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How Digitizing Data Helps Fashion Navigate Disruption

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

By Sourcing Journal

Like many consumer goods, fashion merchandise has a limited shelf life. Since time is of the essence, hitting the right delivery window is crucial to avoid overstocks.

Visibility can help brands and retailers avoid being stuck with “stale” inventory, David Levitt, senior solutions architect at Exenta from Aptean, said during a recent Sourcing Journal webinar, End-to-End Efficiency: Enhancing Visibility from Planning to Product Delivery.

“Fashion is not stagnant,” Levitt said. “It’s constantly changing, so the visibility of your timing and planning in order to be ahead of that fashion curve is so important.”

Adding to the challenge of fast-fading trends, operating an apparel business has only become more difficult amid recent supply chain disruption. Shelley White, president of PPE producer Lac-Mac, described the current state of the supply chain as “unpredictable.” And she should know. Her company has experienced quadrupled lead times, transportation strikes, material shortages, extensions or cancellations of purchase orders and more. To combat the longer lead times, Lac-Mac is forecasting further into the future, and accurately predicting demand requires reliable data.

Levitt noted that while some delivery disruptions are out of a company’s control, data unlocks the capability to better plan for issues so retailers aren’t “blindsided.” Exenta from Aptean’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software covers everything from “concept to cash,” allowing companies to more effectively plan and track where goods are in these processes.

ERP gives companies the ability to prioritize based on demand, whether at the production or transportation stages. For instance, it can indicate what should be manufactured first to meet deadlines and it could be set to automatically substitute similar goods to fulfill customer needs. Another benefit is being able to see exactly what must be expedited via air freight—maybe air-shipping a small portion needed immediately rather than the entire order—thus reducing costs.

If companies are still using manual data management, they open themselves up to risks like missed delivery dates, Levitt said. It is also an inefficient use of human resources, since skilled workers are spending time on administration, pulling them away from their primary jobs.

Across the board, digitization can help fashion companies manage their workforce. At the factory level in particular, Exenta from Aptean’s shop floor control (SFC) solution helps companies delegate tasks by accounting for individual employees’ capabilities and skills.

Through SFC, Justin Hershoran, senior solutions architect at Exenta from Aptean, said companies can see a 10 to 20 percent efficiency boost without expanding their workforce, a benefit amid labor scarcities.

“There’s many different areas that shop floor control can help when it comes to the materials, the labor and all of the shortages and issues that companies and people are seeing today,” Hershoran said.

For Lac-Mac, SFC has also provided data on machine downtime, allowing the supplier to track the associated costs with downtime, determine whether to repair or replace machines and accurately plan capacity. In addition, having precise throughput time improves costing calculations, which helps determine exact margins.

Before adopting Exenta from Aptean’s software, Lac-Mac had an ERP, but was managing its factory operations manually. This meant that quality control and production was tracked through paper and Excel spreadsheets. Far from the norm, Hershoran estimated that 70 percent or more of manufacturers lack technology on the production floor.

Because it is supplying protective and health gear, Lac-Mac is audited by regulatory bodies. Rather than being a nice to have, tracking is a necessity to be able to provide chain of custody information.

White said that Lac-Mac’s legacy ERP system didn’t provide real-time data, which led to planning errors. Instead of the typical fashion seasons, Lac-Mac is producing primarily custom orders with a quick turnaround—typically it takes just 12 days from receipt of order to shipment. This model requires reliable data to plan for material needs, since inputs will be used shortly in the future.

One of the things that attracted Lac-Mac to Exenta from Aptean was a team that understands the business because many of them have worked in fashion. Leveraging this background, the software was designed specifically for the industry’s needs. As an example, fashion products have size and color variants, which might each be classified as separate SKUs in another ERP. Instead, Exenta from Aptean uses a style-based system that allows all variations to be tracked as one.

“The Exenta team consists of people who are from the apparel industry, who understand the apparel industry, and who speak the language of the apparel industry,” White said.

Watch the webinar, sponsored by Exenta from Aptean, to learn more about:

How manually managing orders, production and inventory holds companies back

  • The efficiencies are created across a fashion business via real-time data

  • How shop floor control and enterprise resource planning can help companies navigate inflation and other disruptions

  • Lac-Mac’s experience using Exenta from Aptean

  • Why corporate culture matters in driving digitization within an organization

This article was published in Sourcing Journal September 1, 2022. Exenta from Aptean is a SPESA member. Check out the full webinar here.

SPESA members are encouraged to email news and releases to or to be featured under Member Spotlights.Watch the webinar here.

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