Staying in style: how technology and fashion intersect

With fashion week recently wrapping after making a tour through New York, London, Milan, and Paris, the worlds of fashion and IT collided like never before.

Although most people would be hard pushed to think of two more disparate topics than the worlds of high fashion and enterprise IT, these seemingly antithetical industries have some surprising similarities. Both move rapidly, with new trends moving from the fringes to the mainstream very quickly. Both seem, to outsiders, to require a near-unachievable level of knowledge to penetrate. And of course, both require significant and sustained investment in order to keep up.

In reality, fashion and IT frequently make well-suited bed-fellows; from 3D printing jewelry through to designers incorporating technology – such as smart fabrics – into their work.

For retail buyers in particular, technology has the potential to transform their role from an art into a finely tuned science. Using social media analytics to gauge public reactions to the latest shows is now a crucial tool in retailer’s armoury.

Hitting the right trends

For retailers, London Fashion Week acts as a bellwether for customer demands. Once a style hits the catwalk – whether this is new cuts, colours or prints – retailers will be expected to have in stock the items which fit this trend, or else risk damage to their reputation by being labelled as old-fashioned and outdated, missing out on future waves of consumer demand and losing valuable ground to their rivals.

Clearly, organisations need to be able to react in real time to consumer spending habits and ensure that their supply chain and internal systems are agile enough to react, on the fly, to whatever the latest must-have items or styles are.

Spreadsheets? Those are so 1985…

The right planning software is crucial. And to be blunt, when it comes to planning, the spreadsheet went out alongside shell suits and shoulder pads. Built as a personal productivity tool, planning and forecasting in spreadsheets for anything larger than a very small business quickly becomes messy and disjointed.

When using ERP systems and spreadsheets for planning, companies are typically forced to rely only on historical data, but in an industry as fast moving as fashion, this is often of little use. Retailers need quick insights into the next trends – not the last ones.

Real-time data is critical. With a real-time planning solution retailers can complete ‘what-if’ scenarios, looking at the possible impact of certain trends or buying patterns on the supply chain and where the potential weak points might be, allowing your organisation to plan more effectively, ahead of time, should any disruptions occur.

Retailers also need to build in a level of flexibility, should any of the trends or styles they invest in fail to take off. This means being able to get at-a-glance knowledge of your quarterly sales and revenues based on applying discounts to specific products lines.

Even for the most seasoned retailers, picking the right trends can be as difficult as asking Vivienne Westwood to name her favourite hypervisor. Likewise, scenario planning cannot be expected to provide all of the answers, but it does help a company to ask better questions and prepare for the unexpected.

With the right supply chain technology in place, businesses can be sure that even after a costly ‘catwalk slip,’ retailers are back on their feet as quickly as possible.

Are you in the fashion industry? Share your thoughts on how technology and fashion collide in your business.

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