Did you know, the term, ‘supply chain management’ was first introduced in the 1980s? It’s safe to say that technology is still evolving every day and there is immense scope for improvement in every step of the supply chain. As consumer preferences change, apparel manufacturers must also take a step back and reflect on how to give consumers what they want…unless they’re creating something completely new and the consumers don’t know that they want that just yet.
In the early and mid-2000s, the economic crisis shook the world and the days of overproduction, piles of inventory, wasteful methods, and the exploitation of resources were gone. The fat was trimmed from supply chains and only the lean and efficient processes thrived. Innovative technologies have also helped with further development and transparency within this industry. Customer preferences and the need for greater manufacturing efficiency is also a major driver of the where this industry will go in the future. Trends that are shaping the future of fashion supply chain are brand shifts to producing locally and sustainably to create a more transparent business to consumer experience. To achieve this, organizations began to turn to technology to automate processes and achieve efficiency.
Today we see technologies like GPS, real-time metrics, autonomous trucking and warehouses, and automated sewing bots enhancing the fashion supply chain and making it more efficient. Technology such as IoT, smart packaging, and Blockchain are enablers and mirrors of compliance. It’s also apparent that these innovations will create data streams so dense that they will no longer be manageable by the current enterprise technology.
In this blog, we will take a look at some of the supply chain trends of the future.
AI and machine learning is poised to play a central role in decision-making to support the automated environments being created. How would a robot or an algorithm make better decisions than a human? The answer is quite simple, the robots ability to quantify and interpret data will have the upper hand. Every decision taken by a human is usually the result of experience, gut feelings, and extensive research. This process is slow, individualistic, prone to personal bias, and leaves scope for human error. This is not a problem with a robot or an algorithm. AI will be used to make smarter data-driven decisions and people will work alongside these technologies to assist one another.
The rise of this technology will create the need for a workforce with digital dexterity and present new opportunities for people in the supply chain industry. According to Gartner, by 2023, over 30% of operational warehouse workers will be supplemented, not replaced, by collaborative robots. What’s more, by 2023, at least 50% of large global companies will be using AI, advanced analytics and IoT in supply chain operations.
A digital twin is a virtual model of physical assets, processes, human beings, or places that can be used for diverse purposes. This culmination of worlds, virtual and physical, enables the comprehensive study of data and processes which come together with the creation of simulations. Digital twins provide context and data that will enhance supply chain in many ways; the design process to manufacturing will continue to be impacted. Digital twins will make it easier for decision-makers to test scenarios and make the the right decisions supported by data.
There is a reason why organizations shell out massive amounts of money to acquire certain certifications such as ‘fair trade’, or ‘farmer direct’. The cause-conscious Millennial buyer no longer wants to contribute to companies who profit from wasteful and/or unethical systems. The days of marketing and advertisements telling consumers to want a product, buy it, and use it are gone. An example of this shift is the growing movement to ban single-use plastics. After this occurred, startups were born to fill that whitespace and created alternatives such as bamboo toothbrushes, cutlery, grooming items and more. Fashion companies and their supply chain have to be conscious of this shift and must adapt to it.
The way we see it, the future of the supply chain will be modeled around a circular economy, one where products can be returned to the manufacturer to be reused or upcycled in some way. An example of this is H&M. You may have noticed the recycling bins at H&M, where you can return your old clothes and have them upcycled. More space in your closet and good for the world too!
Fast fashion is facing criticism and brands are taking note of this. It’s getting harder to justify the concept of ‘new seasons’ to the conscious consumer. For a consumer that is aware that it takes 700+ gallons of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt, the ‘new season’ style will likely turn them away from that particular brand and onto a more sustainable and eco-friendly competitor. Consciousness extends to the demands for transparency in the manufacturing process as well. Today’s consumers are conscious of toxic and wasteful manufacturing methods. They worry about manufacturing outsourced to remote locations and of claims of ‘unknowingly’ running sweatshops. It’s hard to see these models having a place in the future, but there’s so much to learn from fast fashion such as having a streamlined design process, end-to-end visibility into all phases of the product’s lifecycle, and consolidating data for seamless collaboration across the supply chain.
Let’s conclude with an opinion from Steven Steutermann, Managing Vice President at Gartner,“We expect that the supply chain of the future will undergo a major transformation process. At the end of this process, supply chains will act “on their own” with the ability to self-regulate and take appropriate actions, and as a result, will increase and augment the capabilities of humans well beyond what is known today.”
If your company is experiencing challenges within your supply chain and want to learn about how the Suuchi Grid may help connect the dots for your production then feel free to email us at [email protected]