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How Apparel PLM Supports Speed and Agility in Your Fashion Supply Chain


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How Apparel PLM Supports Speed and Agility in Your Fashion Supply Chain

28 Jun 2023

Aptean Staff Writer
People in office working on designs for clothes

The fashion industry moves fast, and in this hypercompetitive marketplace, brands are vying to get to market first with new designs and materials. As fashion moves faster and faster, brands have been making strategic investments in digital supply chain transformation.

Enter the many twists and turns of 2020 into this equation, and the fashion industry is confronted with radical disruption. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, international travel stopped. Global supply chains and logistics were impacted. At least one designer even found himself stranded abroad during a factory visit. Stay-in-place orders forced brands to send employees home. Fashion designers and product managers switched to working from their homes. Runway shows were cancelled and later replaced with some virtual tradeshows. Brands rapidly pivoted to create digital lookbooks and other virtual tools for demonstrating products.

In the midst of rapidly unfolding fashion industry challenges, having access to real-time, accurate information about your global supply chain evolved from an aspirational goal to a strategic necessity.

Brands that had invested in digital transformation prior to the pandemic, including cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) software, were better positioned to collaborate remotely with internal teams and external partners.

Now, in the post-pandemic landscape, digital transformation is a non-negotiable. Whether it's catching up with those companies that already invested or propelling your business to capitalize on new opportunities, employing the right fashion supply chain software is critical to meeting your objectives—today and in the future.

Let's dive into exactly how apparel PLM software can help you realize that potential and accelerate your growth.

Apparel PLM Drives Fashion Supply Chain Improvements

There are many technological pieces within an end-to-end, digital fashion supply chain management solution. For fashion and sewn goods manufacturing, PLM is one of the most critical links in the chain. Within product development, PLM makes it possible to:

  • Speed time from product concept to marketplace

  • Gain operational efficiency to contain costs

  • Strengthen sourcing to meet customer demand while improving agility

  • Lower sampling costs and raise quality

  • Increase supply chain visibility to increase business resilience

Let’s look at how fashion PLM software improves each step of your product development, addressing common challenges faced by new product development (NPD) teams.

Challenge 1: Design

PLM accelerates design through efficiency while enhancing the creativity of designers. The right PLM solution should be built to solve for three important challenges to the design process.

First, designers hate the tedium of data entry, they don’t want to set up reference tables or enter the same information twice in different systems. So your fashion PLM system should be integrated into other supply chain solutions in order to maximize the use of your designers' time. Designers also don’t want to export and possibly compress images from their design tool in order to copy and paste them into your PLM. The right system will make it very easy to capture the information and images needed for tech packs, Request for Quotes (RFQs) and other product management tasks.

Second, as important as it is to centralize design data, designers simply don’t enjoy working within an interface that stifles their natural creativity. That’s why a good PLM solution will allow designers to work within the Adobe and Mac environments they prefer. They don’t want to use a clunky emulator software; they want a clean, web-based, fully functional interface that unleashes their creativity.

Finally, the more design teams can locate, and even reuse, designs, materials and other elements, the faster your brand can get to market with new fashions. An apparel PLM significantly speeds new designs by giving your designers easy access to all past product designs and tech packs.

Challenge 2: Tech Pack Development and Sample Tracking

Fashion PLM software automates the creation of tech packs and helps design teams keep them organized and up to date as products move through the development cycle. Without a modern PLM system, the product team usually creates spreadsheet tech packs, using different tabs to track various types of samples and measurement specs.

When you have a cloud-based PLM, the experience of creating, updating and sharing tech packs is much more collaborative and efficient. Data about samples or measurements gets entered just once, eliminating many opportunities for errors in duplicate data entry. Because all team and vendor communication occurs within the system, nobody ever forgets to transfer a key piece of information from an email back to the tech pack.

As samples come in and fit tests are performed, new data entered automatically updates the tech pack. Collaboration tools within the platform allow team members to communicate with each other and with vendors, keeping a record of all these aforementioned conversations within your PLM system. Additionally, version control features help avoid the potentially costly mistake of sending the wrong version of a tech pack to a vendor.

Challenge 3: Sourcing and Costing

When it comes to efficient sourcing and costing processes, fashion brands need three things from an apparel PLM:

  • Automation of routine tasks to save time

  • Excellent tracking to stay organized

  • Meaningful comparisons for decision making

In sourcing, your product development team usually needs to request materials from multiple vendors. The right fashion PLM system will accelerate this process by helping your team generate sample requests immediately and then track the return of sample materials. After samples come in, designers are able compare results between different vendors within a whole sourcing list of those particular material requests. The information for decision making remains centralized and consolidated.

After sending RFQs to partners, your PLM solution enables product managers to see which quotes have been returned, without back and forth emailing. The system should enable side-by-side comparisons of multiple quotes without any need to build a spreadsheet. This means your teams can save an additional step and even more time by enabling partners to add their own quotes into your apparel PLM. With the ability to easily compare on key factors, your product team can quickly determine the best costs.

“Aptean Apparel ERP, Exenta Edition is the backbone of all our systems, and I am particularly pleased that we have integrated, web-based Aptean Apparel PLM to support our designers who are working remotely.”

Carrie BovenderCEOGrand Forest

Client Spotlight: Northstar Sourcing Group

A leader in its industry, Northstar is a product sourcing company focused on high-quality footwear, apparel and accessories. With offices and partners worldwide, Northstar has an established global supply chain with a track record for timely delivery and accuracy. Founded in 2003 in Seattle, Northstar started as an idea to create a network of factories for US shoe brands seeking overseas production and has evolved beyond footwear to offer a full-service apparel and accessories division. The company offers a unique and personal approach to each customer, in a “one stop shop” model, offering sales staff, design to fulfillment, material and technology research, in-house testing, prototyping, collaborative design, CAD / blueprints and material development. Northstar uses Aptean Apparel PLM, integrated with Aptean ERP, to streamline processes from design through promotion.

When the COVID curtain came down on the fashion industry, it was clear to the Northstar team that the businesses that would survive and thrive out of the crisis would be the ones with the most operational efficiency and strongest customer relationships. “As a footwear and apparel sourcing business that had been running on Excel and email for far too long, the decision to invest in Aptean Apparel PLM was a no-brainer,” said Jack Perkins, Project Manager at Northstar. Northstar saw PLM as an opportunity to overhaul its product development process with a few key goals in mind:

  1. Take sample and material development conversations out of email and into a centrally managed platform – improving visibility for the Northstar team, its vendor partners and its customers

  2. Save design hours traditionally spent on manual ‘tech pack’ creation

  3. Reduce total sample development quantity

Working with Aptean’s implementation team, Northstar was able to implement PLM software in 5 months. “The combination of the support we received from Aptean’s team and the buy-in from all Northstar staff allowed us to execute on our lofty implementation timeline goals,” said Perkins. When evaluating different PLM and ERP platforms, a key question Northstar considered was: “Will this vendor provide the same support in implementation that we’ve received throughout the sales process?”

“With Aptean, it was clear that we’d be receiving a close-knit, hyper-focused implementation team that would work closely with us to achieve our goals. We were fortunate enough to work through implementation with one dedicated project manager (PM), from start to finish. Our Aptean PM really got into the weeds with us to learn our business needs and determine how we could accomplish our goals using the tools provided in Aptean Apparel PLM”, concluded Perkins.

Fresh off implementation, Northstar is already seeing process improvements in many areas and looks forward to continuing to optimize the Aptean application suite to better serve its customers.

“The Aptean Apparel ERP design plug-in for Adobe Illustrator enables designers to launch new concepts, as well as contribute to and use information from PLM software, without ever leaving their preferred design tool.”

Julie KellerDesignerKrazy Kat Sportswear

Six Benefits of a Cloud Apparel PLM System for Product Development

Brands that invest in the technology to support an end-to-end, digital supply chain can level up across the organization in terms of efficiency and productivity. Here are some of the many benefits you can expect with a modern, cloud PLM for fashion and apparel businesses:

1. Communicate and Collaborate Effectively, From Anywhere

In the post-pandemic world, many product teams remain scattered with employees continuing to work from home. The ability to communicate clearly within a remote group has never been more important. Cloud-based software solutions let team members work from anywhere, including vendor partners—an important advantage over spreadsheets or offline PLM systems.

Moreover, the aforementioned in-system collaboration and notification tools help team members and partners communicate quickly and effectively, capturing a record of these communications automatically within the software platform. The result? Less time spent on manual work and more time focused on getting stylish products out the door, so you can beat competitors to market.

2. Stay on Track and on Schedule

As time-to-market in fashion has accelerated, product development teams are under more pressure to hit tighter deadlines. An apparel PLM automates information that otherwise must be tracked manually, allowing designers more time to be creative. Additionally, access to the full performance history of each vendor, in terms of costs and lead times, enables your product managers to make informed decisions based on budget and schedule.

3. Improve Time to Market

A cloud-based fashion PLM centralizes all of the information about a product in one place, so the development team, partners and clients can all access the right information at the right time. With everyone working from the same information, decisions get made more quickly and the approval process is much shorter, resulting in better speed to market.

4. Protect Margins and Stay on Budget

Because it is easy to make side-by-side comparisons between multiple vendor quotes, and even run margin scenarios, product managers are able to lower the cost of sourcing. This empowers better decision making regarding materials, making it easier to stay within the budget and maintain profit margins.

5. Lock Down Designs and Eliminate Version Control Problems

A good PLM system will help you automate the approval process to eliminate back and forth emails, spreadsheet tracking and manual approval requests. Security features let you lock an approved design as final, so that version of the tech pack is safeguarded for production. You don’t have to worry about anyone making last-minute changes that could cause mistakes at delivery.

6. Gain Visibility Into Your Supply Chain

Having a cloud PLM system puts real-time and historical product development information at your team’s fingertips, providing unparalleled visibility into material sources and costs, vendor availability and performance, scheduling and lead times, samples and more.

Simplify Your Fashion Supply Chain With Industry-Specific PLM

Amid supply chain disruption, evolving consumer trends, intense competition and remote working norms, trying to manage your product lifecycle and supply chain processes with manual methods and outdated systems is a recipe for disaster. Instead, you need robust digital transformation strategies and apparel software designed for the intricacies of your industry.

That's where advanced fashion PLM software comes in. As we've discussed, an industry-specific PLM system not only streamlines your fashion supply chain management, but can also unlock a variety of other benefits in your product development process—helping you conquer today's industry challenges and boost profitability.

When it comes to choosing the right PLM software, we'd be remiss not to mention the advantages of choosing Aptean as your software partner. With our suite of cloud software, we're committed to delivering innovative and industry-leading solutions that offer measurable results in your industry, rather than generic systems that can miss the mark for complex operations like yours.

Interested to see how Aptean Apparel PLM can drive supply chain improvements and support your new product development? Contact us today or schedule a demo.

Ready to start transforming your apparel business?

We’ve got the specialised PLM solutions you need to conquer your fashion industry challenges.

Fashion designer using tablet device.