When I completed my MBA with a concentration in Supply Chain, I envisioned working at a company where the whole supply chain process was as seamless as it sounded in class. However, that was not my experience when I started working in the fashion industry.
When we buy an item of clothing, we don’t realize we are participating in a chain of events before the product reaches our hands. When brands have transparent supply chains, we can clearly trace the journey our fashion choices have made, and it may not always be a pretty picture. My role at SCM Connections has opened my eyes to why things were challenging at the fast fashion company I worked for, and how a company can overcome these challenges.
Prior to working for SCM Connections, I worked for a Chicago based “fast fashion” company that had a very manual supply chain process. There was no real merchandising plan, no vision boarding, we worked off endless spreadsheets and would go through copious amounts of data just to get a trend idea that worked for us in the past. We would travel to Los Angeles every other week and scour the markets on foot for 11 hours a day to find product, photograph the product, and manually review each photo once back in Chicago to write purchase orders. With almost 30 stores throughout the US, and a quickly growing online market, this was not a sustainable way to gather product. Often, we would find ourselves in a rut due to lack of product right before a special occasion such as New Year’s Eve. Trust me, you don’t want to be the store without sequin dresses all throughout the aisles.
At SCM Connections, I learned fast fashion companies that will continue to thrive are those with an automation process within their supply chain. Flexibility in reaction time is only possible when a company can manage data and obtain information quickly. This was something we were missing in my fashion experience. I learned the process we were following was not the norm for most successful fast fashion companies. The ability to procure and monitor data at each step of the supply chain allows fashion companies the possibility to make accurate decisions, as well as increase efficiency at all levels. Working for SCM Connections I’ve seen how they use the SAP Integrated Business Planning tool to help companies do just that. Taking noisy data, mining it, and turning it into useful information that all members of the supply chain understand is something SCM Connections prides themselves on daily.
Another key factor missing on our long journeys to LA was an easy way to communicate information to our Chicago warehouse in real time. Instead we were manually reviewing photos of all 2000 styles with our purchasing team once we had returned from the trip. At SCM Connections I’ve learned that optimizing a work flow between teams through use of a cloud system can be very beneficial to the overall supply chain. It would have been valuable to have had a management tool on a cloud to store images of collections and prices in order to allow a flow of information among merchandising, PR, and our purchasing departments while we were on the road.
Finally, being able to identify consumer needs ahead of time is vital. Some companies such as Kate Spade use an ERP system to measure and monitor product launch campaigns. While these systems are pricey, it may not make sense for small fast fashion companies to make the investment. However, being able to successfully gauge the popularity of an item by observing which looks were requested the most by customers, influencers or stylists, and predict the demand for each product before the collection hit the market would have been extremely helpful while we were out at the markets in Los Angeles looking for product. Clothing supply chain is a complex system. Issues can seem overwhelming, especially when brands respond to consumer demands that change daily. At SCM Connections, I’ve learned that a company can overcome many obstacles in their supply chain when they take a step back to fully understand each process and how their data plays into it. As more fashion companies hit the Chicago market, it will be interesting to see how they manage their supply chain!