Why a seamless supply chain is integral to fashion week

From being able to get samples on time to satisfying buyers’ needs, designers are up against a lot when it comes to putting together a show during fashion week.
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Randy Brooke/WireImage

· 5 min read

Among the many words that came to define the pandemic and the years that followed, “supply chain” would rank pretty high.

Raw materials shortages and port closures around the globe, particularly manufacturing hubs such as China, hit most retailers, causing inventory woes and ultimately impacting their bottom lines. Luxury fashion brands not only struggled with similar issues, but did so while having to put together fashion week shows.

Some, like Armani, decided not to present during the 2022 Paris Fashion Week at all, while others simply struggled their way through it. Regardless, no other event underscored the importance of a smoothly functioning supply chain for fashion week as the pandemic.

Cal McNeil, director of program strategies at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), called the supply chain the “foundation” of a designer’s business.

“A smooth supply chain will always be the most critical piece for a brand preparing for fashion week because no product means no show and no subsequent sales during market for that season,” he told Retail Brew. “Every step of the product design, development, and sampling process needs to be carefully mapped out and timed correctly to ensure a successful chain of events leading up to fashion week.”

Kerry Chrapliwy, founder of Wonder, a marketing agency that works with luxury designers like Vivienne Tam, said the designer closed most of her stores in China during the Covid lockdown and did not show any fashion collections on the runway at New York Fashion Week until September 2022.

“Last September was her first show coming out of Covid, and it was still a little bit different because we were normally showcasing maybe 1,000 people, and now we’re down to Spring Studios…where they have a 300–400 person limit,” he told Retail Brew.

Double impact

But designers were not the only ones who bore the brunt of a broken supply chain during Fashion Week. Inna Kuznetsova, CEO at ToolsGroup, an AI-driven retail and supply-chain planning company, said that getting all the right fabrics in time is not only important for the designer putting together the show, but also for buyers.

“[Buyers] have to very quickly select the trends that they will push this season,” she told us, citing the example of a red lace dress, where the buyer has to look at the dress and decide several things, like if the color red is trending or if it can be switched with artificial lace. “Up to 75% of profit on an item may come in the first four weeks of sale, so being the first to the market when it comes to highly fashionable items…is extremely important.”

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But ultimately, making sure things are in place for both the designer and the buyers is a responsibility that falls to the brand. Some brands, like Fendi and Golden Goose, came up with nifty solutions for dealing with factory closures, worker scarcity, and shipment delays.

“Shifting sample studios [and] factories to start or finish development of the show samples, finding alternative sourcing partners for raw materials, considering partners closer to the designer’s home base to avoid shipping delays were all areas that designers did to try and avoid supply-chain challenges,” McNeil said.

High fashion, meet high tech

Then there were others, like Vivienne Tam, who looked to tech to solve the problems, starting with taking her show digital. Just last month, the designer showcased her latest fall/winter presentation in the metaverse.

Chrapliwy said that innovative tech has been instrumental in shifting Tam’s business model and could be useful for other designers.

“Having two to three months to fulfill it while they get something the consumer gets a piece of digital fashion that will kind of satiate them while they’re waiting for the production will help kind of shrink the pain in the supply chain a little bit,” he said.

McNeil said technologies like digital fit platforms, as well as investments in “responsible materials and production processes such as on-demand manufacturing, better digital communication tools, AI learning, and the creation of localized innovation hubs are all areas that can positively impact our industry and address challenges across the supply chain,” he said.

And where there’s mention of technology and the metaverse, there’s also artificial intelligence, which per Kuznetsova, can help adjust inventory needs and manage the number of items in the system based on customer demand for both designers and buyers.

“Managing through thousands of items is extremely complex, and when you factor in the sizing and the color varieties, it becomes impossible to domain up to the same level of efficiency that technology can do,” she said. “But eliminating excesses can create a sustainable brand, which will not only help reduce costs, but will also help to attract more customers.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.