20 January 2019: How to improve lead times, with New Look

Charlie Bradley Ross Wednesday, 12 December 2018

While being "fast" is not something we advocate for responsible designers, there is a vast amount to be learnt from the way that New Look operates and the success they've seen. And if some time-saving operational tips would help you, as an ethical outfit, to grow and survive in this fast-paced environment, we think it's vital to share.

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Tuesday Dec 11th, 2018 - 16:00pm
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The relationship between the buyer and supplier has never been more complicated than it is today. As the internet grows in importance, the balance of power is shifting between fashion buyers and their suppliers. Jo Byrne, head of buying at UK fast-fashion retailer New Look, advises on how to best leverage the relationship to improve lead times and efficiencies.

While being "fast" is not something we advocate for responsible designers, there is a vast amount to be learnt from the way that New Look operates. And if some time-saving operational tips would help you, as an ethical outfit, to grow and survive in this fast-paced environment, we think it's vital to share.

Speaking at the Fashion SVP sourcing event in London, Jo Byrne, head of buying at UK fast-fashion retailer New Look, explains that the rise of the internet means the buyer "is no longer king." She noted that,

"suppliers no longer 'need' the retailers to get their product to market. That relationship has definitely evolved. We [buyers] really have to adapt and ask ourselves what we want from that relationship."

Nevertheless, good supplier-buyer relationships are more important than ever before. Adding that careful selection of suppliers and trusting them to do their job will help brands and retailers achieve the "holy grail of speed, flexibility and price" – fundamental for business success in the apparel industry today.

Key Takeaways

1. Faster time to market

This starts at the very beginning of the process. From trend prediction, design and fabric selection, through the fitting, sealing and production, even getting the product to store and uploading images to websites, everything needs to be as efficient as possible. Working more closely with the supplier base is an essential consideration in speed improvement.

  • Make inspirational trips with your supplier so that new designs and ideas can immediately be put into work.
  • If you have fabrics and trims on the floor, you can start the season trialling and scaling up those options as the season goes on.
  • Include suppliers in your weekly and monthly design meetings so that you can discuss how your range is developing and ways to make the range stronger. Collaboration is key.
  • Suppliers can also self-seal. These options are becoming more standard. If suppliers are self-sealing, you can shave two weeks off your lead time, again giving you that speed that is critical to get to market.
  • In China, New Look had a supplier delivering directly to store, "which enabled us to get those really quick reactions and then scale them quickly for that market, which satisfied the customer and made us more profitable."

2. Flexibility & real-time reactions

"We are a little bit fickle in the fashion industry; we change our minds, fast. Today it might all be about midi-dresses and trainers, tomorrow it might be about tonal dressing. Who knows what the new colour might be this season? We need to be able to change our minds. We need that flexibility and that's really hard when you're trying to marry that with being faster and more price competitive. It is about finding a balance, which is why planning and capacity planning is important."

Have yarns and fabrics on the floor to trade into – and even blank garments to react quickly to trends. You can quickly add slogans or react to something topical in the media giving your brand more personality and credibility in the market. New Look did this with blank denim jeans - to add slashes, finishes and washes and turn them around in two weeks and get them to store.

Share your sales data with your suppliers. If you can book capacity up to a year in advance and with past sales data, you will know the mix that you want from fashion to the basic products. When you share that information, it gives the option to buy more product but also the flexibility. So, plan the capacity in advance and therefore get the blocks ready in advance, then colour the plates to a season after receiving information from the catwalk.

Use spectral [colour] data to reduce the lead time further, by getting suppliers to self-approve. Don't send lab dips around the world wasting two-to-three weeks doing so. You must trust that supplier to get it right. Often spectral data is more efficient than the human eye.

3. Plan ahead & trust

Using fabrics on the floor trial emerging trends more quickly by seeing good-performing styles and getting them into stock more rapidly for the customer. To improve your hit rate you need to do the research, know the trends, spot new opportunities, get to know your customer, run customer events, focus on his/her interests, as well as being focused on your product. Listen to your customer, their needs, their insecurities, what they're looking for and determine how you can tap into those emotions to improve your sales. Trial the trend and scale winning styles more quickly.

Make sure your supplier has those relationships with their mills and trim suppliers. Focus on fewer suppliers that have a meaningful role in your business. Focus on critical fabrications to ensure numerous styles can be made from one fabric to make you more agile. This will also help with relationships with mills and suppliers and give you a price advantage.

4. Price

As well as flexibility and speed, price matters – to the supplier, the buyer and the customer too.

"Consumers are becoming savvier when it comes to purchasing decisions. It's less important that something is cheap but more important it is great quality, that they are able to identify well with the brand, and it has been sourced sustainably."

The final price relies on some ingredients and requires both the buyer and supplier to be experts in their areas. A supplier needs to focus on approving, fitting and producing efficiently. The retailer must focus on range building, styling, marketing, and customer experience. The common goal is the customer. Ultimately, this comes down to trust, so it is important to build those relationships with your key suppliers so your business is their business and both are respectful of each others expertise.

5. Know your customer

Research, listen, trial & scale.

While many buyers rely on trend sites, catwalk shows, street trends and social media, the real research needs to be closer to home. Sitting in fitting rooms and overhearing conversations about a product and watching how people co-ordinate garments and style them delivers a far more compelling lesson. It's as essential for suppliers to understand your customer as it is for you. Once they know your market, they become more integral to your business. Make the trips together, collaborate through design and sourcing processes, research together and spend time doing customer events and groups. Involve them in every step of your operation. If you let your suppliers work closely with you, they will give you endless opportunities and options to trial.

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