Released in the definitive instalment in fashion’s longest-running dedicated PLM Report, this executive interview is one of a nine-part series that sees The Interline quiz executives from major companies on the evolution of product lifecycle management, and ask their opinions on what the future holds for what has long been sold as the core of the fashion technology ecosystem, and the heart of design, development, and supply chain processes.
For more on product lifecycle management in fashion, download the full PLM Report 2023 completely free of charge and ungated.
- PLM impact has expanded beyond its traditional scope of affecting design and development process improvement to potentially effecting large-scale digital transformation across the entire organization.
- Advisory services have transitioned from being decision-making influencers to becoming digital transformation drivers.
- To choose a PLM solution, companies need to take a long-term view and clearly define what they hope to achieve with it.
- PLM is a critical link in the chain for enabling virtual garment creation as it is the single platform that connects different digital transformation-enabling solutions.
The places software begins and ends are constantly changing as market demands shift, new innovations emerge, and fresh capabilities and integrations are added. Can you tell us what PLM means to Ptex, and how you believe that definition has evolved over the last few years?
With greater accessibility, enhanced performance, and stronger integration via multi-cloud technology solutions across organizations, PLM impact has expanded beyond its traditional scope of affecting design and development process improvement to potentially effecting large-scale digital transformation across the entire organization.
The expanding role of PLM is accompanied with an expanded definition for PLM success. PLM performance is no longer solely gauged by how streamlined a process is, but also by how agile and cost-effective the streamlined process enables a company to become.
As a system, PLM now captures more data than ever before – f rom sustainability parameters to component sourcing information. From Ptex’s perspective, this translates to: how can we help our clients to do more with PLM? How can we continuously engage with our clients to ensure they continue to derive maximum benefit beyond go-live?
As PLM capabilities continue to increase, implementation partners must continue to broaden our perspective while focusing on the bigger picture: fueling long-term PLM- powered growth.
After the disruption of the last few years, it’s become more important than ever for every actor in the fashion value chain to work more closely together – both to minimise risk and control their own costs, and to ensure that the go-to-market process is as streamlined as it can possibly be. Technology is guaranteed to be a big part of that new era of collaboration, but technology has to be supported by cultural change. Is the role of advisory services changing to bring in both elements, or have they always existed side by side?
Advisory services have always existed side-by-side. Traditionally, these services were used to inform decision-making at the PLM solution identification and selection level. However, changing business models, industry trends and PLM solution expectations necessitate changing advisory service roles and goals for the retail, footwear and apparel industries.
By virtue of focusing on getting organizations future-ready, such services have transitioned from being decision-making influencers to becoming digital transformation drivers. Savvy advisors provide a wider repertoire of services that leverage PLM data and reports to inform business decision-making not just at a product level, but also at a strategy level.
For brands and retailers especially, the choice to adopt PLM, and the decision to select a particular software vendor, is a complex one with long-lasting impacts. What do you believe it means to choose a PLM solution in 2023, and why do you think it’s important to have experienced people, with deep domain knowledge, involved in both the decision-making and implementation cycles?
To stay ahead of the curve, companies need to adopt a forward-looking approach to PLM that addresses prevalent requirements, anticipates future trends and considers industry best practices. Consequently, to choose a PLM solution, companies need to take a long-term view and clearly define what they hope to achieve with it.
Experts that specialize only in one component – business or PLM – may either not know the extent to which PLM can be leveraged or not be able to envision future business needs from an industry perspective. On the other hand, implementation partners that provide PLM as well as industry expertise help bridge the knowledge gap between software and RFA companies. Consulting these domain experts early-on helps to identify, select and implement a PLM solution that is the right-fit for making their business future-ready. Ultimately, PLM implementation partners will be the ones to adapt the solution to the business. Therefore, to maximise system benefit, it is critical that they understand requirements upfront.
To understand whether they are choosing the right partner, besides the usual questions for PLM, companies need to ask their potential solution providers for an implementation roadmap that extends beyond go-live, with the focus on maximizing PLM benefit. The right provider will be equally committed to partnering on a long-term basis and be able to specify the initiatives they intend to undertake to do so.
One of the two top items on most brands and retailers’ agendas right now is enterprise-scale digital product creation and 3D working. PLM itself is an important part of making this possible, through integrations and as a central hub for product data, but this is also perhaps fashion’s biggest cultural and mindset shift in a long time. How do you work to help fashion businesses to make the most of this side of digital transformation?
3D modelling, designing and sampling software such as Browzwear, Romans CAD and Clo have been around for a while. However, as digital 3D materials were unavailable, 3D samples were created based on 2D sketches that could not accurately capture fabric physical properties, so physical samples were required.
Now, innovative companies such as Frontier and DMIx are using machine learning and AI to build image exchanges for 3D materials, textiles, fabrics, trims and accessories. Suppliers (eg. fabric mills) use these platforms to build virtual fabric libraries, from which manufacturers can source digital fabrics. Integrating such systems via PLM will enable the entire design-to-sampling process to occur virtually as fabric, fit, silhouette and drape can be visualized accurately with little need to create physical samples.
PLM is a critical link in the chain for enabling virtual garment creation as it is the single platform that connects different digital transformation-enabling solutions. Think of it as an information superhighway, with exits for different design and development solutions. A key determinant of how successfully vehicles (aka styles) navigate in and out of the entire system is quality of exit ramp construction i.e., quality of PLM implementation. For example, fashion companies could source and add digital fabrics to the company’s 3D material library in PLM. If sustainability enablement software such as Made2Flow is integrated with PLM, companies could see design impact, including traceability, and make any necessary material and design adjustments in real-time. With the touch of a button, PLM a Techpack is generated and used to render 3D samples. Any sample alterations and approval would be done virtually and finally, flow to manufacturing for product development.
Though we are seeing early-adopters shifting towards completely virtual sampling units, current process changes tend to be at a functional level. A vast majority of fashion companies are yet to achieve enterprise-scale 3D product creation or even understand the full capabilities of PLM. Ptex Solutions’ role as an implementation partner is not just to understand business requirements, but to use our knowledge of the industry and PLM best practices to help companies reimagine the impact of PLM and drive PLM-led digital transformation.
The other item is, of course, sustainability and transparency. We’ve already talked about the importance of connecting brands and suppliers, but it’s also hugely important for the industry to improve the way it plans, buys, and produces to avoid as much of the waste f rom overproduction as possible. How do you see this being put into practice? And what else can PLM, properly implemented, do to support fashion’s sustainability objectives?
Snowballing swiftly f rom industry buzzword to powerful movement, demand for greater sustainability has completely altered the fashion landscape.
The sustainability repercussions of enterprise- scale 3D product creation alone are significant – reduced wastage is accompanied by a minimal carbon footprint as physical items no longer need to be transported across the world for sample development. For instance, an India-based garment manufacturer recently made more than 200 samples, including fit, proto, salesman and pre-production samples, of 1 complex workwear style for a Japan-based customer. These samples were sent overseas over a period of 4 months until a final version was approved. Each garment used around 3.15 metres fabric, weighed around 1.2kgs, and cost USD 50 to courier (CMT cost not included).
Creation of real-time virtual garments also translates into a significant reduction in time- to-market, effort and cost. Had both the manufacturer and customer implemented 3D sample creation, besides the sustainability aspect, significant wastage could have been avoided.
As the product development process becomes faster than ever before, companies can determine and schedule production levels of select items based on demand instead of overproducing in advance to avoid shortage.
How do you see PLM’s role in the fashion technology ecosystem evolving in the near future? How can it best support fashion’s ongoing digital transformation?
Going forward, as the power of PLM increases, companies will need to replace a reactive approach to PLM with a more proactive approach. Companies will need to review existing PLM system capabilities relative to emerging or evolving trends and calibrate their PLM approach to ensure alignment with business goals.
The following considerations will form the cornerstone of a high-impact PLM-led Digital Transformation strategy:
- How companies perceive PLM initiatives. As PLM systems become more powerful, businesses must treat PLM implementations as strategic improvement initiatives geared to inform, drive and power organizational digital transformation. From a strategy execution standpoint, this means continuously engaging with implementation partners beyond go-live to maximise PLM adoption.
- How companies use PLM systems. The potential impact of PLM is vast. Instead of focusing purely on current needs, companies need to build for the future. As greater transparency becomes a competitive edge, companies must expand PLM usage by incorporating additional data such as regulatory compliance levels, sustainability scores based on materials, trims, packaging or vendor selections, wastage calculators, material certifications and standards, carbon footprint calculations etc.
- How companies leverage PLM initiatives. To increase PLM impact, companies must continuously fine-tune their initiatives whether by internally reviewing performance, externally partnering with industry experts or thought leaders or conducting comprehensive benchmarking exercises to impact-growth opportunities. As fast fashion makes way for slow fashion, technology adoption and adaption must be faster. As fashion companies simultaneously scale up sustainability and digital transformation initiatives, their technology ecosystems need to be dynamic, flexible and agile enough to support them.
As fast fashion makes way for slow fashion, technology adoption and adaption must be faster. As fashion companies simultaneously scale up sustainability and digital transformation initiatives, their technology ecosystems need to be dynamic, flexible and agile enough to support them.