the innovation issue – DATA-DRIVEN SUPPLY CHAINS





Fast Fashion and e-commerce are the two cataclysmic forces shaping the apparel industry. The fast fashion phenomenon is an assortment of continuous innovation, lightning fast production, and affordability.

Last year 14% of global apparel market was online, amounting to $231 billion. The data behind these direct online purchases has been a gold mine to foresee the next trends taking up the world of fashion. The predictive powers of data is not an exclusive domain for retail brands or e-commerce platforms. Apparel manufacturers too need to be able to show that the right materials and technologies are in place to fulfill the evolving demands of retail brands. The slow death of physical retail and increasing direct to consumer sales through online platforms have given way to shorter life cycles for design collections. “Manufacturers need to keep up the pace with what’s happening with the retailer,” says Nissanga Warnapura, the Chief Innovation Officer at Hela Clothing.

In the past, apparel manufacturers had little to do with the changing behavior of consumers. They simply used to comply with orders from retail brands. This reactive model does not exist anymore. “To be relevant, we have to know what the consumer wants,” says Warnapura.

Hela Clothing is the new kid on the block. Warnapura estimates that its innovation budget is one-hundredth of one of Sri Lanka’s apparel majors. The twelve-member innovation team at Hela Clothing scrapes the web every six hours gathering data scouring comments, discount offerings, colours and any nit-bits of information from e-commerce platforms and third party databases to assess the real-time changes in fashion. The company is already planning to extend its analytics towards social media next.

Most apparel manufacturing companies use data to forecast trends in fashion. But the key is how insights from data are in sync with the supply chain. “All companies have data,” says Warnapura. “How well it’s integrated with the supply chain is a different story”. To compete in the apparel industry, speed and inventiveness is a must. Supply chains play a major part of it, so much so that 75% of Zara, the world’s largest apparel retailer’s supply chain is based in Spain, its home country unlike other brands which source their products from distant Asian and Latin American countries. “This makes us question how are we going to be competitive in the next couple of years,” asks Warnapura. “That’s why we are doing all this”.