What is PLM and why is it essential for Fashion & Apparel Brands?
We live in a competitive world. On a business dimension, this means that your company has to outperform the competition on many different levels: Who offers the lowest prices? Who delivers the highest quality? Who manages its business processes most efficiently? Who works more transparently and sustainably?
Nowadays, the market is not only getting more and more demanding, but numerous amount of tools and concepts are regularly being introduced to brands to improve the way they work.
One powerful concept, which has made itself a name in the last two decades, is the so-called product lifecycle management – equally popular under its acronym PLM.
Let’s dig into what a PLM is with these five questions that will hopefully give you a better understanding of the concept by focusing mainly on its use in the fashion and apparel industry.
What is PLM?
Fine-tuning your processes from initial product conception until final delivery to the end-consumer involves a variety of interrelated sub-steps. Within these, managing all workflows across different departments unavoidably comes along with a certain degree of complexity for any company. The key to assert your future competitiveness is to find ways that keep this complexity as low as possible. And in that regard, a PLM system can be a powerful source that will impact your future business performance.
In its core definition, a PLM coordinates all your product life cycle stages by aligning them with your associated information, processes and people. These stages start with the conception of your initial idea, continue with the design and production and ultimately end with the final distribution of your product.
While PLM started as a strategic solution to speed up product development processes within the automotive industry, it quickly established itself as an across-industry software solution – operating as a single-source-of-truth for all your product data. So any company running operations within design, manufacturing, or distribution can benefit from integrating a PLM solution.
However, we are not here today to outline the benefits for every industry. We want to discuss who gets the cream of the crop from a PLM integration.
When is PLM mostly needed?
You might find yourself in an undesirable position if you are experiencing a lot of noise and interference within your processes. The underlying syndrome for these issues is always the same, your firm can’t manage its increasing complexity.
The triggers causing the complexity can vary in their nature. When you can identify what triggers are slowing down your business operations, it becomes easier to identify what tools and software you need to boost your performance.
Different triggers require different solutions. If you want to understand whether PLM software should find its place in your digital infrastructure, start by asking yourself these questions.
- Are your processes often being slowed down by the unavailability of important information?
- Does vital knowledge and insights often get lost within the various communication channels between your departments, employees, or suppliers?
- Is your organization exposed to an insufficient allocation of work tasks and resources?
- Do your relationships with different suppliers regularly suffer from information asymmetry?
- Are you struggling to maintain the desired transparency within and outside your firm?
- Do you have difficulties in keeping up with deadlines and launch dates?
If some (or even all) are true to your company, then you should consider integrating a PLM solution to facilitate the coordination and communication of your daily operations as misunderstandings, mistakes, and inefficiencies can quickly evolve and cause problems.
Let’s now unravel this subject by looking at a specific industry: the fashion & apparel industry.
Why is PLM especially important for Apparel Companies?
There are three main reasons:
1. Seasonality & Time-Pressure
Fashion trends and consumer demands are regularly changing, and apparel companies need to react accordingly. As the overall industry is highly-exposed to seasonality, your brand is expected to launch several new collections each year. To maintain high quality-standards under time pressure, you can’t afford flaws and mistakes within workflows. Keeping the time-to-market low is very important in such a dynamic ecosystem, and, therefore, requires a solution to ensure sufficient and intuitive information and resource management.
2. Transparency & Insights from Product Data
When you want to launch new products and collections, your apparel brand is strongly reliant on accurate and real-time product data to work with validated and transparent insights. This is especially difficult to achieve when managing large amounts of data – as is the case for clothing. Every collection involves a variety of different styles and every respective piece comes in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Thus, you not only need to determine a reasonable collection mix by re-visiting the performance of various collections from the past, but you also need to appropriately commercialize your products to potential customers. These are both complex and vital steps in your process and can easily go wrong if you don’t have access to transparent and up-to-date data.
3. Dependence on Departments & Suppliers
Different departments within an apparel brand often have a fairly unique composition of two diverging forces. On the one hand, the creative teams (i.e. Design) often like to separate themselves from the more commercially-oriented departments (i.e. E-Commerce & Marketing) – and vice-versa. On the other hand, each side is extremely dependent on a flawless collaboration with the other. Design teams rely on the financially success of their style creations, while Marketing and E-Commerce are strongly dependent on reliable and up-to-date data from the early-design stages to create accurate and engaging product content. On top of that, apparel brands often instruct different suppliers with specific production tasks. If all your product information is stored in many different accounts and files, it becomes difficult to keep a structured overview of the performance and operations of your suppliers. The likely result is more errors and order delays.
A PLM platform helps you handle these specific forces within the apparel industry by acting as an intuitive and comprehensive tool for efficient information management. It is a key instrument for keeping your brand’s complexity as low as possible, as it works as a single-source-of-truth for all your product data.
While this sounds great in theory, we also want you to understand the actual impact of a PLM integration on you and your stakeholders. To do so, let us look at a more practical example: the product development of a new shirt.
How do You and your different Stakeholders benefit from PLM?
Imagine your company is initiating the development of a new collection for the upcoming season. Part of this collection will be a new shirt. Apart from its new composition of stripes, this shirt is very similar to earlier pieces. The shirt is expected to be launched in different colors and sizes – with a focus on sustainable materials and processes. Based on this example, let us look at how a PLM system can optimize your workflows between different employees, departments, and stakeholders.
Designers & Design Technicians
Earlier collections are already stored in the integrated PLM system – also including a shirt with the same cut and measurements. This simplifies the work for designers and technicians, as e.g. the measurement tables, color groupings, and care-instructions remain the same. Thus, they easily copy the look and add sketches with the new composition of stripes as well as missing information (e.g. SKU). PLM allows the design team to instantly copy this data into the new collection and make relevant modifications within the system, which every department can access. This saves a lot of time and reduces inconveniences for everyone involved.
Marketing & E-Commerce
Before a PLM System was integrated, teams often work with outdated and incomplete product data when commercializing and launching new pieces and collections. Sometimes they find the latest product data after a time-consuming search in different documents, emails, and platforms, but sometimes they don’t. If the latter is the case scenario, they need to request all the missing data and wait for it – meaning that their work is put on hold. With PLM, teams can access every piece of information to commercialize the new shirt. The software also automates the shirt’s product data entry on different e-commerce platforms (e.g. Zalando or Amazon) to fulfill their diverse requirements. This saves substantial time for the team so that deadlines and launch dates can be met rapidly. Plus, it enables more engaging advertisement and transparent storytelling for the teams.
With a PLM system, it becomes a lot easier for management executives to allocate tasks across departments and streamline processes within the product development. It provides you with a complete overview of the current development stage of the new shirt and its related collection, and you can quickly act upon critical deadlines and performance issues. With the enriched product database, it becomes easier to track down bottlenecks and to fine-tune your processes. Most PLM systems also provide you with an intuitive analytics feature. In that way, decisions regarding volume forecasts and minimum order quantities for the new shirt and overall collection becomes more strategic. Within past collections, you can easily identify which styles, sizes, and colors performed the best (and worst). By having this information, you can conveniently track performance, create a product mix, and minimize your inventory along the way. If you identify that your medium-sized red shirts had a high sales volume for you in the past, likely, it will also be bought in higher quantities in your new collections compared to your often underperforming green shirts in XL. And if certain styles within your collection continuously fail to deliver the expected sales targets, you might want to change your approach or completely drop them in the future.
A PLM can significantly improve the accuracy of your tech packs and your suppliers will thank you for it. Having a PLM solution for all your suppliers provides them with access to your exact instructions (e.g. labels or measurements) and the needed components in the system. Your manufacturers, which are turning your shirt design into a finished product, can only benefit from having a flawless design blueprint of it. Additionally, a PLM can facilitate the whole communication flow with your different suppliers. There is no need anymore for exchanging every update via mail, as any information can be transmitted and stored in the PLM system. In that way, errors, misunderstandings, and delivery delays within the collaboration become less likely. The connection to your suppliers will also enable you to make sustainable efforts within each step that are more traceable and transparent.
Customers are getting more informed and demanding when shopping online. Thus, providing more accurate and engaging information on your new products will have an impact on the customers’ interests and their buying intentions when viewing your shirt. PLM also enables you to make your sustainable efforts within your value chain more transparent and traceable – a relevant factor, especially for your environmentally-conscious customers. It will get easier to track down quality issues, and the closed gaps between teams will also lead to faster order fulfillment. In that way, PLM can also drive customer satisfaction, and we all know happy customers are more likely to become regular ones.
All in all, a PLM system creates value for all your stakeholders – both internal and external ones. But other digital solutions do as well. Let us look at how PLM works together with other popular digital industry solutions.
How does PLM fit with other Digital Solutions?
Are you already using other digital solutions, such as PIM or ERP, and do not see the additional benefit of a PML?
The truth is that these solutions work very well together and one complements the other. So, let us look at how these systems differ and why you can create an efficient synergy of PLM with both PIM and ERP.
PLM vs. PIM: Differences and Integration
As the name already implies, a product information management (PIM) system is another tool for managing your product data. But PLM and PIM have unique purposes, which make them an excellent match. A PIM system is primarily customer-focused and provides you with vital insights regarding the demand, preferences, and requirements of your customers and the market. PLM, on the other hand, mainly uses data in a way that facilitates your development processes and optimizes your workflows. Integrating both systems will further align your product development with the demands of customers through efficient information management.
PLM vs. ERP: Differences and Integration
An enterprise resource planning (ERP) software primarily focuses on efficient management of your production resources and finances. It handles all your hard product data, such as your stock keeping units (SKUs). Integrating PLM with ERP can give you an even more complete look into your business by combining hard product data with soft product data from product development. Creating an intuitive data intersection between your resource and product information management systems helps you align efficiently with your corporate processes.
To conclude, PLM works well as an across-industry solution for managing all product information within your product development. Due to its unique market dynamics, integrating a PLM solution is especially of use when working in the fashion & apparel industry – both for you and all the stakeholders. When deciding for or against a PLM integration, you should view PIM and ERP solutions as complementary systems and not as substitutes.
There are a variety of PLM solutions on the market. We advise you to take your time when searching for a PLM provider, as the right match strongly depends on your industry and specific firm operations.