The Future of Production? Data, Not Guesswork [Part 3b of 4]

The Future of Production? Data, Not Guesswork [Part 3b of 4]


Welcome to part two of our interview with Unmade Chief Product Officer, Ben Alun-Jones. In part one, Ben shared with us the influence of the ‘speed of social’ on production and why customisable manufacturing could be the answer to respond. You can recap here.

This week, we continue to discuss production data to get closer to customers, what brands are doing this well and how UnmadeOS is helping brands meet their new challenges.

Q. Having the mechanics in place to facilitate customisation and react to changing trends is one growth opportunity but would you agree the real future of production lies in accessing deep data insights into what consumers are designing and buying?

That’s an interesting question. The answer is these are two sides of the same coin.

If your supply chain is working to 12-18 months, then having perfect data is of limited use. However, if your data is poor, then it could actually impact and block the speed at which you can work, putting your brand at risk.

I see the future as both of these things working together in tandem, which would allow the supply chain to actually be responsive, reactive and to enable customisation.

The future operating model is really where you're able to operate those pull and push models together through that same supply chain, to become truly driven, accelerated and enhanced by data.

Q. What can we understand about consumers from production data and what is the potential impact of this type of insight?

There are different types of data that we can extract from orders, for example, colour options. Which of the options have they picked? What options haven’t they picked? What gets played with but not chosen? Those are interesting opportunities for exploration on the design side.

Another element is what we can learn on the production side, which I think UnmadeOS is doing to a different level than anyone else. When an order has been accepted by the factory, UnmadeOS sends a physical manufacturing file to the vendor, which goes through a trackable process until shipped to, and received by, the consumer. This process can be used to learn and understand, as the brand, what consumers are actually buying and engaging with or not feeling quite confident enough to buy.

What if you gave them more direct permission? Brands could understand which things were able to go to the factory quickly and which things are slower to produce, which means you can understand and enhance, with the ability to react quicker the next time.

There’s also a macroeconomic element to consider. If you're now only producing something that has already been ordered, you no longer have to lean on the economies of scale of having a factory in a far-shore location to benefit from better labour and production costs - one of the huge opportunities of shifting away from mass production.

This absolutely changes where your factories need to be and where your teams need to be.

Q. Real-world, how close are we to extracting these types of data insights? Any examples of brands doing this well?

UnmadeOS is already able to extract a lot of these data insights right now, with real world impact in the supply chain stages. Our existing customers are already benefiting from sophisticated improvements in the supply chain because we are giving them a holistic overview of all the stages in getting product to market.

There are some other brands doing a really interesting job in this kind of area, of which Levi’s is one.

They have invested quite a lot in just one capability which is digital T shirt printing. They're able to release frequently limited capsules or collaborations, as with their latest Star Wars campaign.

This capability fostered engagement and allowed them to understand what elements worked with different audiences, informing their next rounds of collaboration.

Zara and Boohoo are obvious mentions, as fast fashion brands are very good at capturing all sorts of data about consumers because they have that direct relationship, as well as the supply chain, so they're able to bring those two things together. That is a huge area of investment for lots of clients that we talk to, how to drive more of that direct retail operation so that they understand that consumer and can start to respond to that data in a timely manner.

Scale is an important part of the puzzle. Most major fashion businesses and brands come from worlds where a 10-20% volume error between merchandising and production is acceptable and indeed priced into the bottom line. That was in a world where usage of material and the impact of waste on the countries in which you are manufacturing - and the planet at large - were rarely considered.

It’s quite obvious that that whole assumption is radically changing before everyone's eyes.

If you are not demand-driven, you’re creating waste and that now has the potential to negatively impact your brand.

With global labour costs pushed to their limits, material availability and their costs rising, lots of brands are getting squeezed in the middle. Additionally, many US and European consumers are spending more conservatively now, meaning margin is getting compressed from both ends.

Becoming demand-driven is a way to resolve that pressure, and becoming more efficient, adaptive and ultimately more sustainable, both economically but also environmentally.

I think sustainability will soon be a regulatory requirement and brands will be forced to review their operations, from environmental practices to ethical considerations around labour and working conditions. Becoming responsible will require brands to develop their environmental and also socioeconomic consciousness.

Q. How is UnmadeOS helping brands meet these challenges?

For me, what we do is we take product development off the critical path and empower flexibility.

Traditionally, if you want to make a product, you’ve been dependent on foreign development in setting up your supply chain. You're dependent on doing all of these aspects around the design.

UnmadeOS enables a demand-driven supply chain with the flexibility for clients to realise the full potential of their products and start to believe in new ways of engaging their consumers.

This flexibility allows brands to become responsive and reactive to emerging trends. If you missed the tie dye trend that came out six months ago, you don't have to wait 12 months to start to test it with your market - you could do that in a matter of weeks.

Our ability to create visual content that is photo realistic, very engaging and available to be used across your marketing is also powerful. We’re giving brands the ability to still tell their brand story and engage with their consumers in the right tone.

In our final article from the series, we’re examining ‘Connecting the Supply Chain in an On-Demand World’ - don’t miss it.