PLM’s Next Step: Can Maturing Tech Foster Fashion Innovation?


As of Thursday, April 16, 2015

High-profile fashion brands and apparel companies such as VF Corp., Billabong International Limited, Jerry Leigh and Stony Apparel Corp. all use product lifecycle management software to design clothes and bring them to market, but PLM vendors hope to make their software do even more.

They hope that PLM will become a platform that will serve as the center for information and systems in a business enterprise such as planning and forecasting systems, supply chain management, and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.

It’s part of the discussion going on at fashion tech and PLM conferences, according to PLM vendors and some bloggers who focus on PLM such as Oleg Shilovitsky, who is based in Newton, Mass. On his blog site, PLM Think Tank, he wrote earlier this month that a maturing technology such as PLM might change the way companies develop products.

“PLM today is strongly associated with change. The value proposition of PLM was built on company transformation and improvement,” Shilovitsky wrote in a blog titled “PLM Implementations and Organizational Change,” which said, “PLM software vendors will have to innovate by making their products more flexible, smarter and adaptable to data and processes.”

For Mark Burstein, PLM is changing in the fashion business because it has developed into a tool that every fashion worker can use. Burstein is the president of sales, marketing, research and development for NGC Software, which is headquartered in Miami and maintains an office in Los Angeles.

PLM has grown far beyond its origins as a tool for mechanical engineers when it was introduced as a product-development tool for the automotive and aerospace industries years ago. It’s a platform that many kinds of software can be plugged into. It’s not just for tech people. It’s for salespeople. It’s for logistics people. It’s for designers, Burstein said. He plans to spread that message in fashion circles because he and many other tech executives maintain that fashion is lagging behind other businesses in adopting technology—even in an age when most people have a smartphone and personal computer.

“[PLM] is how people communicate internally and externally,” Burstein said. “When people look at PLM as a platform, it has the feeling of a social network. All data is shared—in one place. It is Web-based. It is collaborative. It is designed to have people work together in groups.”

He maintains that PLM will save companies a lot of money because the software can put a company’s entire staff on the same page.

“The key is making sure that product is made properly and produced and delivered on time,” Burstein said. “It eliminates unanticipated costs.” A majority of chargebacks from big retailers are a consequence of late deliveries and poor quality, he said.

Heath Wells of Los Angeles–based B2B e-commerce software provider NuOrder, which works with PLM, said many fashion companies try to organize their operations around spreadsheet programs. Working with 1990s-era technology might save some money in the short term, but these companies will lose big in the long run.

“Apparel companies are so busy putting out fires and chasing their tails that they often don’t have the luxury to plan forward. As hard as it is, they need to take a moment and look at the ROI new technology will bring,” Wells said.

The cost of a PLM system can range from less than $50,000 to more than $1 million, Burstein said. “A rule of thumb is that if a company has less than five designers and less than 10 suppliers, PLM will become a burden to a multi-functional staff that does not have many layers of communication or decision making,” Burstein said. “Once there’s more than five designers, it’s almost impossible to keep everyone on the same page with a variety of spreadsheets and emails.”

The communication functions offered by PLM can provide order and clarity for bigger companies, Burstein said. “Internal teams, design development, suppliers—they know what fabrics are being used, what colors were approved, the status of production and the exact location of containers that are in shipment.”