The need for speed: How brands can pick up the pace of production cycles

Janice Wang, CEO, Alvanon 


In a world where consumer expectations and trends are increasingly shaped at the speed of Instagram, brands are being forced to take note and explore on-demand manufacturing and personalisation.  The mismatch right now is that a digital consumer is being served by an analogue supply chain. The rise of digital media only magnifies the issue.

To become competitive, fashion retailers and brands need to embrace new production strategies and technologies, such as data and intelligence, robotics and digitalisation, to use customer data to provide tailored, on-demand items.

Continual engagement is key

A responsive supply chain enables brands to react quickly to consumer demands and changing trends. The vision is to reduce lead times from months to weeks to days or hours. Consumers today live in a constantly changing world. This shapes their behaviour and expectations. They demand newness and immediacy without compromise.

Our current production chains do not meet consumers need for speed, so we need to disrupt the current methodology. In today’s fashion world, technology-driven supply chains are more important than design. They enable us to combine speed in manufacturing with the flexibility to rethink conventional processes in order to give consumers what they want, when they want it.

Bespoke, customised, perfectly fitting items made just for you and only when you order them – it sounds just like a Savile Row offering, only this time it's purchased from your smartphone.


Janice Wang to speak at Tech. powered by Retail Week where she will discuss Alvanon’s digital initiatives and what technologies will continue to reinvent and disrupt the supply chain.


Video transcript:

Hello. And welcome to Business Reporters, Future of Supply Chains Campaign. I'm Alastair Greener. And today, I'm talking to Janice Wang from Alvanon. Good morning.

Good morning, Alastair.

So what does the customer actually want today? And how has the relationship between the brands, the manufacturers, and the retailers changed between them and the consumer?

The power is in the consumers' hands because they have so much choice. Everything that we talk about is, I want something new. And I want the new, shiny new toy. And I want it. And I want it right now. The question is whether the retailers, the fashion brands, can actually predict what that consumer is really going to want. And then whether the supplier can actually produce those goods in order to actually fulfil the consumer's needs.

And it's huge pressure because we actually do not have a supply chain that is flexible enough to actually make for that. If we look at the people who have actually really been competitive, like the Zara kind of models where it's quite fast fashion, that actually requires a lot of agility. And not every retailer or brand is able to do that. Albeit that not every retailer and brand has actually catered for that particular type of consumer. So it really depends on how you want to set up your own business.

You talked about some of these fresh developments. But ironically, in a recent interview, you also talked about how some of the skills, basic skills, such as sewing and things are now missing. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?

Well, as an industry, we actually outsource all of our supply to third world countries because we're always looking for the cheapest labour costs. And as a result, we actually compartmentalise all of the functions of actually making a garment. It's all wonderful that you can design something pretty on paper.

But if you can't actually make that, and if you actually are divorced from that process of making, you're never going to be able to understand why certain things can't be made. You learn through doing. And as a result, what we're actually finding is that we don't have the skills for really great pattern cutting, really great sewing. And that's actually how you make a garment.

And what sort of challenges does this bring up?

Well, part of it is that we actually always said that this is not glamorous. We never saluted the making of stuff, the producing of stuff. We always saluted actually, the designing of stuff. And part of this is if we can actually give back some of that recognition to the people who are actually making the goods, then it would actually inspire a new generation of people to enter into the industry to make things. Albeit, you don't have to make things in the same way that we did many, many years ago. But there are also new ways of doing that.

And to achieve that, what steps would you recommend that a brand takes? How would you encourage them?

If we were to talk about a brand being able to stay competitive, and be able to supply the consumer's needs, we really have to talk about four things. One, you really have to understand who your consumer is. Secondly, you have to look at a flexible and cost-effective supply chain that actually is going to fulfil that need.

The third thing is to look at some kind of new technologies and innovations. Can we do things any differently? And fourthly is really to understand how people come into that equation. You can have all of the nicest technologies in the world. If somebody doesn't know how to use it, or actually practically implement it, it's not going to work. So part of this is really-- the fourth, and most important about this, is actually empowering people.

Let's talk about Alvanon. How do you get involved with this? And how do you effect these changes?

So Alvanon exists to bring data and technical intelligence into the apparel industry. We are the science behind the perfect fit. We figure out what all of these sizes really should be. We take the data about the consumer and we make it relevant for that particular brand.

So what we do is we marry the consumer, the brands' practical applications and what they actually want to achieve, and we also ensure that their supply chain, their manufacturing, is having the same kind of standards as the brand ones for it, as well as training all of the people in between. So what we've done is be able to unify over 600 supply chains through data and intelligence, practical applications, and standardised tools, and then training.

And part of that training is to ensure that the brands and retailers have a better understanding of their customer. So what would you advise that they do to ensure that communication is more effective between them on subjects, such as for example, it?

Fit's a big, strategic issue. If you go into a store and you pick up a garment on your hanger, it can be beautiful on the hanger. But if it didn't fit you, you wouldn't buy it. You'd put it back. It's better in a store because you can communicate it because somebody can try it on. But when you're on a mobile device-- and all the ways that we shop actually have completely changed-- you have to be able to effectively communicate the brand standard to the consumer who's trying to buy it.

And that's quite difficult because sometimes, a person may have a very subjective idea of how they like things to fit. So the brand has to understand what its own intent is. And then understand how the consumer's going to fit into that intent. And actually be able to communicate that effectively so that the consumer understands, how do I want this to fit me? How did they intend it to fit me? And what size should I buy?

Tell me about brands and loyalty. Obviously, that's something that brands really, really want. What do you suggest they do to gain it?

Be consistent. One of the things that irks any person buying online is that I don't know what size I am, even though if I bought something last season. Let's say, I bought a pair of trousers. And it fit me. And I liked it. And I was that size. I would like to go back to that brand and buy that same pair of trousers.

I don't want to think that oh, I am a size up or a size down. You're going to lose that consumer pretty quickly. So being consistent on what is the sizing. And having a base level of standards that everybody can understand what those are. It's very important.

Now, you were in China fairly recently. And when you were Shanghai, you opened a fashion innovation hub. Tell us a little bit more about that. And also, what does innovation mean in this context?

Well, for us really what we want to do is be able to design a better product and manufacture a better product for the consumer. And brands actually need to see technology in use in order to get a flavour of actually how they can implement that for themselves. So in Shanghai itself, it's really about a showcasing of the best technologies that we see.

One of them so happens that we like scanning people. So we actually have body scanners there, of all sorts. And then we like to see how that actually translate into 3D, and how you actually do innovations around 3D and digitization, and when you're designing a product.

And then there could be material innovations. So we're sponsored by people like [? Cotton ?] and Lenzing, and all of these kinds of material innovations that are actually happening in the industry as well. The whole centre exists so that it can showcase how you could possibly use some of the technologies that are available out there.

And those technologies are seeing rapid changes within the fashion industry. And that's been over the last 5, 10, 15 years. It's a continual evolution. What about the future? Where do you see the fashion industry and certainly, when it comes to retail, over the next say, 5, 10 years? What are the changes that we should be looking out for?

I think it's going to become much more individualistic. The basics are always going to be there. You want to have basics that are functional. And you want to have them available in all of the sizes that you need them in. That's one part.

The second part is, how do you make all of those things personalised for the consumer themselves? And I think what we're going to see is that you're going to see things like 3D knitting, which you'll be able to actually buy. You look at a bunch of patterns and actually buy that sweater in an hour or 2.

Or you're going to see things that have functional elements to it like, it's really cold out there. Can I add a heat pack to this? Can my clothing be smart? Consumers are going to be able to buy things where they like it, when they like it, and with the least amount of friction possible.

So exciting times for the consumer in the future.

Yes.

It just means that the industry and brands have to keep up and make sure they're up there with all the developments. And it's fascinating finding out more and getting insights on how they should do it. Janice Wang, from Alvanon. Thank you very much indeed.

Thank you.