Who Gives Life to Fashion in the 21st Century?

Market: 
April 21, 2017

We view fashion products as physical objects but little do we know that behind each of them, lies its digital identity.  We now live in an era where life has gone virtual and we have slowly morphed into consumers who demand the best in terms of price, quality and delivery time. This makes the fashion business more complicated than it already is with its diverse product portfolio and complex supply chain.  With the entire industry going online, products are undertaking their digital identities as well.

The digital identity of a product is arguably more important than that of the physical. That is because while the latter has a shelf life, the former will live on forever, with increasing volumes of new ones joining them with each passing season. With its newly forged numerical existence, the product becomes malleable as its characteristics can be easily altered from one season to another. The availability of information pertaining to the product such as technical specifications and point-of-sales data facilitates such decisions. However, the products’ core identities remain the same and the most fundamental part of any collection. Who then, are the brains behind these identities? Who are the people who give “life” to these objects?

In the fashion industry, the inventors behind the mechanization of spinning and sewing were regarded as titans of industry. In the same vein, their closest modern equivalents are information professionals and technology pioneers. Their responsibility is to provide fashion companies with an information architecture, a network of interconnected systems that would not only organize but also receive and retain new business-critical information.  Hence, they are the people who will not only assign digital values to products but are also in charge of safeguarding, scoping and supporting the entire design-to-production process.

By developing virtual versions of these products, IT professionals effectively create data sets that can be used from function to function within the entire production process. However, it is also important that these data sets are organized in such a manner that any team member across the production line, be he a designer or a manufacturer, will be able tell the products apart. How do they, then, make sure that everyone working on the same collection gets one single version of the truth?

 Firstly, one has to consider all the processes involved in the entire product lifecycle, from design to production. From  them comes different streams of information that has to be centralized, standardized and aggregated to get the entire  team on the same page. That is when IT plays the most essential role. IT professionals have to ensure that their  companies transition away from disconnected point solutions to a fully integrated enterprise environment. While  managing data is important, they also have to make sure that team members are equipped with the right tools to  respond aptly to the incoming stream of data in order to deliver goods on time.

 To achieve this, they need to invest in a more robust and far-reaching suite of solutions. Just to name a few:

  •  PLM platforms to provide the overall structure for data management by overseeing, coordinating and  managing the product lifecycles;
  •  Trend forecasting platforms, and planning and calendar management tools to keep production processes on  schedule;
  •  CAD and other creative design solutions to communicate information graphically, facilitating collaboration  between departments, satellite office and suppliers;
  •  3D virtual sampling to offer a wider range of possible design options, and to improve fit and form.

 Therefore, the role of the IT professional is more multifaceted than what we imagine it to be. Besides fulfilling its  traditional role of resolving technical issues, the IT department has to ensure the company’s safe and smooth journey  from one world to another - the physical to the virtual. The IT professional is, in a sense, an information architect, who  has to construct an ecosystem where different solutions can co-exist and perform well together, with PLM serving as  the foundation.

 While it is easy to view design and technology as two separate disciplines, this should not be the case, especially in fashion. With the IT department supporting the entire creative process, from inspiration to point of sale, designers should not be the only ones taking credit for being the “creative” ones. Without the help of the very people who select, construct, implement, adapt, improve and maintain the needed digital environment, it would be impossible for designers to create.

So, whenever we refer to an IT professional as “that IT person”, be conscious of the fact that he or she could be actually an information architect, a creative, a problem-solver and most of all, a (digital) life-giver to products. And it is high time that we give that IT person that well-deserved accolade.

Read on to learn more about this new class of creatives and the increasingly influential role they continue to have in fashion.

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