Autumn/Winter, Spring/Summer… While these traditional weather seasons remain significant in the apparel industry, they are no longer the sole determinants of the supply chain’s rhythm. The sector is now characterized by a heightened sense of speed and an ever-growing level of unpredictability in seasonality. In this article, we explore how these shifting temporal dynamics are effectively managed within the apparel sector and delve into their implications for day-to-day intralogistics.
Traditional clothing seasons
Traditionally, the fashion industry revolved around two primary seasons: Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. Over time, though, several players within the apparel industry began introducing inter-seasonal collections, effectively bridging the gap between these two major seasons with pre-fall (May to June) and resort/cruise (October to November) lines. This strategic move aimed to minimize the “void” effect in stores during the transition between the major collections while providing consumers with added variety, ultimately driving sales.
Or, the art of effectively managing inventory clearance. As far back as the 19th century, clothing boutiques and department stores pioneered the concept of sales, offering the remaining items at discounted prices to deplete their stock before the arrival of the next collection. In accordance with Article L-310-3 of the French Commercial Code, sales are officially defined as follows: ‘In practice, winter sales typically occur at the end of January or the beginning of February, while summer sales are usually scheduled from mid to late July until mid to late August.’
In today’s retail landscape, two primary sales seasons endure, taking place at the start of the year (late January/early February) and during the middle of the year (July-August). However, variations abound, depending on the continent, country, and the specific positioning and clientele of the brands themselves. This includes special sales events tied to occasions like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, back-to-school shopping, and Mother’s Day.
Simple supply chain diagrams…
Since the inception of clothing production and distribution during the early days of industrialization, there has existed a noticeable disparity between actual weather seasons and the fashion seasons. The latter were strategically devised to stimulate consumption and enhance inventory control. However, despite this divergence, the fundamental framework remained relatively straightforward. In clothing stores, collections underwent periodic renewal every six months, with intermediate seasons interspersed in between.
From the perspective of procurement, subcontractor relationships, inventory management, and distribution, this established pattern was relatively uncomplicated to navigate. It entailed forecasting demand to the best of one’s ability, sourcing accordingly, and ensuring timely delivery. Within warehouses, these enduring seasonal dynamics, still relevant today, primarily involved managing clothing products with limited volume during the summer due to their lighter nature, while accommodating greater volume during the winter months. All of this transpired within a consistent storage space, regardless of the prevailing season.
… Increasingly complex
Towards the close of the twentieth century, alongside the traditional sales seasons, the fashion industry experienced a transformative shift, propelled by the emergence of fast fashion. Within this evolution, industry players introduced inter-seasonal collections, which, for certain ‘fast-fashion’ brands, can reach several dozen per year, as expounded in our detailed article on the challenges confronting the clothing supply chain.
These new models, characterized by a more frequent influx of products to consumers, necessitate intricate, highly efficient, and often bespoke supply chain models aligned with the unique operational requirements of these companies. Within warehouse management, this ‘push flow’ approach entails handling surges in merchandise intake ahead of each collection launch, and the capacity to efficiently manage a diverse array of items in retail or order-picking centers. Here, replenishment typically adheres to a ‘1-for-1’ principle, as the likelihood of selling an item more than twice is relatively slim once it has been introduced to the market.
Trends come and go. Quickly.
Beyond these simple or “augmented” seasonal frameworks, which have long been integrated by the apparel supply chain, seasonal sales peaks now come increasingly from external factors, requiring unfailing adaptability, particularly in their warehouses. These factors include the impact of fashion weeks, the promotion of a brand by a celebrity or influencer, or quite simply trends generated by well-styled common citizens crossed in the street (“street style”).
A season-proof warehouse: checklist
So, if you operate or plan to operate a clothing warehouse, what are the key points to address to ensure its resistance to evolutions and trends, whether predictable… or not?
- Managing Uncertainty: Trends can be unpredictable, making it essential to ensure quick and easy accessibility to any item within your warehouse at any given time.
- Managing Success: Your product, marketing, and salespeople are good and your orders are increasing? Fair enough, but don’t let bottlenecks in your warehouse stop you from riding the growth wave, especially during peak periods. Your supply chain strategy should accommodate rapid increases in flow and storage volume, by automating some or all of your processes.
- Enable Stock Rotation: Given the accelerated pace of fashion seasons, efficient stock turnaround is critical. The ability to empty and refill your warehouse swiftly is a key factor.
- Omnichannel Management: Successfully handle various order profiles, from mass store assortments to unit order preparation, within the same warehouse. Adapt to the unique shipment requirements of each order type.
- Enable Integration with Third-Party Tools: Connect specific equipment to your existing or future systems, ensuring compatibility and functionality through high-performance warehouse software.
- Manage Multi-SKU Locations: As your orders evolve, consider managing multiple SKUs within the same bin or box, facilitating order picking and compartmentalization for smaller items.
- Leverage RFID and NFC: Embrace RFID and NFC technologies to streamline inventory management, order preparation, and restocking processes. Ensure seamless integration of these technologies throughout your intralogistics system.
- Address Labor Shortages: Combat workforce challenges by automating labor-intensive processes, such as picking, allowing your staff to focus on tasks that generate more value, like personalized order fulfillment.
- Promote Innovation: Explore innovative approaches in forecasting, information systems, automation solutions, and social innovations to stay ahead of the curve. Continuously seek opportunities for improvement in clothing warehousing practices, a topic we addressed in that article.
Solutions tailored to the apparel industry
At Exotec, we specialize in the design, production, and maintenance of robotic goods-to-person solutions tailored to optimize warehouses worldwide. Our expertise shines particularly bright in the realm of ready-to-wear and footwear sectors, which collectively constitute nearly 50% of our customer sites. Specifically engineered to address the unique demands of apparel warehouses, our Skypod® system delivers unparalleled performance, agility, and adaptability—qualities that are indispensable for intralogistics operators operating in this sector.
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