Jun. 24, 2020

Fast Fashion Rebound: 5 Strategies to Thrive After COVID-19 Supply Chain Challenges

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Prior to COVID-19, fast fashion in the UK was on a success streak, outperforming the rest of the UK industry. Its supply chain model was responsive to consumer trends and efficient enough to offer low price points. Now, weaker demand outlooks, supply-side volatility, and the need for environmental sustainability are destabilizing rapid design-to-delivery cycles. In short, the industry needs to build resilience as market trends and consumer behavior shift. The key to making that happen: agility through digital transformation.

These five strategies lay the groundwork for a new, long-term approach to outlast volatility and COVID-19.

Digital Supply Chains

Fast fashion has always been a leader in digital adoption in the fashion industry. Now, as technology advances, data and analytics help spot trends and improve inventory decisions.

And in today’s environment, extending the efficiencies of digitization through the entire supply chain couldn’t be more vital. With a strong technology platform, especially one that seamlessly integrates with enterprise resource planning software, companies can realize efficiency gains and insights that improve decision making.

Additionally, as supply chain complexity increases—due to market volatility, risk mitigation, multimodal freight forwarding, and sustainability—the need for greater visibility and control across multiple partners in the global supply chain becomes essential.

The Agility Advantage

When data informs the fast fashion supply chain, the ensuing agility highlights where companies can update benchmarks for the new normal. Three principles set the stage:

  • Fast fashion operates on shorter lead times, enabling faster decision making.
  • Design-to-delivery cycles are short—days versus months for other verticals.
  • Speed is a must to remain responsive to trends, which rise and fall at varying tempos.

Speedy responsiveness is especially critical during volatility and is only possible when brands have analytics that provide an understanding of what’s going on in the market.

Agility allows a fast fashion brand to make a quick pivot, like an immediate shift to stylish lounge clothing as individuals follow stay-at-home orders. Now, it’s time to bring the benefits of data and visibility to the supply side with a technology platform that connects the entire supply chain, allowing opportunities to forecast, plan, and adjust, while maintaining agility.

Diversification of Sourcing

On the path to greater resilience, fast fashion brands need to recalibrate supply chains that are geared for mass scale efficiency—an approach that worked well when the market was stable. However, during today’s volatile conditions, that traditional path exposes fragility.

Solutions that build resilience create additional management complexity and can increase cost, adding a knock-on effect to price competitiveness. To minimize the complexity, companies can use technology and tools to optimize workflow.

Supply chain technology spotlights opportunities for better sourcing and transport strategy. At a granular level, data can reveal solutions, like redundant sourcing options or nearshoring.

For instance, some companies split manufacturing bases, so that products with stable demand are produced at one factory, while on-trend products feature shorter distribution times from closer factories.

Airfreight Alternatives

Traditionally, fast design-to-delivery cycles have depended on airfreight for on-time distribution, but the impact of COVID-19 on airfreight capacity and rates has shifted things dramatically.

Alternative modes of transport, like ocean and rail, are becoming more viable. Strategic changes, like selectively slowing down or prioritizing speed for different inventory, may work best for some companies. For example, a range that is always in stock may still thrive on a slower replenishment cadence, while seasonal stock may require a more urgent mode.

When switching to ocean transport, premium services can streamline logistics. At Flexport, Premium Guaranteed service is available on most sailings out of Asia. The guarantee ensures urgent cargo arrives at its destination on time, even when allocation is exceeded.

Tracking technology, based on advanced data models that accommodate carrier schedules, historical shipment data, and real-time events and conditions, allows for improved supply chain planning and strategy. When that data is available on a single dashboard, logistics managers or executives can make rapid-shift decisions to satisfy demand.

Sustainability Solutions

Fast fashion has struggled with a negative sustainability image, and, during COVID-19, consumers have started to seek value and sustainability in longer-lasting clothes for a combination of economic and environmental reasons—even at a higher price point.

For example, fast fashion giant H&M set a goal to use only sustainable materials in its clothing by 2030. Right now, its H&M Conscious collection features organic cotton and recycled polyester in hopes of reducing the brand’s carbon footprint.

Another way fast fashion brands can improve sustainability is via carbon-neutral freight forwarding. Flexport can help companies ship 100% carbon-neutral with initiatives like its carbon offset program, a partnership between Flexport.org and Carbonfund.org.

As fast fashion transforms its supply chains in response to COVID-19, its foundation of agility, combined with leadership in digital adoption, can prepare companies for survival and even dominance as a collective new normal arises.

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