The disruptions throughout the global supply chain have reared their ugly head everywhere you look, whether via factory shutdowns, congestion at major ports or labor shortages. While many of these issues are largely out of brands’ control, they can still make strides to gain more transparency into where their products are at all times.
As brands seek more visibility into their supply chains, they now can learn more about product at the factory level and understand the true nature of the raw materials, batches and pallets that comprise their apparel goods. Niall Murphy, CEO and co-founder of Internet of Things (IoT)-based transparency software platform Evrythng, believes that gaining this view of the product journey can ease worries regarding production capabilities and improve communication on shipping times.
“If you’re a wholesale brand, you can understand when goods are leaving production facilities, and perhaps you have visibility into Tier 1 distribution, or Tier 2 distribution material. But you don’t always understand all of the other factors that are affecting time to market of a product item, outside of the distribution channels that you directly control,” Murphy said.
In working with digital twins of physical products, Murphy said brands can access more data from an end purchase. “Consumers digitally engage product and that tells you exactly when a product arrived where and when that consumer purchased it,” he said. “The levels of engagement are certainly large enough that you get a very meaningful statistical sample, and that is a lot better than sending out field inspectors and so forth.”
Evrythng works with top apparel brands including Ralph Lauren, Levi’s and Patagonia, leveraging its Product Cloud to ensure that the brands can gain a digitally authenticated insight into their orders from the point of production to the sale. As each physical product created gets designated with a digital identity, brands can further see when production orders are being made, or are being called off.
Murphy noted that there’s often a real latency in the communication cycle, in that the factory doesn’t want to provide the notification that there’s going to be a problem, or if there’s a delay in the rate of throughputs. When that information isn’t necessarily visible, there can be various knock-on effects such as pushing scheduled transportation out of sequence, or even applying the wrong type of transportation—both situations that are only made worse given today’s continued shipping delays.
“By having what we call digital factory activation, you’re certainly addressing a key part of that problem, also providing some insights into the capacities that are available in different production facilities,” Murphy said. “That intelligence may not be feeding upstream toward the brand. There’s obviously some competitive tensions in letting go of purchase orders and redirecting those toward other providers, but brands need that kind of insight upstream to understand what’s going on in the operating layer.”
Murphy noted that as more brands do shipping lane tracking with logistics providers such as DHL and UPS, they are able to combine this data with item trace information that can help them build more predictive models of where and how long the item is in the supply chain.
“The good news is your factories might be working, but the bad news might be that the shipping pathway that you were going to use to get that item to market may be further disrupted,” Murphy said.
Despite fulfilling production demand being a top priority amid a disrupted chain, in many ways this goes hand in hand with the acceleration in consumer demand for transparency, he says, especially at the more premium end of the equation.
“The two are coming together to some degree because people understand within brands I’m talking about that actually you’re solving the same problem,” Murphy said. “You need to be able to understand and prove where things came from, and have some degree of authentication of those claims. It is very synergistic—is this product being made here? Is it being made with these materials, and are the materials there to make it with?”
Evrythng works with as hundreds of apparel factories ranging across global markets, including China, Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam, as well as in North America and Europe. In his experience with such a wide range of partners and facilities, Murphy said that there are more opportunities for data-sharing collaboration on a pre-competitive basis, so that they can improve the resilience of the industry as a whole.
Maneuvering through the complexity of data sharing within the supply chain is even more important when accounting for the different data regulatory requirements in different markets. This is a problem Evrythng is seeking to solve with its own Product Cloud. For example, without the correct platforms in place, European distributors might not have access to all data from a product made in China.
“It’s one thing to capture some data from one factory and put it into a spreadsheet somewhere, but to do that from hundreds, and across many different geographies and be able to handle that on a global basis—that’s the area where you really need a data network, developing within your supply system. We call it the ‘Internet of traceability,’” Murphy said.