Customer Experience

Something stirring in the world of fashion

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As you may have read, Burberry has caused a stir in the industry by announcing that it will make catwalk styles available immediately.  Is this the death of the traditional season?  What does this mean for the supply chain in fashion businesses?

To try and answer these questions I am joined by my colleague Joe Kearins, who specialises in the ready to wear and fast fashion segments of the industry.

Trevor Davis

Joe (left) and Trevor in IBM London.


Trevor: Joe, welcome to the Consumer Products blog.  For our readers, give me a little background on your fashion interests?

Joe: Well, I come from the spiritual homeland of fine British handmade footwear, Northampton.  So I guess fashion is in the blood.  Growing up in an area like that I soon got a sense of what ‘good’ styling and quality is, and how to run the supply chain from end to end.  In IBM I’ve been able to bring management ideas and technology together for fashion businesses – not an easy thing to do, as many of these companies are, shall we say, ‘reticent’ to go digital.

Trevor: That’s interesting.  I guess that makes the recent announcements from Burberry so important.  What do you read into it?

Joe: First, Burberry has had a ‘digital’ reputation for longer than many.  Their flagship store and its refit for instance has set the standard for retail innovation in a number of areas.  Secondly, it shows there is a recognition that consumers are living their lives in a different way – experiences are really important to Gen Y and Z consumers, and sharing over social network is a natural part of their daily life.  Against that background, the old idea of a multi-month delay to buy something that you just saw on Snapchat doesn’t make any sense.

Trevor: But won’t eliminating the gap between catwalk and the first sale break the supply chain?

Joe: Before we get to the supply chain, the first impacts are likely to be on fast fashion.  The old industry model is “see it on the catwalk, buy it from fast fashion’s fastest followers, then after a few months buy from the designer collection you only just remember”  That’s no longer working so well for designer brands and so this is a very disruptive move by Burberry (and others) – they get to secure some of the sales that fast fashion retailers would have got, and they get that revenue quickly. Of course, not everyone agrees – the Kering CEO for example has already stated that they won’t follow suit and that such a move “negates the dream” of luxury.

Trevor: Ah!  And the Supply Chain impact?

Joe: It will be affected in a few different ways.  Two of the big ones are when and how you interact with your (B2B) buyers, and in-season manufacturing to compensate for the shorter timelines.  As a business, you can either hold back and hope things go back to normal once the media storm calms down, or start looking at how to prepare your extended supply chain.

Trevor: Do you think it all PR and marketing?

Joe: No!  The shift has been coming for some time, and now we have the digital tools to really make a different operating model work.

Trevor: London Fashion week – any highlights for you?

Joe: I was really struck by the Anya Hindmarch ready to wear collection.  Great show!

Trevor: I liked relative newcomers Sibling – disco! Joe, thank you for your time today.


This post first appeared on the IBM Consumer Products blog.

IBM, Distinguished Engineer

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