Responsive Retail

Apparel left on the racks at retail often is sold at a deep discount, and some consumers have become accustomed to not paying full price in anticipation of these discounts.

Faster, smarter supply chains can limit retail discounts.

By David Sasso

In a perfect world, apparel stores would predict consumer demand with prophetic accuracy, order the exact inventory needed months in advance, and sell every item at full price, leaving customers delighted — and stocks depleted.

Of course, as retailers and brands well know, the world isn’t perfect. The whims of fashion change faster than the seasons, as customers chase hot new items and neglect yesterday’s trends. For many brands, their supply chains aren’t equipped to keep pace.

How Brands Get Stuck With Discounts And Stockouts

As products linger on the racks, companies slash prices to make them more compelling. In fact, the industry’s reliance on discounts has largely trained consumers to expect prices to drop, sending them straight to the sale section while sneering at full price items.

On the flip side, brands lucky enough to hit on a trending style may face frustrating stockouts — and leave disappointed customers looking elsewhere for a similar style. By the time their supply chain can replenish the hot item, fashion may have sprinted forward — forcing retailers to turn back to discounts to move last cycle’s winning inventory.

If you’re a brand or retailer, you understand the risks. Colors, designs, and weather-appropriate apparel fall in and out of fashion in a matter of weeks — order too much, and your investment rots; too little, and you leave easy money on the table.

Brands and retailers may be able to reduce speed-to-market lead time by leveraging the supply chain — focusing on relationships, strategy and location.

Supply Chain Solutions To Faster Fashion

The perfect solution to an imperfect world? Faster, smaller orders — and more of them. Why take the shotgun approach to your inventory when you could place well-timed, precise surgical strikes?

If you had the ability to restock in weeks instead of months, you could order everything in small amounts, see what’s selling, and respond to demand as you go, offering exactly what your consumers want at full price.

For many brands and retailers, a fast fashion model still feels like a pipe dream. With a traditional Asia-based supply chain, you’re looking at a 10- to 25-week waiting period on reorders. By focusing on relationships, strategy, and location, you may be able to cut your speed-to-market lead time down to 14-28 days.

Relationships: Communicate With The Entire Supply Chain

Too often, brands depend solely on their garment manufacturer, wary of making contact with the rest of the supply chain. “We only buy fabric,” they say, “why would we get involved with the yarn?” The answer, of course, is that you need the yarn to make the fabric.

If you only work through the fabric manufacturers, you’re relying on them for all sourcing decisions. Need a fast order? If you can’t get right yarn quickly enough, you’ll have to change suppliers, which changes the fabric — giving your customers an inconsistent experience and risking lost loyalty. Successful, fast fashion brands establish lines of communications with everyone along the supply chain, from yarn spinners and knitters to the partners who cut, sew, trim, and dye.

By opening up a dialogue with everyone involved, you can give them forewarning about rapid new orders, securing production and quality without sacrificing speed. This communication is especially critical when you’re working with specialty fabrics, like Supima Cotton®, Lenzing MicroModal® and Lenzing Micro TENCEL®.

Strategy: Pre-Position Yarn And Fabric

Here’s where small and medium brands have a distinct advantage in the world of fast fashion. If you only use a handful of yarns or fabrics, you can reliably predict that you’ll use a certain amount of each — even if you don’t yet know what the final product will be.

Work with your supply chain to pre-position your most widely used fabrics and yarns; by investing ahead of time, you’ll have the raw materials on hand and dramatically reduce your speed to market.

Just be sure not to pre-position colored fabric, as color tends to be the most unpredictable element of fashion — and the easiest to adapt to with undyed materials.

Location: React Faster With American-Made Products

Sourcing from U.S.-based companies doesn’t just ensure a higher quality product — it’s also dramatically faster to receive shipments. If you’re still tethered to an overseas supply chain, you’ll have to pay up for air freights or deal with ships that take several weeks. American producers also eliminate language barriers, making it easier to clearly communicate your requirements.

Here again, smaller brands have an advantage. While bigger companies are tied to Asian suppliers with equity partnerships and investments, more agile brands are free to source in the United States and reap the benefits: speed, quality, and communication.

The Result: Affordable Fast Fashion

With these strategies in place, brands can enjoy significantly faster speed-to-market times of mere weeks. With a strong, smart, and nimble supply chain, you’re free to make smaller, faster orders to capitalize on the latest trends while curbing discounts and stockouts.

It’s not just a winning business strategy; it’s a path to greater peace of mind. By relying on your entire supply chain to guarantee rapid production, you can stop and start as the market demands without worrying about excess waste — and offer your consumers the products they want today.

Editor’s Note: David Sasso is vice president of International Sales at Jefferson, Ga.-based Buhler Quality Yarns Corp.;


July/August 2016