Optimizing the apparel supply chain has become a renewed focus for brands after the extreme disruptions that faced the industry in 2020.
According to Suuchi Ramesh, founder and CEO of supply chain management platform Suuchi Inc., software platforms are the key to resilient and scalable operations. “We really believe that technology is going to be at the heart of successful supply chains” moving forward, she said.
A “new generation” of supply chain platforms has created an ecosystem for a company’s systems, data and stakeholders to interact and collaborate, she added. “Supply chains are so complex,” she said, and they need to be run in a manner that allows all platforms—like product lifecycle management (PLM), enterprise resource planning (ELP) and warehouse management systems (WMS)—to communicate.
With barriers between systems removed, she added, retailers have more visibility into the insights that will help them inform their product decisions. “When you have better data, you can actually operate much better across the entire value chain, she said.
The “facts and statistics we collect in order to make an analysis” have to be gleaned in an efficient manner, Pearl Malikul, founder of fashion and textile supply chain optimization consultancy Knit and Weave, added.
“What we’re doing currently is asking our employees to reach out to third party vendors or strategic business partners, and then updating the legacy platforms that we’re currently working in, and that can lead to lots of mistakes in reporting,” she explained. The process is also rife with redundancy because of the number of people passing along the information—which has often lost its accuracy after time spent changing hands.
“I think with the new types of platforms that can help unite us, it can actually help us have better visibility again to what’s going on in the entire supply chain,” she said.
Up-to-the-minute insights are a must for brands and their suppliers, she added, especially in a world where the consumer’s appetite can change on a dime. “With real-time data, we can actually go look at what we can improve in our warehouses, at our points of sale,” she said, “and the return on investment is really speed and forecast accuracy, and an improvement in productivity as well.”
According to Ramesh, modern, new-age systems allow retailers to completely digitize their workflow across the supply chain. “If you’re able to find a system that democratizes that access” for all systems stakeholders, “you’re right away able to improve your visibility.”
And, as evidenced by the trouble that retailers and their supply chain partners encountered last spring, that visibility should extend beyond manufacturers to tier one, two, three and even tier four suppliers, Ramesh said, encouraging brands to “get them a seat at the table.” Digitizing the inbound supply chain allows executives a clear view into the totality of their operations and their partnerships, which is now imperative, she said, when an issue with one could throw a wrench into the whole system.
Digitization can also help brands optimize their supply chains by giving them a clear view into their partners’ performance, she added. “We often default as brands and retailers to giving the same project or the same category to the same supplier for years on end,” she said, “and what ends up happening is that that having those blinders on prevents us from taking a little bit of a macro view.”
When supplier data is captured digitally and is readily accessible, it allows companies to evaluate their recent wins and losses with their partners for a more objective outlook on whether they should continue to be awarded the same projects, for example.
Ramesh also implored organizations to think more seriously about automation than they have in the past. “We see a common problem across companies where they fill people where systems can do the job,” she said. “We never want to replace the quality of the brain, but the brains that we have within a company should really be dedicated to tasks that are strategic.”
Automation can help “eliminate operational overheads” by 15 percent or more, she said. These functions could include alerts about inventory levels, tech pack creation, costing and invoicing. “Across the supply chain there are simple tasks that can be digitized,” she added, “that could have huge impact on your below-the-line expenses.”
The more digitization across functions, the greater access to data, she added. And connectivity across those business areas is key. “You don’t want to have disconnected systems across your supply chain, she said. “You want to have one single source of truth.”