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How to Drive Collaboration and Innovation Through Social Enterprise

The right inventory at the right place at the right time. Sounds like a simple formula for success. But why is it so challenging to achieve?

With all the issues you may be facing in the fashion industry, it’s no surprise that your efforts sometimes go astray due to:

  • Problem #1 – A disconnected value chain that functions in silos and relies on inefficient processes and data sharing
  • Problem #2- Price sensitivity and increasing local and global competition that erode profits
  • Problem #3 – A consumer-driven “fast fashion” mandate that calls for increased responsiveness and strict measurement against your sustainability goals
  • Problem #4 – Support for omnichannel consumer engagement to enable more extensive, convenient, and valuable customer interactions

Moving to a social enterprise model can help you overcome these challenges, but adopting this framework requires both an understanding of how social business can fully serve your organization and a best-practice way to deploy it—or the results you achieve could be limited.

Social enterprise basics

What exactly is a social enterprise? It’s one that injects many of the concepts of social media into a business environment to give employees, suppliers, and partners new ways of communicating and collaborating. We often encounter organizations that are keen to find better ways to interact with both their customers and suppliers. But collaboration begins at home – if internal collaboration hasn’t been achieved – there’s little hope that efforts toward external collaboration will see any greater success.

While social media applications are primarily focused on personal interactions and experiences, social business tools are designed to facilitate collaboration among internal and external stakeholders, automate information delivery and streamline processes. Importantly, these tools are embedded within core organizational systems—like ERP or supply chain execution—and employees throughout the organization have access.

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Social business tools can give employees the ability to “follow” people or objects within the organization, receive automatic notifications, centralize communications for projects or within work groups, easily search for information within communication streams, have information delivered wherever they are, and on multiple types of devices.

Addressing Problem #1 – Enhance interaction along the value chain

A complex, ongoing series of interactions takes place every day among the members of your fashion value chain. Ideally, your organization smoothly orchestrates all these activities. Yet, inefficient—often manual—processes and siloed applications can hinder the communication and collaboration needed to do so. That’s when innovation suffers.

Consider this. Your design team is ready to roll out a trendsetting collection, but the materials they need are unavailable. Procurement was close to finalizing a related contract until they discovered a missed email indicating a low quality rating for the supplier in question. Now they have to go back and find information on additional suppliers, and then vet them, further delaying production.

Let’s look at what happens, when you provide a real-time social business platform for internal teams and suppliers:

  • The sourcing team can engage in and view real-time conversations about suppliers—providing performance and quality ratings used in procurement’s decision-making process. This enables faster, more coordinated sourcing of required materials from preferred suppliers.
  • Designers can post information related to past projects and available supplies to help sourcing and procurement organizations support greater reuse of existing designs, fabrics, and trims.
  • Designers can be more focused on creating collections and innovating since they no longer waste time searching for required documents, photos or emails.

Addressing Problem #2 – Improving margins

More socially aware and savvy, today’s consumers have easier and greater access to information about potential purchases, with the ability to search for and compare products with the touch of a screen. At the same time, fewer consumers are sold on the value of a particular brand. Meanwhile, luxury items that still retain loyal customers are moving into new channels such as airport boutiques.

All these situations create new selling dynamics and competitive challenges that can’t be addressed by markdowns alone. Under these circumstances, “social” capabilities become critical to promoting market-readiness and avoiding profit margin.

Addressing Problem #3 – Reduce time to consumer

The last thing your organization wants to do is miss out on sales opportunities. But a consumer-driven “fast fashion” mandate, which includes demands for more collections and styles, increases the odds. Keeping up with this pace for new products calls for greater innovation and shorter development cycles. And greater innovation requires improved collaboration.

For example, operating in a social enterprise, your designers can tap into consumer insights to inform and validate their design decisions. During this process, your designers can simultaneously collaborate with your sourcing and sustainability program managers to ensure that any proposed designs can be delivered quickly while also adhering to “green” standards and sustainability best practices. Employing the instant messaging or chat features of your collaboration platform, they can speed data gathering and more rapidly identify qualified suppliers.

At that point, sourcing can immediately proceed to get the materials needed to produce a variety of new fashions. In the end, you’ll be positioned to meet “fast fashion” demands with greater velocity and control for more predictable outcomes.

Addressing Problem #4 – Support omnichannel requirements

From Millennials to Boomers and everyone in between, consumers are using multiple channels to learn about, shop for, and purchase the latest fashions. By extending your social presence and making these activities convenient and simple to perform, you can keep your company top of mind and help drive sales.

An omnichannel approach is essential to taking advantage of these opportunities. With this strategy, you can reach consumers through social and mobile technologies, as well as via traditional e-commerce and brick-and-mortar storefronts. As a result, you’ll increase your opportunities to engage with consumers. And when you combine this approach with customer relationship management (CRM) tools to establish a more intimate, prescriptive sales model linked to consumers’ personal behaviors, you’ll find it easier to gain insight into what consumers want on a real-time basis.

In Fashion, your business is a social enterprise – you are one layer in an often large, and definitely complex, value chain. Each layer in the value chain relies on the other, and the only thing we have to facilitate that reliance is social collaboration.

From concept to consumer, we need to be making and keeping everyone aware of what’s happening, how it’s going and how we’re all doing. Consumers want to be heard – and want to know they are heard. They vote and show their confidence through their purchases.



Bob McKee has more than 40 years of experience working in and with apparel, footwear, home textiles and fashion accessories companies. He has hands-on experience sourcing apparel products around the globe and was one of the first U.S. apparel executives to start sourcing in China in the early ’80s. His knowledge and skills span retail, sourcing, manufacturing, and product development within the fashion industry.