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Drapers Roundtable: Product Lifecycle Management

Drapers’ latest roundtable event asked retailers how they are working with global supply chain partners to get product to market at lightning pace.

Having an accurate view of the supply chain is essential to any retail business with international aspirations, as is sharing accurate data with suppliers worldwide. The more efficient the processes, the quicker garments hit the high street, giving consumers the newness they crave. Product lifecycle management, or PLM, systems provide a collaborative space in which supply chain partners can share information and interact. Yet, while the advantages of such systems are clear, few retailers have made the jump from Microsoft Excel and email to a fully integrated experience.

In association with fashion PLM solution provider Lectra, Drapers invited supply chain and production specialists from the likes of French Connection, Dune and Penfield to find out how they interact with suppliers to bring product to market as efficiently as possible. The roundtable event, at Searcys Pavilion Road in London’s Knightsbridge on June 9, focused on methods for effective supply chain management that foster better communication and clearer visibility of stock.  

At footwear retailer Dune, visibility of products across the supply chain is generally managed by buyers who are individually responsible for liaising with suppliers via email, reported supply chain director Justin Burzynski. “We recognise our systems are not as sophisticated as they could be, but traditionally shoe factories are not that IT-savvy and prefer old-school communication like email.”

French Connection head of production Oliver Bruckner agreed that currently lots of information is wrapped up in emails. “This does mean a lot of chasing around and duplication. Time could be used more efficiently, but it is about striking a careful balance. Everyone in our industry is product-driven, but they’re not always fans of too much technicality and can get put off using complicated systems. So you need to tread a fine line.”

The small team at dancewear specialist Pineapple share a spreadsheet with key critical path dates. However, a production manager will lead dialogue with the manufacturer over email, reported business development director Sarah Coppin.

A similar situation is true at outdoor clothing brand Penfield. “We operate in quite a traditional way, moving from designing to prototyping and sampling,” explained production director Malcolm O’Connell. “At that stage we start entering styles onto the system and making them visible to the rest of the business, but there are no triggers in place for dates when tasks need to be completed like a PLM system would have. Our factories can’t interface with the system and we still do everything remotely via email.”

At global airport retailer World Duty Free, supply chain manager Alison Loughran works with suppliers on a fixed booking diary so the team knows week on week when deliveries are due. “We also worked with all our suppliers on supply chain mapping to better understand where the product is coming from and deal with the situation if the product is not available.”

David Carter-Johnson, chairman at menswear brand Luke, identified the problems that occur if suppliers fail to give brands and retailers the true picture on production status, while Burzynski identified the issue of factories overbooking in order to maximise production.

O’Connell raised the difficulties of manufacturing in China, where Penfield produces a high percentage of its garments. “China has changed. It has become difficult to do business and production is slower. I’m working with a particular Chinese shirting factory which in the past could turn around a yarn dyed shirt from the point of order to leaving the factory within three weeks. Now he can’t do it in less than 30 days.”

For Loughran, the constant need to react to consumer demand and get product out as quickly as possible is what is slowing down the supply chain. “We think consumers want new product every six to eight weeks and we’re trying to do that with Excel spreadsheets and systems that perhaps don’t necessarily support it. There are also supply chain issues outside our control like the supply of raw fibre or shipping issues.”

While Dune started out as a retail business, the company now also pulls together franchise and wholesale arms that mean added complexity. “We have 40 UK stores and 70 franchise stores worldwide, but we’re sold through 100 points of sale in the UK. We also have many concessions to consider. I think we’ve managed to do a good job in pulling these three streams together within our business, but we still see need to improve.”

French Connection has worked on its critical path to help the business expand into different markets. “Getting everything right internally usually has the biggest impact on the end result, especially when everyone is under pressure to make the right call in terms of product,” says Bruckner.

Challenges in terms of in-house decision-making are a common problem, identified Lectra director of strategic projects Judy Gnaedig. “Brands and retailers need to find more time for the product, which starts with reducing administrative tasks and improving internal information sharing. That’s where technology comes in.

“If you rely on email or Excel then the information is in a silo, which can never be a good thing. There needs to be someone in the business who manages the supply chain and champions systems, and whose job it is to get up in the morning and worry about data. That frees other people up to concentrate on the product.”

However, Gnaedig also acknowledged that designers are increasingly interacting with technology and systems as part of their daily job, which will only increase as a new wave takes over. Bruckner agreed that next-generation designers are obsessed with smartphone technology: “Going forward, businesses will need to be prepared and have systems in place for people to step into as a tool to deliver information.”

Gnaedig believes brands and retailers should take a leaf out of fast fashion group Inditex or high-street retailer H&M’s books and react to market demand by moving into a no-season or seamless collection, developing shorter runs of product that can be worn trans-seasonally.

French Connection drops product 10 months a year in its retail stores, although the wholesale business is more structured. “We feel we need to deliver newness for customers, while also thinking about longevity in the business and optimising successful styles,” Bruckner explained.

Wholesale by nature is more structured and seasonal, especially for an outerwear brand like Penfield, which does 70% of its business in the autumn season. “Working far ahead is a challenge, especially as we’ve already designed autumn 16, ready to deliver next August,” said O’Connell. “The weight of the garment is also a challenge, as we’ve just had the mildest winter for years and two months prior we supplied down jackets. As a result, for autumn 15 we have created more transitional lightweight, shell jackets.”

The situation is different for footwear as shoe production is on a notoriously long lead time, so a retailer like Dune needs to think in four drops with two phases per season, reports Burzynski.

Gnaedig said PLM is best used as a collaborative system that helps pull together information across different collections to give the retailer visibility and control across their supply chain and styles.

Lectra solutions consultant Mark Powell agreed, saying: “When brands create basic 3D block shapes and share them, complete with up to date tech pack information, with their suppliers via a platform, they don’t need to ask the suppliers to create the patterns from scratch.

“The benefit is fit consistency as all suppliers work from the same basic block patterns. Sharing 3D images with all parties allows brands to express and suppliers to understand very clearly the details of the styles required.”

All participants concluded that, while it might seem a daunting prospect to integrate PLM systems into their businesses, technology is becoming an ever more integral part of the supply chain and will continue to grow as a new wave of tech-savvy talent takes control.

How do you achieve efficient product lifecycle management?

Oliver Bruckner, head of production, French Connection

Oliver Bruckner

Oliver Bruckner

“You need to think about relationships with your factories, whatever nationality they are. It’s good to spend as much time as possible on the ground at factories in order to understand what’s really going on there.”


Judy Gnaedig, PLM specialist, Lectra

Judy Gnaedig

Judy Gnaedig

“PLM helps you get product to market on time, which is a crucial solution for fashion, where time to market is key. More and more your workforce will be desperate for technology, so put tech on your radar. Challenge yourself – what is the DNA of your business and where do you want it to be?”


Malcolm O’Connell, production director, Penfield

Malcolm O’Connell

Malcolm O’Connell

“Supply chain efficiency boils down to planning. If you know you have 90 stores to fill you can start talking to suppliers about capacity bookings and how much you physically need. Being able to make those commitments helps businesses do things faster.”


Justin Burzynski, supply chain director, Dune

Justin Burzynski

Justin Burzynski

“I think things work best internally when you have people in consistent roles and when you get those people working together. A business needs good relationships between the buyers, merchandisers and design team, which strikes the right balance.”

Download our PLM Report

To read more on this subject, download Drapers’ free PLM report here at www.drapersonline/com/plmreport2015. The report contains a series of features discussing how retailers are achieving supply chain efficiency and collaborating with different partners to manage the product lifecycle.

·        Managing the supply chain

·        PLM: what is it and why invest?  

·        Collaboration – the key to success


List of attendees

Dune: Justin Burzynski, supply chain director

French Connection: Oliver Bruckner, head of production

Luke: David Carter-Johnson, chairman

Penfield: Malcolm O’Connell, production director

Pineapple: Sarah Coppin, merchandising director

World Duty Free: Alison Loughran, supply chain manager


From sponsor Lectra: Judy Gnaedig, PLM specialist; Mark Powell, fashion solution specialist


From Drapers: James Knowles, features and special reports editor; Charlotte Rogers, features and special reports writer

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