing freight costs erode margins and place increased demands on product teams. What’s more, looming legislation in the EU and USA, along with pressure from consumers, challenges brands to provide greater visibility into their sustainability practices, including ethically-sourced materials.

The need for accurate tech pack creation and effective vendor collaboration is more critical than ever for the following reasons:

  • Traditional PLM is too slow to meet the needs of modern fashion and apparel brands.
  • Traditional PLM is overbuilt and full of irrelevant features that do not benefit fashion and apparel companies.
  • Modern organizations seek a single source of truth in their PLM solution that allows them to create professional tech packs and effectively communicate with suppliers.
How has your PLM solution filled a gap in the market and helped push your industry forward?

The legacy PLM platforms that used to contain everything from industrial tools to airplanes are slow and outdated, requiring a lot of customization to work for New Age fashion and apparel brands. In contrast, fashion PLM software like Backbone is designed with improved functionality, helping your design team unleash their true creativity and collaborate on new product ideas with the entire company. There is a rising number of digitally native fashion startups requiring a digitally native PLM. Legacy solutions are unable to meet the needs of a modern retail brand, and today’s fashion leaders want to create and collaborate at scale without getting lost in a complicated engineering tool that clashes with WMS or IMS systems.

Backbone is made for designers, by designers to bring a unique perspective to the PLM space.

Where do you believe PLM sits in the broader technology ecosystem for a brand or retailer? What does it deliver as a standalone solution, and what can it enable in terms of digital transformation elsewhere in the Enterprise?

In the fashion world, three vital parts make up a brand’s tech stack: 1. Creation, 2. Development, 3. Commerce.

Adobe Creative Cloud owns the initial creation step, and Shopify is the leading commerce solution for direct-to- consumer (DTC) fashion brands. But what about the development stage in the middle? You can choose between static spreadsheets and a centralized file system like Dropbox, or a dynamic, cloud-based PLM like Backbone.

A PLM solution is the nucleus of all product data, managing production processes and information throughout the development lifecycle.

When connected to a broader fashion ecosystem, PLM can circulate accurate product data around a community of apps that modern fashion and apparel brands use for planning, merchandising, supply chain, logistics, commerce, and more. PLM presents a unique proposition for a technological ecosystem because it should act as the single source of truth for the entire company.

Depending on its functionality, PLM can operate as a standalone solution or stand firmly planted on the front line. In the current fashion landscape, it has become increasingly difficult to establish an efficient flow of information as organizations scale their brand or product. Luckily, a PLM tool should connect to other solutions and allow product information to flow downstream with zero restrictions.

As we evolve into this digital-first world and navigate unknown terrain, we are discovering the need for things like 3D design to become a greater part of the product development lifecycle. Existing PLM devices have a tremendous opportunity to act first and become thought leaders with the tools they create to address these lingering needs.

Perhaps the two technology opportunities that have been accelerated the most by the disruption of the last two years are digital product creation and supply chain resilience/ agility. How do you believe PLM contributes to those goals?

The goal isn’t to solve supply chain woes overnight, but rather to identify gaps within current development processes and reduce risks that are common to all types of product-related disruptions. Backbone PLM funnels product records into a single system of record that allows design and product teams to access reports in real-time, make changes, provide feedback, and assess sourcing, logistics, or manufacturing risks.

Backbone’s interconnected product libraries save time during the sampling and revision process because all color swatches, fit samples, lab dips, and size specs are easy to access and organize. When your development teams can effectively communicate with suppliers, it’s effortless to track requests, timelines, materials costs, and shipping or arrival times.

Supply chain disruptions are a challenge for the entire fashion industry, but Backbone empowers brands to operate at digital speed and develop products smarter, faster, and at scale. At Backbone, we believe in supporting the entire ecosystem of our industry, while helping designers and developers enter a successful production cycle and improved manufacturing processes.

What are the biggest challenges/pressures facing fashion startups today? How does your solution respond to these challenges?

Traditional PLM tools are too rigid to meet the needs of today’s fashion and apparel brands. Modern brands want to collaborate effectively and create products at scale. They don’t want to battle an engineering tool that competes with their ERP. Additionally, external pressures such as supply chain instability coupled with natural crises like COVID-19 and ongoing labor shortages are forcing companies to reconsider their business model. Amazon and American Eagle are noteworthy retailers focusing on new methods to drive growth and diversify their business offerings. These organizations are diversifying vertically through the production process and into logistics. Essentially, everything in the industry is pointing toward logistics.

Logistics company → fashion brand that wants to be a logistics company → organizations buying logistics companies → resale brands adopting logistic techniques = Logistics 101.

Yet fashion startups find a way to respond to these unique challenges without the resources or connections of big retailers by implementing new solutions made for the next generation of technology. Platforms like Shopify are adopting a more logistical focus to circumvent issues with supply chain management and provide a centralized hub for smaller startups that might lack the resources to manage the complicated aspects of manufacturing, inventory management, and operations.

Backbone PLM provides designers and product developers with that centralized hub for concept, creation, development, and production needs at a price point a startup can afford. Additionally, RFA or CPG-specific PLMs provide an easy-to-use system controlled by the user with no costly RFPs required to customize the system to fit your brand’s needs.

Other PLM solutions are retrofitted to the fashion and apparel space, but we have already seen a massive shift within the industry where digital-first strategies regarding sales, marketing, design, and development are taking precedence. Server-based computing systems are becoming obsolete for the next generation of fashion and apparel brands, and companies are unleashing more creativity in response to the market and recent industry uncertainty.

Are there any significant/noteworthy features that your product has? What implications does your product have for the future of your business/industry?

Design focused integrations and plugins:

  • Adobe Illustrator Plugin: Backbone’s two-way Adobe plugin enables designers to access and update files without worrying about the current artboard version. Changes sync seamlessly, taking the pain out of product revisions for your whole team.
  • Pantone Libraries: Backbone allows you to manage product and component colorways, including custom palettes and Pantone libraries which are licensed and pre-populated in the Backbone system for no extra cost.
  • Backbone Lite: Available on the Shopify app store, Backbone Lite provides the tools needed to professionalize the product development process, increase speed to market, and focus on constructing products that will grow their business.

Customization and giving the power back to brands:

  • Unlimited Custom Fields: Backbone admins can create, edit, and manage custom fields specific to your brand’s unique needs and goals. Our intuitive admin panel makes it easy for teams to configure brands, taxonomy, fields, and users.
How do you see PLM supporting fashion’s wider recovery and its ongoing digital transformation over the next 2-3 years?

Fashion brands are no longer expected to pay thousands of dollars to purchase PLM licensing, implementation fees, training, data migration, and so on. With modern PLM tools and the emergence of SaaS solutions like Backbone, customers pay an affordable monthly fee to utilize the PLM, reducing implementation costs and onboarding time. For example, fashion startups adopting their first PLM can compile product information, onboard with Backbone, and be ready to create tech packs within a day or two. Plus, the low upfront costs ($199 per month) provide a tremendous value to smaller fashion startups looking to test the waters of PLM software.

A modern PLM software lowers development costs and increases productivity company-wide to correlate with your brand’s projected return on investment (ROI). Design and development teams can build accurate tech packs, reduce manual data entry, and optimize sampling cycles to push products into production faster. If you look at the hours

team members lose looking for lost product information, correcting user errors, and inputting product data by hand, you will quickly discover a telling figure for concrete ROI.

Major fashion brands are typically left with legacy PLM systems that lack the latest integrations needed to streamline product development tasks. However, because these traditional PLM models were so expensive and difficult to adopt, most fashion big-wigs are hesitant to replace these archaic systems, and efficiency is hindered for product developers. As a smaller fashion brand, you don’t need to tie yourself down with an old-fashioned suite of complicated systems. Backbone PLM guarantees your brand’s design sketches are well displayed, creating product specs is effortless, and tech packs are shared in just a few clicks.

For emergent fashion startups, purpose-driven brands are more impactful than transactional brands. According to a report by Time Marketing, purpose-driven brands show 60 percent greater customer engagement and 50 percent greater employee satisfaction compared to traditional fashion brands. The report also showed 16 percent more high-growth sales volume over the past three years.

Whether you want to operate a digital-only business or a healthy balance of digital, brick and mortar, and wholesale, listen to the market, understand where your business is going, and embrace dynamic technology that will give your brand a pivotal edge over the competition.