Creating Aigle Supply Chain in Fashion Industry

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International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, Vol. 32, 2004 Issue 8, pp367-376

by Martin Christopher, Robert Lowson & Helen Peck ABSTRACT Fashion markets are synonymous with rapid change and, as a result, commercial success or failure in those markets is largely determined by the organisation’s flexibility and responsiveness. Responsiveness is characterised by short time-to-market, the ability to scale up (or down) quickly and the rapid incorporation of consumer preferences into the design process. In this paper it is argued that conventional organisational structures and forecast-driven supply chains are not adequate to meet the challenges of volatile and turbulent demand which typify fashion markets today. Instead, the requirement is for the creation of an agile organisation embedded within an agile supply chain INTRODUCTION Fashion markets have long attracted the interest of researchers. More often the focus of their work was the psychology and sociology of fashion and with the process by which fashions were adopted across populations (see for example Wills and Midgley, 1973). In parallel with this, a body of work has developed seeking to identify cycles in fashions (e.g. Carman, 1966). Much of this earlier work was intended to create insights and even tools to help improve the demand forecasting of fashion products. However, the reality that is now gradually being accepted both by those who work in the industry and those who study it, is that the demand for fashion products cannot be forecast. Instead, we need to recognise that fashion markets are complex open systems that frequently demonstrate high levels of ‘chaos’. In such conditions managerial effort may be better expended on devising strategies


International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, Vol. 32, 2004

and structures that enable products to be created, manufactured and delivered on the basis of ‘real-time’ demand. This is the context that has spawned the emerging domain of the agile supply chain (See for example, Harrison, Christopher & van Hoek, 1999, Christopher & Towill, 2001) and the philosophy of Quick Response (Lowson, King & Hunter 1999). 1. THE NATURE OF FASHION MARKETS Fashion is a broad term which typically encompasses any product or market where there is an element of style which is likely to be short-lived. We have defined fashion markets as typically exhibiting the following characteristics: 1. Short life-cycles – the product is often ephemeral, designed to capture the mood of the moment: consequently, the period in which it will be saleable is likely to be very short and seasonal, measured in months or even weeks. 2. High volatility – demand for these products is rarely stable or linear. It may be influenced by the vagaries of weather, films, or even by pop stars and footballers. 3. Low predictability – because of the volatility of demand it is extremely difficult to forecast with any accuracy even total demand within a period, let alone week-by-week or item-by-item demand. 4. High impulse purchasing – many buying decisions by consumers for these products are made at the point of purchase. In other words, the shopper when confronted with the product is stimulated to buy it, hence the critical need for ‘availability’. Today’s fashion market place is highly competitive and the constant need to ‘refresh’ product ranges means that there is an inevitable move by many retailers to extend the number of ‘seasons’ i.e. the frequency with which the entire merchandise within a store is changed. In extreme cases, typified by the successful fashion retailer Zara, there might be twenty seasons in a year. The implications of this trend for supply chain management are clearly profound.


International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, Vol. 32, 2004

The combined effect of these pressures clearly provides a challenge to logistics management....
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