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Sourcing Summit: Using Digital Sampling and Shorter Timelines for Efficient Inventory Planning

Inventory planning is one of the fashion supply chain areas hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. Closed stores and paused production earlier in the year forced the industry to essentially skip a season, leaving retailers and the rest of the supply chain uncertain how to move forward.

Gucci is one of several fashion leaders that have committed to going “seasonless,” offering styles as consumers need them, rather than in accordance with an outdated fashion calendar. Others are following suit, pointing to what may be the new normal for the fashion industry.

Forgoing the traditional calendar not only creates less waste—theoretically, brands won’t just produce a collection for the sake of it—but it also just makes sense. Like many, Gary Wassner, CEO of Hilldun Corporation, saw the pandemic as an opportunity to reset fashion, and organized a “Rewiring Fashion” group of experts dedicated to making positive, long overdue change in the industry.

“The purpose of that was to change the calendar to make it something more appropriate,” he said during the R/Evolution Sourcing Journal Summit panel discussion. “For the past 10 years, all product was being delivered at the end of July and August. It made absolutely no sense to anybody, and yet it was so set in stone in the industry in terms of everybody’s production cycles and shipping cycles, that it never got changed.”

The pandemic was an opportunity for the industry to pause, reflect on its traditional practices and approach them more mindfully.

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For panelist Margaret Kutt, senior director of product development, Newtimes Group, the first order of business is adjusting the planning timeline for brands and retailers.

“Don’t give them so much time,” she said. “Right now, the cadence and the calendar are so long that there’s ample time for them to come back and make loads of changes to the original design—they change the colors, they change the specs, they change everything—so the end product looks nothing like what they started out with most of the time.”

Compressing the calendar and planning for collections closer to the appropriate season leaves less room for changes. “[In that case,] you give the design, you develop the product, and you go with it. You do not mess with it once you’ve signed off on it,” she added.

It may sound like an oversimplification of a complicated process, but Kutt notes that this is possible with industry-wide adoption of 3-D design. At Newtimes, Kutt works closely with the digital sampling process and earns trust of those who are skeptical.

“So many clients are still wary of 3D because they’re so used to seeing physical samples—they’re so used to getting that parcel and opening, touching, looking at it and then giving feedback,” she said.

To assuage their concerns, the company provides them with a physical sample as well as a 3D digital image so they can compare the two. The company also has clients perform line reviews and experiment with outlet store collections in 3D to get more accustomed to the new process—which Kutt says makes sense financially, logistically and environmentally.

Switching to digital sampling and narrowing down the production timeline can translate to big financial savings, as panelists said it can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per sample. A lot of these costs, noted Erik Olson, vice president of product development and sourcing at Crocs, are often only understood by a select few on the team. To create more efficiencies and better cost savings, teams must clearly communicate their process and all of the associated costs.

“I think on the development side, it’s really important to educate the rest of your organization about some of these costs that are not really calculated out right away until you look at the sampling and the cost of changing and all those things,” he said. “It’s not well understood. So we do need to do a better job of explaining to our organizations how these margins get attacked.”

All the session’s from this year’s Sourcing Journal Summit, R/Evolution, are available on-demand for the first time. Follow this link for more information.