Thought Leadership

Create resilience in fashion brands with digital enterprise

By Suzanne Kopcha

Social media and 24/7 reporting have changed more than politics and news. Fashion trends rarely last a season. In fact, they’re lucky to last a month. Our culture elevates trendsetters to celebrity status, and no one can look away. The pictures, posts, comments and copycatting are ubiquitous and omnipotent.

Consumer and retailer demand for innovation in style, distribution and brand experience have manufacturers using predictive analytics to try to stay ahead of trends. The tools they use for fashion product development may be new, but the instinct isn’t.

However, to compete with industry disruptors knitting custom sport coats in 90 minutes on 3-D printers or marketing other fast fashion à la Zara or H&M, manufacturers must leverage more than analytics technology. Their retail design software needs digitalization, all the way from product development and manufacturing resource planning through production, quality assurance, order fulfillment and logistics. 

Collaborative connectedness in fashion product development

As any retail business today realizes, enabling technology in retail design software that is implemented piece by piece, a solution for each function in a process, can make an enterprise dysfunctional when solutions don’t work together to deliver on the manufacturer’s promise.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions provide digital tools that enable partners across manufacturing and the supply chain to access relevant data so they can perform their explicit role to the utmost. Shared intelligence and learning advance the overall process so that makers and retailers can adapt to marketplace disruption and new demands. This documented knowledge enables them to minimize risk and cost when changing direction, even radically.

For instance, manufacturers can use their retail design software to cut production of apparel, accessories or footwear that otherwise would sit in inventory because consumer tastes changed. Producers protect, even maximize, profitability with nimble adjustments to marketplace trends. And branding isn’t hurt because quick turnarounds support a claim to innovation.


Using retail design software to design, make and sell 

Analytics are only beneficial when the workflow they describe can act on their recommendations. On a shared platform during the fashion product development process, constant positive change is possible and nearly organic. As one function adapts to provide better efficiency, use differently sourced materials, address product issues or integrate new specifications, it has a ripple effect on connected functions, prompting management collaboration inside the manufacturer and with its supply chain.

Partnership is no longer just a term that denotes a relationship. It becomes a phenomenon.

Siemens embeds a digital thread through the entire cycle, from product ideation through design and execution to distribution. We call this thread “digitalization.”

Digitalization also helps partners test sustainable resource production methods, multi-dimensional costing capabilities, eco-friendly materials, mass customized products and new merchandise categories. Transparency into the outcomes of these trials empowers manufacturers and retailers to deliver new fashions on trend and on time with fewer traditional launch challenges. 


Competitive advantage, brand durability in fashion product development 

Companies hesitate to adopt new retail design software for several reasons, risk to reputation chief among them. Strong brands must have business-as-usual functionality and no less when converting to a new solution in their fashion product development process. Even potential hits to customer satisfaction and loyalty are deal breakers.

The fear around brand durability already haunts apparel and footwear manufacturers and their retail partners. Poor response to demand with inadequate inventory or late delivery can make a brand look irrelevant and out of touch.

With the viral nature of commentary committed to Twitter, Facebook and blogs, brand shaming is quick and can be permanent.

But internal to the supply chain, relationships also can be damaged with the lack of transparency into critical order, inventory, production and delivery information. Because partners are interdependent, time lost with inquiries after siloed, obscured information becomes a shared setback. Consumers and competitors will notice and won’t be forgiving. The brand won’t be innovation-defining; it will be lucky to be considered an innovation follower or also-ran.

Dr. Martens, the footwear brand, is no also-ran. It’s ahead in the race, and it’s still popular with young people worldwide.

Dr. Martens runs on data. It manages between 2,500 and 3,000 stock-keeping units at any time and has a growing supply chain in Asia. It unified its data on PLM software as a single source of truth that links design to production. Shared data on a single global platform has become an important competitive differentiator for the company, and it demonstrates the value of digitalization for the retail and fashion industry. 

Fashion Product Development_Post 1.jpgBeing a company that can do more than run on data, and use that data to optimize their processes, will be a key to success in a digitalized market.

How can retail design software leverage data on a global scale?

Each company’s fashion product development process—each new clothing or shoe design, let alone fashion collection—involves thousands of data points from ideation through point-of-sale. As with the Dr. Martens example, often there are data variations related to global distribution or production at multiple contract manufacturers for which specifications, pricing, packaging and more may vary.

PLM software captures data from all the roles required to bring apparel and accessories to market in a central location. Process stakeholders gain dexterity through data.

Products themselves carry rich data histories of their lives from conception to the shop floor to the store shelf. This product provenance on a single platform informs not only the present, but should be used to enlighten every creation to come. In any industry, analytics that use standardized data from a single source produce trustworthy insights and you help align your resources so you can achieve a truly flexible operation.

Do you have the tools and capabilities to maximize profitability while responding to consumer and retail demands for your own fashion product development processes? 

This concludes part one of our series on using digitalization in fashion and retail design. In part two, we discuss what brands and manufacturers must change to meet modern and future demands

About the author 
Suzanne Kopcha 
is the Vice President of Consumer Products & Retail Strategy for Siemens PLM Software. She is responsible for using Siemens PLM’s resources to provide value-added solutions for the consumer products and retail industry. Kopcha has spent her career leading and consulting with others on the transformation of their innovation processes and leveraging technology as a catalyst for business growth. She’s been involved in transforming consumer products companies for almost 3 decades and has more than 27 years of experience in the industry. Kopcha was previously the PLM leader and an Enterprise Transformation Leader at Procter & Gamble, where she was responsible for technology and shared services across the company’s design and innovation processes; she also spent 2 years in the Corporate Strategy Office. Kopcha holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from LeMoyne College and an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at