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Leveraging PLM Software to Grow Your Fashion Startup

At a Glance:

Fashion Startups: E-Commerce vs Brick and Mortar  

Why Fashion Startups Should Embrace PLM

Nifty Genius Finds Success with Backbone PLM 

The Transition to PLM


The Backbone Advantage

Fashion startups looking to streamline design and development processes should invest in product development software. Often referred to as Product Lifecycle Management, PLM solutions were once seen as a luxury item that only the industry giants could afford. Smaller fashion brands resorted to manual product development tools (or a chaotic system of spreadsheets) that ultimately hindered productivity and collaboration.

Today, dynamic, cloud-based platforms have evened the score, and PLM software has evolved to benefit organizations of all sizes. With SaaS solutions becoming more prominent throughout the fashion and apparel sector, PLM is a must-have for any fashion startup. 

Related Article: How to Secure Funding for Your Fashion Startup

Fashion Startups: E-Commerce vs Brick and Mortar 

Fashion startups have many obstacles to face. Brand purpose is expected, technology is necessary to survive, and creativity is key to profitability. Beyond that, early-phase fashion brands are left to debate which direction to take their business: e-commerce vs brick and mortar. 

According to Fortune, more than 12,000 retail stores closed their doors in 2020 after a turbulent year fueled by the global pandemic. While retailers big and small continue to shutter their doors, digitally native brands are looking to expand into physical spaces. Going digital seems like the obvious choice for any burgeoning fashion startup; however, e-commerce represents only 18 percent of global retail sales. That number is predicted to increase each year, but brick and mortar still serves a unique purpose to provide an unparalleled customer experience that contributes to brand equity. 

Although retail stores can’t depend on the foot traffic they once did to survive, the touch and feel experience of traditional retail is hard to replace through e-commerce platforms. Fashion brands are not forfeiting their in-person storefronts, but evolving their business model to attract and communicate with customers in a new way.  

For example, the industry has seen an uptick in online orders with in-store pickup to combat shipping fees — the number one reason consumers abandon shopping carts. Some 68 percent of consumers have made purchases following this click-and-collect format. Consumers love the convenience of online shopping but expect the same ease when receiving products. Buying online and picking up in-store combines elements of traditional retail and e-commerce, enabling faster access to orders and molding consumers’ shopping habits to direct them where to buy.

Why Fashion Startups Should Embrace PLM 

The battle of e-commerce vs brick and mortar isn’t always so copacetic, so budding fashion startups should explore all avenues of success. As a fashion brand, your organization is expected to create new products and increase your speed to market; thus, fashion PLM is vital to succeeding in the current retail environment.

For fashion startups, PLM software allows your brand to remain nimble and make fast-acting decisions. The right platform paves the way to test the market with a seamless sample stage and on-demand manufacturing. To flourish in a startup landscape, your brand needs a birds-eye view of the entire product development cycle, real-time data that can be shared with suppliers, and creative control over every aspect of your product design. 

A system like Backbone PLM allows your fashion startup to do just that, providing a platform to innovate, design, and develop products at digital speed, all while scaling for growth. Adopting Backbone PLM will increase speed to market with product development tools that streamline your workflow, save time, and reduce errors. Reporting tools provide instant access to dynamic product data and ensure your brand drives revenue through improved collaboration and data-backed decision making. 

Related Article: Static Data vs Dynamic Data

Case Study: Nifty Genius Finds Success with Backbone PLM 

Founded in 2015, Nifty Genius was born out of a love for fashion and frustration with how underserved modern men’s clothing was. Nifty Genius looks to fulfill the need for men’s fashion with thoughtful products that have value woven into every stitch. The vision sparked the introduction of The Curated Menswear Experience — an agile direct-to-consumer collection serving distinguished and informed gentlemen with quality, craftsmanship, and quiet luxury. Simply put, Nifty Genius produces well-made garments that are treated like heirlooms to be passed down to future generations of fashion connoisseurs. 

What makes this organization unique is its disposition to venture into uncharted waters and roll out a go-to-market strategy that other brands were unwilling to do. Nifty Genius saw the costing model as it existed in the industry and realized it was flawed. Most modern fashion brands bypass the wholesale model altogether, but Nifty Genius developed a hybrid concept with a one-on-one customer experience that mimicked brick and mortar while maintaining a strong online presence.  

“We selected 75 to 100 stores that could serve our customers and provide a healthy distribution point,” said Nifty Genius co-founder, James Costa. At the same time, Nifty Genius recognized the additional lift Backbone provided by enabling a small team to manage 75 SKUs per season. “We see Backbone as the Shopify of the PLM industry, and with this technology, it is possible to sell the brand and reach millions of people.” 

According to Costa, “Manual product development tools bogged us down and created an unproductive environment. Backbone allows the brand to be more productive and get to market faster with fewer barriers to entry.” A dynamic, cloud-based PLM like Backbone disrupts the market and adds value to every product from concept to creation. “Backbone helped streamline every step of the development process, which was crucial,” he said. 

While fast fashion flooded the market and influenced shopping habits, Nifty Genius believed in the impact of sustainable labeling. The brand used an Ultra Suede material made from plant-based textiles and recycled poly to limit the waste put into the environment. Sourcing these high-end sustainable fabrics from Japan is a costly process; however, the value delivered to e-commerce and wholesale retailers is more than enough to improve profit margins and provide a greater sense of confidence for customers searching for thoughtful products.

“If you’re relevant in the market, you can take these risks and be successful,” said Costa. 

Backbone allows brands like Nifty Genius to optimize and track sustainability efforts, meet consumer demand for ethically-derived products, and effectively communicate best practices with suppliers. With Backbone’s help, Nifty Genius has clear visibility to compliance records and approved material lists to reduce its carbon footprint and stress on the environment.

Costa elaborated, saying, “The things we do today affect the decisions we make tomorrow — both as brands and as consumers.” 

The fashion industry shares a responsibility to be intentional regarding sustainability. Through data-backed decisions on consumption and cross-functional communication with suppliers, Nifty Genius adds value to every product, reducing sample cycles to help mitigate over-production and inventory loss. 

The Transition to PLM 

While the transition to apparel PLM isn’t as seamless for all fashion startups as it was for Nifty Genius, Backbone PLM is designed to help fashion brands of all sizes work smarter, faster, and at scale. Cloud-based fashion PLM is a fairly new concept compared to traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, which means it isn’t defined by the weakened infrastructure of legacy software. Modern PLM solutions offer an intuitive workspace for design and development teams to actively embrace and grow in. 

If your fashion startup is reeling from manual data entry, sampling errors, or a lack of transparency with vendors, PLM software is a single source of truth to improve your brand’s development strategy and decision-making process.

Without a system like Backbone PLM, human error is far too common, especially for fashion startups that manage product data through email correspondence or Excel sheets. Your fashion brand can automatically account for typos, data override, and misplaced product specs; however, the real gamble involved is the risk of diminishing productivity and creative prowess. 

Every second your fashion startup spends scouring emails, updating spreadsheets, or uploading duplicate tech packs is time that could be spent enhancing your product design and increasing your speed to market. For newer fashion brands working with limited resources and tight budgets, this lack of efficiency can break your business. 

Backbone’s cloud-based PLM reduces human error for fashion startups, automating communication and organizing product specs that translate real-time data throughout the entire system. Team members are instantly notified of any updates, and version history is clearly labeled so products can be edited or reused for future styles. 

Related Article: PLM vs ERP: What’s the Difference? 

PLM and ROI 

Fashion brands were expected to pay thousands of dollars to purchase the licensing for traditional PLM software, including implementation fees, training, data migration, and so on. Implementing legacy PLM software would also take months and require IT involvement to get up and running. 

Thankfully, with modern PLM tools and the emergence of SaaS solutions like Backbone, customers pay an affordable monthly fee to utilize the PLM, reducing implementation costs and onboarding time. For example, fashion startups adopting their first PLM can compile product information, onboard with Backbone, and be ready to create tech packs within a day or two.

A flexible solution like Backbone will grant your brand up to 10 users for only $199 per user per month. The low upfront costs provide a tremendous value to smaller fashion startups looking to test the waters of PLM software. 

The price directly correlates with your brand’s projected return on investment (ROI). Once your brand understands how each Backbone feature leads to cost savings, product growth, and increased revenue, then you can determine the value PLM brings to your fashion startup. 

A modern PLM software lowers development costs and increases productivity company-wide. Design and development teams can build accurate tech packs, reduce manual data entry, and optimize sampling cycles to push products into production faster. If you look at the hours team members lose looking for lost product information, correcting user errors, and inputting product data by hand, you will quickly discover a telling figure for concrete ROI.  

On an operational level, we’ve discussed apparel PLM helping your fashion startup usher products to market faster, improve efficiency, and support organizational growth through additional channels or markets. Consider these aspects and the potential your fashion startup has to grow with an established PLM software in place. 

The Backbone Advantage

If your fashion startup is still in its infancy stage, PLM software allows your brand to keep track of product details in one consolidated system. These details include design sketches, measurements, materials, feedback, version history, production schedules, approvals, and more. Once your brand starts to grow, this information increases along with it. That means more designers, styles, suppliers, and much more data. 

When implementing fashion PLM, smaller startups have an advantage over larger brands and an easier path to grow. Major fashion brands are typically left with legacy PLM systems that have run for nearly a decade and lack the latest integrations needed to streamline product development tasks. However, because these traditional PLM models were so expensive and difficult to adopt, most fashion big-wigs are hesitant to replace these archaic systems. 

That is where the opportunity lies for fashion startups. Adoption is low for bigger brands and efficiency is hindered for product developers, but as a smaller team, you don’t need to tie yourself down with an old-fashioned suite of complicated systems. For fashion startups, Backbone PLM guarantees your brand’s design sketches are well displayed, creating product specs is effortless, and tech packs are shared in just a few clicks.

PLM with a Purpose 

For emergent fashion startups, purpose-driven brands are more impactful than transactional brands. According to a report by Time Marketing, purpose-driven brands show 60 percent greater customer engagement and 50 percent greater employee satisfaction compared to traditional fashion brands. The report also showed 16 percent more high-growth sales volume over the past three years. 

Customer satisfaction and company performance are essential, but fashion startups should avoid adopting an identity that is not their own. Whether you want to operate a digital-only business or a healthy balance of digital, brick and mortar, and wholesale, listen to the market and understand where your business is going. When it comes to SKU count and product development, embrace dynamic technology that will give your brand a pivotal edge over the competition. 

Backbone PLM takes a more agile approach compared to traditional fashion PLM. Your brand will expect the predominant features of most product development tools but in a much more accessible, user-friendly platform for designers’ and developers’ daily tasks. 

To learn why Backbone PLM is the better solution for smaller brands and fashion startups, refer to our selection of case studies, blogs, and customer reviews.

Ready to see what Backbone PLM can do for your fashion startup?

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