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CFDA envisions future of fashion supply chain

Agility through a flexible network of participants and partnerships is seen as a future model for the fashion industry supply chain, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

It has just released a report in conjunction with its official logistics partner DHL and in collaboration with innovation partner Accenture.

Challenges, disruptions and changes influencing the fashion industry are explored in the report, The Human-Centred Supply Chain – Delivered by DHL. It examines in turn how these influences affect both the supply chain and even fashion designers.

A human-centred model is proposed by the report, shifting from a sequenced approach of siloed activities to a flexible network that will enable a supply chain that is agile and adaptable.

This model puts designers at the centre, empowered to build their networks through collaboration and by using digital tools and new business models to increase their flexibility in an industry that is currently in flux.

Step-by-step guide

Included in the study is a Designer’s Playbook, a step-by-step guide for building a design business in this new landscape, plus a Point of View, outlining the key findings.

“Fashion designers know the frustrations and challenges that occur between the planning of a design and its ultimate delivery to retailers and consumers,” says DHL Express US CEO Greg Hewitt. “Along the way there are communication failures; delays and changes with source materials; manufacturing problems; and changing distribution requirements.

“The idea behind the new supply chain is not just to overcome these challenges, but to eliminate them altogether, using technology and new shipping and logistics tools to streamline the process.”

Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive) business design lead Claudia Gorelick says the supply chain is critical to the transformation of the fashion and retail industry. “As digitalisation continues to affect the industry, designers must view the supply chain as an essential piece of strategy and brand-building, and adopt a collaborative, relationship-based mindset with suppliers and partners.”

The human-centred supply chain benefits partners across traditional supply chain steps, from designers and material suppliers to factories and logistics partners, by focusing on relationship building, says the report. This enables expertise to be shared, collaborative approaches and communication. The networked approach will also reduce costs and waste, and increase flexibility.

Four key areas of focus are identified by the report…

Process ownership: A process with clear communication channels will increase flexibility in sourcing, producing and delivering collections, while a well-defined but flexible approach will allow refinements. The key is to focus on process as a major component of design, integrating partners early on with clear communication of requirements about traceability and sustainability (if relevant), and including a step to integrate learnings from season-to-season.

Relationship building: Developing and nurturing relationships with partners across the supply chain, from mentors and experts to like-minded peers, is critical to success. Companies should focus on a relationship-first rather than transaction-based approach, to fill gaps in expertise, draw on passion points (such as sustainability) and create opportunities for sharing and collaboration.

Brand procedures: Establishing clear procedures and avoiding continual reinvention is an effective way to avoid unnecessary costs and confusion for both consumers and suppliers. The key for retailers is to make the supply chain part of their brand story, with a test-and-learn model for manufacturing partners and retail, while developing clear ownership for relationships with shipping and retail partners.

Actionable information: Information feedback loops between suppliers, designers and consumers enable improvements and greater collaboration. Success will entail integrating information at every step for iterative decision making, with an established cadence for reviewing sales and consumer data with retailers, and analysis of emerging trends and consumer behaviours from both inside and outside of the industry.

“The CFDA is always looking to provide its members with new ways of looking at their businesses in this rapidly evolving industry,” says CFDA VP of marketing Mark Beckham.

For the report, CFDA, DHL and Accenture did extensive industry research, ran fashion-graduate research workshops and immersive designer workshops, and interviewed supply-chain partners.

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