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Product Development Issues Are Real—And the Solutions are Evident

As the fashion industry strives for greater speed to market, communication is one of the top hurdles standing in companies’ way.

Sourcing Journal’s 2020 Product Development Survey Report, based on a survey of apparel, accessories and footwear executives, found that a lack of communication is the top challenge for respondents, mentioned by three in 10 of those polled. Following communication, siloed operations were the second-biggest obstacle respondents mentioned facing in the product development process.

In addition, 34 percent of respondents reported fit and quality are undermined by ineffective communication with external suppliers and one-third said internal communication failures led to execution issues in this area. Meanwhile, 64 percent of firms that have made progress in speed to market attribute their success to improved communication with their suppliers and factories.

“Brands need to make sure there is very clear communication in the front end about what the expectations of the marketplace are and speak it in a language that manufacturers and other players in the supply chain understand,” Edwin Keh, CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), said in the report. “And then on the back end, [they need to] provide real-time feedback about what [customers] like and what they don’t like and put analytics behind it so that they can spend the time making products that people want to buy.”

Accomplishing this data-driven development strategy will require both a corporate culture shift and technology investments.

For instance, tools such as product lifecycle management systems are fostering better collaboration. For the 51 percent of respondents whose companies have a PLM in place, the most common use case is storing and sharing data internally. However, others cited using these tools to improve communication with their suppliers or manage and track approvals.

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Compared to PLM, the rate of adoption of 3D prototyping is lower at just 29 percent. However, those surveyed who are currently using these tools are primarily employing them to shorten the product development cycle.

Just implementing technology is not enough. Firms need to ensure that employees are trained to use tools. And keeping everyone up to speed is especially difficult in areas with high turnover, such as garment factories.

Companies may also have to contend with disparate systems used by other members of their supply chain, which may not interact well with their own platforms. For instance, if a retailer and its supplier are not using the same 3D prototyping software, this disconnect could lead to production problems. Twenty-eight percent of respondents consider software incompatibility between their in-house teams and suppliers to be the top contributor to their fit and quality issues.

Aside from breaking down software divides, firms should also take stock of their decision-making processes, which can hamper or delay development if there are too many parties involved or unclear ownership of projects. Emphasizing data and analytics can remove some of the human error and help firms shift from responding to needs or problems to anticipating them.

“The culture shift is probably more challenging than the technology piece,” Courtnay East, management consultant at 703 Advisors, said in the report. “It’s about shifting the mindset of the product development team to operate in a way that’s shifting them from just capturing the information and making those reactive decisions to doing this more proactive analysis and building that into the process.”

Learn more about how companies are making product development decisions and using technology in the process. Download Sourcing Journal’s Product Development Survey Report here.