The Two Driving Forces Behind Fashion Products

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“Sometimes, I feel frustrated at work—there is a constant conflict between my department and others and it never stops.” – A product developer at a fashion company

During the process of building the request for proposal (RFP) template for fashion product lifecycle management (PLM), I spent some time talking with some relatively large fashion goods manufacturers and retailers to gain a better understanding of how the fashion business runs. As I learned more, I realized that the conflict between the two major driving forces (pushing and pulling) behind fashion products is causing frustration, unachievable sales targets, and missed sales opportunities. Let me explain these two forces briefly.

The “Pushing” Force

As a fashion company, you need to either lead or follow current fashion trends. In order to do so, your design force needs to identify “what’s hot” and “what’s not,” and predict where the fashion cycle is flowing. That being said, a fashion product is pushed by people who are involved in the product’s life cycle from the beginning through the subsequent processes. Although product development processes may vary from company to company, the following is a typical list of the parties involved in the product development process:

  1. People who are in charge of creating ideas and concepts to build the “soul” of new collections.

  2. People who make sure new products are technically feasible.

  3. People who make sure new products are commercially feasible.

Some companies treat this pushing force as the basis for creating or enhancing their identities as fashion players. However, it is not always easy to push a new style through the entire product development cycle.

The “Pulling” Force

Since predicting fashion trends is more of an art than a science, some fashion companies now are relying heavily on something more scientific—sales analysis.

At one company I researched, distributors (those in charge of distributing products for retail stores) are sovereign in deciding which products should be produced, replenished, and cancelled because distributors study sales figures of each retail store on a constant basis. In that sense, sales trends exceed fashion trends in decision making since, at the end of the day, sales revenue is the easiest measurement of a company’s performance.

Due to the co-existence of the two driving forces (neither of them can be ignored), odd things may happen if a company doesn’t have the ability to coordinate the two forces. For instance, conflicts may happen when the product development team is trying to push more new styles through the pipeline and the distribution and sales teams are very satisfied with the current assortment (based on the immediate results).

Actually, these two forces are two different facets of the same thing—market demand. The pushing force represents the longer-term view of the market, but it can’t be very accurate. The pulling force is more accurate and it can influence current revenue levels significantly. However, letting the pulling force dominate may cause market myopia and hence hamper future growth of a company.

An optimal situation is to create synergy between the two forces so a company will do well now and in the future. PLM can help by creating a harmonious environment for the collaboration amongst the different parties in product decision making. Of course, having a clear product development strategy that suits your specific business is something that needs to be done prior to your PLM implementation.
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