It looked to become one of the greatest apparel success stories of recent years, but in June 2020 online fashion giant BooHoo was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The accusations that would launch a modern slavery investigation under the National Crime Agency included factory workers being paid less than half the legal minimum wage, and a flurry of allegations that workers were being forced to break Covid rules. Under constant fire, BooHoo proffered that it knew little about what went on in the shadowy depths of its supply chain, whilst ardently asserting its commitment to “delivering the highest standards of ethics, compliance, and transparency.”
Scoffed at by an outraged national media, share prices tumbled and crucial stakeholders were lost. The PR dent was a painful one, and BooHoo found itself joining the joyless list of how to faceplant a business.
A Complex Situation
The messiness of the situation, which is far from resolved, laid bare the vast complexities of today’s retail industry. With so many stakeholders involved - and opportunities for at best miscommunication, and at worst exploitation - it is understandable that the apparel industry is feeling jittery. After all, nobody wants to see their company suffer due to activities going on behind closed doors, in a factory that belongs to someone else.
Doing the right thing is, it would seem, becoming an increasing challenge. With companies searching for new ways to safeguard their business, the term ‘PLM’ is rapidly becoming a hot topic.
What is PLM?
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) began its existence as a way of neatening the engineering product journey. From idea to shelf, the aim was to ensure that products were designed and created with efficiency, accountability, and awareness. To achieve this, the emphasis was placed squarely upon clarity and visibility at key stages in the supply chain, meaning that participants at all levels could understand what was happening when, where, and how.
A Digital Fingerprint
In recent years, this exercise in sense and logic has been expanded to encompass the entire product story. Today’s PLM integrates crucial data streams such as customer service, marketing, suppliers, and partner channels. In other words, it creates a digital fingerprint of each product line. As such, companies can not only gain a much deeper insight into their supply chains, they can also have documentation to authenticate the process.
How does PLM Help with Compliance?
Compliance matters. Aside from the legal implications, consumers care deeply about the social identity of the brands that they ascribe to. As BooHoo demonstrates, simply making a statement about ethics is not enough. Rather, it means ensuring compliance throughout the supply chain as a whole. PLM can be conceptualised as a real-time narrative compiled of a vast array of scorecards that make the supply chain visible. These include reports from auditors, photographic evidence, GPS verification, and written statements. This gives retailers an instant window into the activities of their supply chain, enabling crucial aspects of compliance to be articulated and closely monitored.
PLM also means that rapid response is possible. In the case of BooHoo’s supply chain, compliance rules were changing overnight. With the country gripped by the uncertainty of the Covid pandemic, there was deep confusion regarding how to keep orders flowing without flouting rules. Some factories chose to simply disregard the advice, whilst others made instant changes, affecting their output. With accurate PLM software, BooHoo could have instantly seen the status of its suppliers, including the many red flags being issued by both the Health and Safety Executive and auditors. This visibility would have enabled the company to immediately take control of the situation, ensure the safety of employees, protect its image, and reassure consumers.
How Does PLM Help Auditing?
PLM software allows the user to create auditing templates. These can be adjusted as compliance requirements change, such as when minimum wage bands are altered, or health and safety rules are updated. As such, every company along the supply chain has a clear understanding of what they should and should not be doing, and the supply chain in its entirety can be upheld to the same standards.
Power Through Brand Vision
Above all, PLM enables brands to ensure that their publicised vision is clarified along the entire supply chain. This removes much of the uncertainty regarding ethics and working practices that plagues the contemporary apparel market. The PLM methodology means that the retailer can be overt about their stance on issues such as compliance, and can communicate this effortlessly to suppliers. This is useful for satisfying external auditors and observers, whilst laying down the rules in concrete.
A Message of Hope
In today’s complex world, sending a clear message is more important than ever before. When BooHoo made its claim that it was not responsible for the various breaches by one of its suppliers because it had no idea that it was working with that supplier, more than a few eyebrows were raised. The truth will take some time to unravel. However, for everyone else within the industry, the knowledge that the situation could have easily been prevented with highly accessible and usable software should offer comfort. With PLM, companies can remain calm and in control, even in the most turbulent times.
At Option Systems, we understand the complex nature of apparel supply chains. Our software is designed to offer the highest levels of protection and visibility, keeping your integrity secure. For more information about safeguarding your company whilst improving efficiency, please get in touch today.