At NGC Panorama: Marauding Garmentos, Millennials and the Fast-Fashion Fallout

Are you a “marauding garmento?” If so, it’s the end of the road for you.

That was one of the memorable quotes and highlights from NGC Software’s recent Panorama User Conference, which drew attendees and customers from the United States and around the world over a four-day period in Ft. Lauderdale.

Dr. Martin Regalia, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opened the User Conference with a high-level view of the state of the U.S. economy, along with his predictions — “growth, but slow growth.” He drew laughs when he noted that “anyone who asks an economist for investment advice deserves what they get.”

Paula Rosenblum, managing partner for Retail Systems Research, put on a futurist hat as well when she shared five predictions for the future of retail, touching on a wide range of topics: fast fashion, near-sourcing, the in-store experience and omnichannel profitability.

Fast fashion rewrites the rules of retail
How disruptive is fast fashion? Fast fashion, which “can’t get much cheaper,” according to Rosenblum, is drawing business away from traditional, established players such as Macy’s, Kohl’s and Abercrombie & Fitch, and will be more disruptive to retail over the long term than Amazon has been.

Given the rapid cycle times necessary to deliver on the fast fashion promise of always new and always fresh, Rosenblum believes that companies will move apparel production closer to demand, citing millennial sentiment, positive reaction to locally sourced products, greater social awareness, and the recent West Coast port strike as influencing factors. “I would love to see tax breaks for companies that make products in this country,” she says. “There are limits to a free-market economy.”

And if you’re sick of the term “millennial,” try on “cybrid” for size (courtesy of Walter Loeb). This next generation, says Rosenblum, is always online but also enjoys the social aspects of shopping in physical stores. The notion that millennials don’t care about privacy and security is a fantasy, she says of the debate over in-store shopper tracking. “Millennials might broadcast everything on social media and Facebook, but they want to be in charge of what they share,” she explains.

Running with the retail rebels
Who comes next after the millennials? It’s Generation Z, and according to Paula Levy and Jerry Inman of Demand Worldwide, they’re the “retail rebels,” and they present a fresh set of challenges to fashion brands and retailers.

“Companies have to start thinking from the outside in, rather than from the inside out — it has to be from the consumer’s perspective,” said Levy and Inman in challenging conference attendees. “The digital revolution is the biggest environmental change in history, and it profoundly affects the way that Gen Z learns, educates and interacts.”

Even the physical makeup of Gen Z consumers is different. “When you scan a Gen Z’er’s brain, it shows an ability to change and respond to the environment.” The bottom line: companies must adapt to today’s new always-on, always-connected consumers in order to survive.

In order to sell to millennials, Gen Z, baby boomers or any consumers, of course, companies have to design and bring products to market — and much of the NGC conference focused on sourcing strategies, design efficiencies and the intersections between technology and fashion design and production.

The end of the marauding garmentos
Colin Browne, VF Corp. vice president and managing director of product supply, spoke to the need for the highest possible sourcing standards when he told attendees, “It’s time for the end of the marauding garmentos.” After decades of swashbuckling apparel invaders breaking into far-flung countries with tantalizingly low-cost labor just to quickly jump ship in favor of an even cheaper new locale, global fashion companies now are beginning to rethink their strategies, given consumers’ greater access to information and devastating high-profile disasters such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013.

“Transparency has completely changed our industry. All of a sudden there are no secrets anymore,” he said. “Millennials have different expectations about how we should be treating workers fairly and producing things closer to home,” he said, noting that “we have a responsibility to do it properly.”

Much of the conference focused on the nuts and bolts of technology implementations in PLM, supply chain management and ERP, and panel discussions focused on what went right — and wrong — in software rollouts.

According to Fred Isenberg, NGC president of professional services, that was exactly the intent of the conference. “We aimed to create “a setting for honest, open conversations with no-holds-barred sessions on software implementations.”

Panel discussions with NGC customers ranged from the topics that keep CEOs up at night to the challenges of rolling out complex software. Among the candid admissions:
• “We can’t afford to make a mistake. Everything we make has to be right.” Kurt Kreiser, Evy of California
• “Implementation success comes in small bites.” KC Tolliver, Summit Resource International

ERP in 90 days and a record year at Sport Obermeyer
Gregory Bannister, COO for alpine skiwear company Sport Obermeyer, drew a collective gasp from the audience when he said that the company had implemented ERP and warehouse management systems in three months – but the approach his team took, which involved 100+ hour weeks and a single —minded focus — doesn’t fit every situation.

Bannister led a complete technology refresh at Obermeyer that also included the rollout of new PLM and supply chain management systems and said, “The biggest obstacle to overcome was the mindset, ‘we’ve always done it this way.’”

Bannister and his team persisted, though, and it has paid big dividends for Sport Obermeyer. According to Bannister, Obermeyer set all-time records for shipping in 2014, saw 25 percent more re-orders and improved margins more than 10 percent — making 2014 the most profitable year in the company’s 67-year history. 

This report was compiled by Apparel’s editorial team.
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