The Art of Fashion Meets the Science of Big Data

The Art of Fashion Meets the Science of Big Data

The Art of Fashion Meets the Science of Big Data

Modern fashion is a multi-trillion-dollar industry in which the competition is fierce and change is the only constant. Style trends and customer habits are constantly evolving, and keeping up with the market has always been a challenge. Today the pace of fashion is faster than ever, and the industry is moving toward a variety of new business models to keep up with changes in the way consumers experience fashion. One of the biggest changes concerns the way that companies use data to drive their design and manufacturing operations.

A recent report from McKinsey & Co. labeled 2019 a “year of awakening” for the fashion industry, as companies find new ways to predict trends, increase productivity, and get products to market faster. Specifically, the third annual State of Fashion report noted that brands are increasingly practicing “self-disruption” by leveraging data analytics and automation. Nearly 80% of fashion executives surveyed by McKinsey called self-disruption one of the top five trends affecting the industry.


What Does Big Data Mean in the Fashion Industry?

The phrase “big data” is extremely broad, encompassing an industry that is already worth more than $20 billion and forecast to exceed $100 billion by 2022. A separate analysis predicts a market value of more than $200 billion. In any case, it’s clear that big data is already a big business. In the fashion world, this term typically refers to a company’s accumulated knowledge of how products move at every stage of the cycle from the drawing board to the point of sale. If all of this data is organized in a usable form, brands can leverage that information to make faster and more accurate decisions, create better products, and get to market in time to keep up with fast-changing fashion trends.

Historically, companies have relied almost entirely on gut instincts. They had some data about shopping trends and what people were buying. There were magazine covers, fashion shows, and other cues from influencers and industry stakeholders. In the last few years, social media and fashion blogs have provided more direct insight into what styles and items consumers currently “like.” But these were really isolated data points and it was difficult to produce actionable information.

It has always been hard to get a cohesive picture of how all the likes, shares, and sales interacted with the back-end issues of design, cost, and manufacturability. That’s what big data provides: a comprehensive, big-picture view of everything that matters when you need to make big decisions about what theme to use your company’s spring collection, or how to allocate production cost-effectively across a global network of factories.

Fashion has always been an art. Big data doesn’t change that—it elevates the art with a little bit of science. Data-driven fashion means being able to validate your gut feeling about what style is going to be hot in the coming season, or develop a specific business plan to maximize the value of an exciting new product. When you have the science of big data backing up your decisions, you can take advantage of opportunities faster and avoid pitfalls like wasted designs, markdowns, unsold products, or poor margins.

Specific Data to Track and Measure for Better Planning and Execution

One of the most important uses of big data in the fashion industry is to get an accurate, unbiased view of trends in the market. You need to know what type of styles, colors, and specific items are actually in demand. But tastes and trends vary considerably between geographic regions and demographic groups. To target your audience correctly, you need to be able to slice and dice the data from different sources to form the picture that is most relevant to the decisions at hand.

When you look at the production and manufacturing side, you need to be able to correlate all of your inventory, sales, and production plans with the demand you’re predicting. Specifically, you need to know what you have in stock, what you’re planning to produce, and how those volumes match up against anticipated demand. If a product or style is on its way out, you need to know as soon as possible so you can taper or halt your production at the right time to avoid building up unsellable inventory. On the other hand, if a particular line or item is hotter than ever, it may be a good time to increase production so you can capitalize on the investment you’ve already made in designing and marketing those goods.

Finally, you need to extend your visibility into the shop floor to see in real time how you’re performing against your strategic plan. When you have more information about what’s happening in the production environment, you can identify opportunities to gain efficiencies or seize new opportunities that may not have been part of your original plan. Imagine having the same view of your factories as an air traffic control tower looking out over an airport’s runways. You can see everything as it’s coming and going, enabling you to identify problems before they happen and proactively address any issues rather than reacting after the fact.

All of this visibility gives you the flexibility to turn on a dime, which is critical in today’s omni-channel retail market. Consumers are unquestionably driving the marketplace right now, and companies don’t have the luxuries of long lead times and supply-driven style trends as they did in the past. Big data can help you keep up with the speed of fashion and hit elusive market opportunities at the right time.

How Real Exenta™ Customers Have Benefited From Big Data

One of our clients started as a woodworking company 90 years ago, and over the years they’ve pivoted from one market to another and remained successful. Today the company manufactures a variety of custom products, such as the custom pillowcases and decorative items with personalized with a family name or a photo of the children or a beloved pet, that have become so popular with consumers recently. This company is a 24/7 operation and it is completely vertically integrated. They take in the order, do the design, manufacture the product, and handle the packaging and shipping from their own warehouse.

When you have a 24/7 operation where you are personally responsible for all the moving parts, you cannot have any mistakes, so the ability for this client to process their orders and see production progress in real time is extremely valuable. All of their data is integrated in a single system that automatically updates and calls attention to anything that threatens delivery timelines.

In the past, this level of visibility was impossible, and stressful situations were very common. During the year prior to Exenta’s implementation, they had employees who were working 20-hour days during their busy holiday season. Employees were at a breaking point. They couldn’t spend time with their families, they were getting burned out and worrying about their health. People were saying they would have to quit if nothing changed.

After Exenta implemented our solution suite, we saw a huge impact not only in terms of the company’s bottom line, but also in employee satisfaction and happiness. We were getting a lot of positive emails from employees saying, “It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and I’m home. Last year at this time, I didn’t get home until 2:00 in the morning.” Putting people first is a key value for Exenta, so it was a real moment of pride for us to know that our solutions were helping everyone in the company perform better and improve their overall situation.

Another great success story we heard from of our customers involved a company importing third-party data into the system and generating reports to accelerate their design planning. In today’s fashion world trends can grow in popularity very rapidly, and designers need to be able to respond just as quickly. By integrating sales data in our system, this client was able to create new design plans approximately three times faster than before. This enables them to keep up with the latest styles and get products to market faster than ever.

The Future of Big Data in Fashion Design and Manufacturing

More than 40% of fashion executives surveyed by McKinsey said conditions are becoming more challenging for the industry as the global economy slows down. However, fashion businesses continue to have massive growth potential as the economy becomes more consumer-centric. Taking advantage of that potential will require a mix of old-school art and modern data science.

Exenta is a forward looking company. Like our customers, we are always trying to figure out the next turn in the road so we can proactively move in that direction rather than letting the market get ahead of us. We offer the only state of the art, end to end solution for the fashion industry. Our ERP, PLM REVO, and Shop Floor Control are all best of breed systems that can be implemented separately or as a completely integrated workflow solution.

We also realize that, just as fashion is getting faster, data is getting bigger. Looking ahead, our goals include leveraging AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics with an ever-increasing volume of data to help our customers automate more tasks, increase labor efficiency and productivity, and run their business better.

Exenta Announces Its 2019 Community Forum

Exenta Announces Its 2019 Community Forum

Exenta’s Annual Community Forum will take place on May 9th in New York City. The Community Forum offers our valued clients a great opportunity to learn about exciting new product introductions and enhancements and to collaborate with peers in your industry.

As always, we’re expecting a crowd, so please act now to ensure your spot in this must-attend event.

Thursday, May 9th 10am-4pm
450 East 29th Street

Register now by emailing Alexandra Von Hein:

Due to space constraints, reservations are limited to 3 attendees per company

Nearby hotel information available upon request

Interaction Matters: The Advantages of Face-to-Face Training in a Digital Age

Interaction Matters: The Advantages of Face-to-Face Training in a Digital Age

Online or e-training has grown in popularity in the past decade, particularly due to its 24/7 availability, ease of use, and accessibility. For these reasons, many organizations choose online training to orient newly hired employees. While many workplaces are drawn to the flexibility and, of course, the lower costs of online training, the benefits of face-to-face training may be well worth giving old school methods a fresh look. Not all content can be seamlessly translated into the digital world just yet, and for this reason, there are aspects of face-to-face training that simply cannot be recreated by online training.


At our core, humans are social creatures. We thrive on social interactions, and while technology and social media have made it easier than ever to connect, face-to-face interaction has a strong impact on our cognitive and behavioral processes. In-person training faciliates engagement, communication, and stronger learning overall, and something that is lacking in the online training experience. Face-to-face training fosters collaboration and teamwork. It also offers unique opportunities for networking – a handshake and in-person conversation are exponentially better than exchanging impersonal emails back and forth. Networking is one of the key aspects of business, and face-to-face training offers a simple and easy way to form these connections. Relationships are strengthened by these face-to-face interactions, especially because body language and behavioral mannerisms come into play during in-person trainings. It provides for a far richer emotional experience, which can be essential in creating lasting impressions.


Another benefit of face-to-face training is its potential for adaptability. A good instructor can recognize and meet the needs of their specific participants – if they need more help with certain topics, the instructor can adjust the course to meet these needs, creating a more positive learning environment for all. E-training can fall into the rut of not having that type of flexibility available, which could be detrimental to certain types of learners. In addition to its adaptability, however, face-to-face training boosts concentration and engagement. An online course essentially boils down to watching a video or chatting in a chatroom; face-to-face training necessitates a higher level of focus. Distractions that can plague e-learners are removed in an in-person environment; there’s no opportunity to “multi-task” while speedily clicking through an online course’s screens when you attend a face-to-face training session. As a result, it’s clear that face-to-face training can help learners truly learn the material, rather than simply skimming through a video or slideshow. While nothing can beat online learning’s convenience and flexibility for those with strict schedules, the level of interaction that face-to-face training provides is incomparable.


Finally, the cost-effectiveness of virtual training may be rather misleading. If your workers aren’t adequately participating in or learning from the materials provided, then you may have to spend more money down the line in retraining your employees, which would negate the savings from choosing online training. As a result, it’s important for companies to consider what’s most important to them – do they need the flexibility that online training provides, or are they willing to spend a little bit more to invest in face-to-face training and the interaction that comes with it? It depends on what your goals are as a brand and company, but do not discount the advantages that face-to-face training can bring.


At Exenta, we recognize the value of face-to-face training and we support our new client implemenations with focused training for the users of our ERP, PLM REVO and Shop Floor Control solutions. In-person training is an important step in our seamless implementation experience and is part of the Exenta Difference, and our Proven Path™ Methodology, one of the reasons customers choose us 9 times more than other fashion technology partners.


Why Fashion Brands Need Smart Supply Chains

Why Fashion Brands Need Smart Supply Chains

One of the biggest challenges facing the retail and apparel industry is the need to catch up to, and succeed in, a wildly competitive market. As more and more brands begin to accelerate their processes and look for ways to bring about increased optimization and efficiency, it has become more critical than ever for supply chains to also work on improvements. Between the demand for transparency from consumers and the need to compete in a fast-paced market, it’s not surprising that apparel and retail companies have begun to focus on prioritizing and innovating their supply chains. Implementing new technology will be pivotal for most of these brands if they wish to stay afloat in our era of fast fashion.

An adaptable supply chain allows for far faster response times, allowing brands to pinpoint which products are selling and which products aren’t. If a certain piece is selling far more units than expected, a brand can pivot to immediately increase production of that particular unit, but traditional supply chains don’t accommodate this type of rapid-fire response, with turnaround times for reorders ranging from 10 to 25 weeks, by which time the window of opportunity is lost. So, it’s easy to see why a flexible supply chain is absolutely critical in delivering the correct products at the right time, and flexibility can only happen through the use of automated processes within the supply chain. Automated process can handle faster turnaround times and quicker responses, leading to more informed and accurate decisions, while also increasing efficiency at all levels of the company.

Faster supply chains also deliver greater visibility. A variety of software solutions are available for brands seeking to promote greater visibility within their supply chain and other processes. If a team has access to information across the entire company (design, production, and distribution), then they are well-informed about what is happening and what problems may arise, which all ties into flexibility and the ability to generate faster response times.

Problems can also be addressed as they appear in real-time if everyone has access to the same information, promoting greater collaboration between different departments and even with a company’s suppliers. It’s also important for companies to communicate with their entire supply chain – successful brands establish relationships with everyone in the supply chain, emphasizing communication and opening up dialogues. This leads to better working relationships and an ability to collaborate when it comes to solving problems within the supply chain. Both visibility and collaboration work hand-in-hand to increase efficiency and minimize problems such as mismanaged inventory. The supply chain of the future will promote and emphasize both flexibility and visibility, as both are needed in order to truly create and nurture well-optimized processes.

Visibility also leads to transparency, which is vital as the consumers of today become more conscientious and socially responsible. The fashion world has been plagued by tragedies, such as the Rana Plaza collapse; as a result, consumers are demanding a more ethical shift within the industry. With a fully transparent supply chain, consumers can rest assured that the products they are purchasing come from ethical and fair-trade companies, where workers are given the rights they deserve.

It’s not far-fetched to think that, one day, consumers could open an app on their phone and scan a product’s barcode and be able to see every step of its lifecycle. There are already brands that promote transparency and fair-trade practices, but smarter supply chains could make it easier for all brands to do so.

In all, it’s clear that the apparel industry is going through a transformation in response to an ever-evolving market. Faster, more efficient solutions are replacing previous standards within the industry as technology begins to weave its way into the retail and apparel worlds. As companies begin to focus on innovating their supply chains, they must remember that flexibility and visibility are key factors in building the supply chains of the future.

Social Entrepreneurs and the Apparel Industry

Social Entrepreneurs and the Apparel Industry

Social entrepreneurship is quickly gaining a foothold in the apparel industry, and it’s refreshing to watch the transformation it brings. The social reputation of the fashion industry has traditionally not always been a positive one. A history of unethical treatment of workers, little to no focus on sustainability and massive waste is has shaped the industry’s reputation of the past. As social entrepreneurship grows in popularity, however, that reputation is evolving. Social entrepreneurs work to establish companies that reflect their values and as consumers respond favorably to socially conscious goods by granting them greater market share, traditional companies must rise to these new standards to remain competitive. The apparel industry is becoming more eco-conscious and ethical as it takes steps to keep up with these social entrepreneurs and respond to consumer demands.

What exactly is social entrepreneurship, and why is it so influential in the fashion and apparel world? At its core, social entrepreneurship is simply using a company to advocate for social, cultural, and/or environmental issues. The fashion industry has been plagued with issues centered around sustainability and ethical treatment of its workers. Burberry, the British high fashion house, made headlines in 2018 when it was revealed that the company had a practice of burning and destroying excess and unsold stock in an effort to keep the brand’s reputation of exclusivity and luxury. In 2013, a factory building in Bangladesh known as Rana Plaza collapsed, killing over 1000 people in one of the worst industrial accidents on record. Both of these issues highlight a serious issue in the fashion industry – many brands have historically been indifferent to the environmental impact of their products and the workplace conditions of those who manufacture them. Social entrepreneurship has become popular within the apparel industry, as consumers recognize that this kind of intervention is necessary to create meaningful change. Social entrepreneurs are also innovating as they seek original ways to deal with social and environmental issues while still producing a product that appeals to the marketplace.

Sudara, founded by Shannon Keith, works with women in India who are at risk of becoming a sex trafficking victim, or who have escaped from trafficking. Because of a lack of income makes women more vulnerable to trafficking, Sudara employs at risk Indian women to sew their loungewear and offers the opportunity for them to explore other roles in different fields such as IT work, cosmetology, and tailoring. Workers can develop the foundational skills they need to find different types of jobs outside the company. Sudara also works with partners who help to train women throughout the year, and this program currently results in an 89% job placement rate for participants. Keith’s brand just is one of many brands using social entrepreneurship to enact real change in the world.

There are numerous other social entrepreneurs fighting to change, and ultimately better, the apparel industry from within. Akshay Sethi, founder of Ambercycle, uses her brand to upcycle polyester (a major contributor to microplastic pollution) into a new type of fabric. Collective impact and action are essential when it comes to enacting lasting change, and it’s part of the reason that Ambercycle, and others like it, have come together to connect with and learn from each other.

In all, it is clear that social entrepreneurship has come a long way in trying to transform the apparel industry from within. As more and more brands begin to take on various causes, it’s vital that they support and lift each other up in an international and interconnected network. Their success will inspire others to join in and can pave the way in supporting businesses that use their capital and influence to transform the industry and influence society.