While most fashion retailers and brands prepare for the holiday sales season, monitoring production and delivery to ensure their collection hits the market on time, designers are already working towards their next collection. Style trend reports for the coming Spring-Summer ’23 are already available, and major fashion houses are preparing themselves for the next year. For brands that follow the season pattern, this is normal. With E-commerce brands, this is an activity that happens on a continuous basis, with new designs being shipped almost every month.
After runway shows, design tools are no doubt the most glamorous (may we say exciting or sexy?) aspect of working in fashion, where designers bring to bear their entire repertoire of creativity. A lot of input goes into planning a design collection before it has a shape or form that can be displayed. Some of the most critical tasks include research on style trends, consumer purchasing behavior, fabrics, color and themes.
To plan a collection is an arduous process, a mix of science and art. While the designer needs to be aware of trends in the marketplace in order to keep in touch with what customers want, the production team has to be in sync with the designer to understand fabric requirements and turnaround times so that the collection can reach market meeting all three parameters of being on time, on budget and set quality.
Collection planning as a process can be divided into primarily three activities:
1. Research: A designer working on a season pattern, plans for a collection 12-18 months in advance, so knowing upcoming trends is critical. Trend research covers both the technical as well as the marketing aspect. These trends include a number of key points such as :
What customers bought last year/season
What fabrics are trending, if there are any new fabrics/finishes in the market
Key issues driving customer thinking, such as the environment, cost, etc.
Availability of fabrics due to macro-economic conditions
Target pricing given the fluctuation in cost of materials, transport, etc.
Knowing what sources of the data both internal and external can be used and with how much weightage is critical for a successful forecast. At this stage, retail analytics tools and AI enabled forecasting tools can take a load off from the research part, helping designers get a better understanding of the possible market conditions in which their next collection would be launched. Heuritech and Stylumia are two such tools that fashion brands can use. Online resources like WSGN are also useful to gather this type of industry data.
2. Collection planning: The actual process of planning your collection, in terms of the mix of types of garments, the fabrics, colors and trims is based on the outcomes of your research. While this stage does tend to overlap with the mood board creation and design aspects mentioned in our previous blog, it is also more concerned with coordination with other functions such as production and material sourcing. All three need to work in cohesion, since the designer will provide creative inputs but it is these departments that are responsible for execution.
Broad based production planning and PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) tools cover most of the functions here. Since supply chains are now global, it is important that your suppliers (in case of outsourced manufacturing) and your in-house teams are on the same page. Tools like Centric PLM, AIMS360 and Vision PLM are used by companies for this part of the planning process. Smaller designers, manufacturers and labels can also work on plug-in custom solutions designed for their specific needs without going in for expensive PLM options. However, it is critical that these solutions are able to connect seamlessly with the software used of design input as well as output to the ERP tools that are used for actual production management.
3. Business Planning Tools: Commercial aspects are always the underlying parameter for any collection plan. Therefore, being aware of what needs to be spent, when and where, is critical. Projection for sales is based on previous season/month/year’s trends as well as competition and market segment analysis.
With the use of these inputs, a financial plan is drawn up to project what volumes will be required to achieve the sales, revenue and profitability targets for the coming season. At the same time, planning for logistics, marketing, channel expenses, markdowns and promotions along with other overheads is critical. The scope of this can extend to both physical and online retail, besides bulk orders (in case you are a contract manufacturer). Most ERP tools that provide this can be expensive, and are suitable to large enterprises. However, options for small and medium companies also exist, such as ApparelMagic, Sync and PerfectFit.
Many of the PLM and ERP tools mentioned are end-to-end solutions, containing elements of both. However, you need to see if the functionality in each aspect meets your particular needs. Customized solutions can also be created based on your requirements. Or in case you are a supplier to a brand working on their collections, matching your software with those of your clients may also be needed. This is where solutions providers can help bridge the gap, and provide you with a solution that’s efficient, affordable and seamless.
All three categories of tools mentioned above are a must to take your collection planning to execution. Building a seamless tech stack therefore becomes critical for any fashion business to thrive.
Fuel4Fashion is a design, branding and technology consultancy for the fashion and apparel industry. We provide consulting and advisory services across design, business and IT processes to early stage and mid-sized apparel manufacturers and brands looking to grow their business with the help of smart sustainable management practices. Visit our website here and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for regular updates.