Technology provided a lifeline for many UK brands, retailers and producers during the pandemic. At a time when even members of the same teams, who lived in the same cities, were no longer able to work together in person, technology kept them collaborative and connected. And technology was also one of the few links that held together not just in-house teams and domestic suppliers, but the network of international partners that makes up the distributed nature of modern fashion value chains. In short, technology kept fashion working during the worst disruption in living memory.

Now, as the fashion industry shifts its focus from post-COVID recovery to the development of longer-term digital transformation designed to cope with ongoing disruption and uncertainty, technology is playing a different but no less essential role. As remote and hybrid working patterns become just the new baseline – rather than something to be newly built – brands and retailers are looking to technology to provide something deeper: stability, business continuity, and profitability at a time of profound change.

The relationship between the users of technology and the companies that develop and support it, also transcends international barriers in the same way. While there are various technology vendors who have established their operations here in the UK, the fashion sector makes extensive use of world-class solutions from multi-national vendors. So UK brands, retailers, and manufacturers are, right here, right now, placing a huge amount of trust in technology that’s sometimes developed an ocean away.


As a result, technology vendors who cater to multiple different markets have three major priorities: ensuring that they employ expert professionals on the ground in each of the regions they want to serve; making sure that each market is given modular solutions that address the unique demands and opportunities in their region; and providing every market with the opportunity to interact with and influence the teams that are designing the future of the solutions they use.

In all of these cases, remote interactions has its limits. While there is no question that technology vendors were able to deliver new implementations off-site during COVID, using a mixture of both local and international teams, no amount of Zoom or Teams sessions can really replicate the experience of bringing the users of technology together, in the same room with the teams developing it.

And when those users are major UK brands, household names in high street retail, and luxury designers – as they are in the case of CGS, the multinational technology company behind the BlueCherry Next suite and a raft of other enterprise solutions – the bar is set high for when those physical interactions do take place. From the future roadmap for a full technology ecosystem, to new ways to use existing solutions to address pressing regional challenges, there’s a lot of ground to cover when people do get together.


So the weight of expectation was on CGS’s “ReCONNECT” event, which took place at the imposing Kimpton Fitzroy hotel, in London’s Bloomsbury district in November. This intimate event brought together executives from some of the most recognisable companies in UK fashion, along with representatives from CGS’s UK and North American teams to debate industry challenges, define technology’s role in solving them, and to demonstrate the roadmap for CGS’s broad portfolio of applications.

That this was also CGS’s first in-person event in the UK following their acquisition of Visual Next, which entrusted them with a significant UK customer base in PLM that now complements its pre-existing UK userbase in supply chain, finance, warehousing, ERP and other solutions.

To break down this big agenda, the event was split into thirds: it opened with a networking lunch, followed by a detailed presentation delivered by Ben Hanson of The Interline, then a frank and open presentation and discussion by CGS’s Paul Magel (President of the company’s applications division, who flew in from New York for the occasion), before closing with Q&A and further networking.


It quickly became apparent during the initial conversations that The Interline was able to have with attendees (and with CGS’s experienced UK team) that UK-focused issues were top of mind, and that these challenges and opportunities were also shaping what UK brands, retailers, and manufacturers want from technology.

For example, while most major consumption markets are being affected by rampant inflation and its attendant cost of living crisis, in the UK those forces are especially pronounced – resulting in a divergence from other European economies in the timeline for recession and potential recovery. With the UK having the heaviest weighting towards eCommerce in Europe, brick and mortar retail is perhaps in a more precarious position than it is elsewhere. And the UK also continues to play host to a domestic manufacturing industry that makes extensive use of technology to remain competitive on the world stage.

These unique regional issues were all on the table straight away – not just in the open discussions that flowed between technology experts and brands, but in the new demands that attendees had for technology. In some cases this meant a desire to implement new solutions (perhaps from within the CGS portfolio), while in others it manifested itself as businesses that had already reached a high level of technology maturity now presenting firm ideas for how the solutions they had already deployed could deliver additional value for them.

Many of those ideas were likely validated (and a few may have been challenged) by The Interline’s presentation, which followed. Over the course of an hour, in a session titled “The Future Of Fashion,” Ben Hanson delivered a breakdown of how the industry had been reshaped by the pandemic, what fashion’s ambitions look like in late 2022, and the significant gap that existed between those visions and the current reality. A gap that technology could help to bridge.


As well as looking backwards, Ben’s presentation zeroed in on several priority areas where both existing and new technology can help the different contributors in the fashion value chain to make measurable progress in 2023. These included profitability, sustainability, on-demand production, inclusivity, digital product creation and more – all of which came together under a piece of umbrella advice, to “extend rather than replace” digital solutions.

Ben’s session also included an overview of the contentious digital fashion and Metaverse space, which prompted some lively discussion during and after the session. But as might be expected against such a difficult economic backdrop, attendees concerns were much more focused on the use of digital tools, assets, and workflows to support and optimise the creation of physical products. And this focus on core business continuity and stability, where the impact of technology is likely to be the most heavily scrutinised in 2023, was front and centre in Paul Magel’s presentation, which followed immediately afterwards.

Paul began with an overview of the CGS business: a reminder that, while the company has a sweeping portfolio of software applications for fashion and retail, its business is also supported by two other capabilities – learning and outsourcing – where its customers include some of the biggest brands in consumer electronics, food, and finance. In an economic environment where unpredictability reigns, and stability is in short supply, this reminder seemed to provide some much-needed reassurance to attendees.


Paul then went into considerable detail about CGS’s investment in shoring up and expanding its ecosystem of software solutions, including presenting a roadmap of the development of its flagship BlueCherry Next suite, and the company’s strategy for extending the value of its solutions now that the Visual Next technology stack and customer base are both integrated into CGS’s operations.

While the BlueCherry suite includes PLM, ERP, SCM, shopfloor control and other applications, the open discussion that followed showcased a clear trend away from technology vendors and their customers talking about individual solutions and acronyms, and towards a more blended approach where the objective is to digitise as much of the supply chain and the extended enterprise ecosystem as possible.

As Paul explained, that digitisation is a cornerstone of CGS’s approach to its business applications, because he believes that the industry’s headline challenges – sustainability, margin erosion, overproduction – will not be addressed through the deployment of a single solution, but instead by the end-to-end digitisation of fashion’s complete, global value chain. And while the emphasis here would seem to be on international issues, it quickly became clear in the various conversations that spun off from Paul’s presentation that every domestic problem has its roots in the supply chain, and that UK retailers (or their counterparts in other regions) can only ever be as strong as their weakest links.

For an audience that universally makes heavy use of technology already, this message appeared to resonate. From outdoor performance products to childrenswear, online DTC to bricks and mortar, each company in the audience had their own unique demands for technology, but each of them also shared the same exposure to risk and uncertainty – both of which are more likely than ever to occur almost anywhere in the value chain. And this makes a compelling case for sourcing technology from a vendor whose portfolio covers a lot of bases, and whose operations span the world.


In recognition of the complex web of country-specific and regionally-heightened market forces, The Interline will continue to work with UK brands and UK events to support the domestic industry on its digital journey.

Based on the ReCONNECT event we were invited to speak at around the end of 2022, it’s clear also that CGS is committed to keeping the UK fashion industry fuelled with the right technology solutions to solve both unique and common challenges. And as Paul Magel articulated during his presentation, both CGS’s local team of experts and those who live across the Atlantic will be on-call to help UK fashion through a difficult transitional period, and to ensure that its customers are able to make the most of digital transformation in their own unique ways.

In our experience, the UK fashion sector has a deserved reputation for both resilience and reinvention – one that has long allowed it to compete on the world stage. Now, it’s time for the world’s technology giants to make sure that the regional industry has a direct line to the people building the technology that’s driving them forward, as well as reassurance that those companies are in it for the long haul.

With this event, CGS demonstrated its commitment in both of those areas. And even in a world where fully-remote working and cloud-native software deployment are becoming the standard, that kind of reconnection is more valuable than ever.