How do fashion brands design, produce, and bring to market new merchandise lines, when the tools they previously relied on have disappeared as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Their offices are closed, they can’t have in-person meetings and product review sessions, and international travel has been shut down.
A California tech firm, MakerSights, is trying to solve that problem, with its launch this week of workplace collaboration software designed specifically for the challenges facing retail brands.
They have developed what could be described as a fashion-focused answer to Microsoft
“Brands that previously had been very reliant on in-person meetings overnight have been thrust into a remote- first world, and they’re trying to cobble it together with Zoom and Excel, and spreadsheets and PDF’s,” Matt Field, co-founder and president of MakerSights said. “It’s a very difficult thing, when they’re having to manage inter-team collaboration and coordination at a global level.”
Digital Line Review, Field said, “is built for the challenge of how do you get teams to be more coordinated, and rally around the critical decisions that have to be made in the line from creation to production to assortment and allocation.”
Collaborative software and workflow management applications are a hot category that has become hotter as executives and employees across all industries are working remotely during the pandemic.
Asana, the San Francisco-based work management platform created by Facebook
It cited a June 2019 report by research firm IDC stating that “markets for collaborative applications and project and portfolio management, in aggregate, are expected to grow from $23 billion in 2020 to $32 billion in 2023.”
Asana, however, also noted that competition in the space is intense, and with rivals that include tech giants Microsoft and Google, as well as work management specialists such as Monday.com and Smartsheet
MakerSights’ strategy is to focus exclusively – for the moment at least – on creating a collaborative platform tailored for the specific needs of clothing, accessories, footwear, home and lifestyle brands, to leverage the relationships and insights it has gained through the consumer feedback platform it launched in 2017.
That platform, a product decision and consumer intelligence tool, enables brands to easily get feedback from customers about proposed new styles or products, before going to the expense of manufacturing that new merchandise, in order to make better product and merchandising decisions.. The consumer intelligence platform has been used by leading global retail brands including Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, Lululemon, and Deckers Brands.
The new platform is intended to work with the consumer intelligence platform, and expand it into the collaboration realm.
“Collaboration software is becoming more of the norm across all industries and we think the retail industry needs a very industry-specific version,” Field said.
“We see such an opportunity to create something that really fits, and is built for this industry.”
The Digital Line Review platform, Field said, was designed to make it easy for to product teams to upload and share 3-D renderings or CAD (computer-aided design) images directly from design software, as well as videos, documents and spreadsheets. It also creates an easy way for a brand to present an entire product line to dozens or even hundreds of team members, and gives them the ability to edit and group items into different assortments.
It also helps team members provide feedback on product decisions in real time, Field said.
MakerSights had been working on developing collaboration software before the pandemic began, but the onset of Covid-19 accelerated those efforts, Field said.
“It made this our top priority because the number one thing we hear from executives is how do they continue to operate their businesses, and how do they continue to meet consumer needs when they simply cannot operate as they used to,” he said.
MakerSights beta-tested the new platform with brands that were already users of the consumer intelligence platform and the response was positive, Field said.
The platform won praise from footwear manufacturer Deckers Brands, which used it to plan and develop 2021 product lines for its Hoka One One running shoes and other brands.
The platform “has drastically improved the dialogue between regions and made it more dynamic and transparent,” said Hy Rosario, Outdoor Lead, Deckers Brands, in a statement. “This type of collaboration is now central to our team and makes it easier than ever to deliver premier products that will resonate with our customers’ needs and lifestyles,” Rosario said.
A survey conducted by MakerSights of close to 300 retail executives found that 57% said the most critical challenge facing their companies was the loss of productivity following the Covid-19 shutdowns, and that 46% felt their companies needed better collaboration software.
In addition to addressing the immediate need for collaboration software created by the Covid-19 pandemic, Field believes Digital Line Review, and new ways of working more efficiently, will help brands in the new normal, when major brands will be selling more of their goods direct to consumer.
“We think there’s going to be a continued shift toward direct being a primary focus point for brands,” as stores and malls close, Field said. For brands that now are primarily wholesalers, that shift will mean they increasingly will be competing online against smaller businesses with more agile supply chains, he said.
Those smaller chains often “are able to get goods from first design to on site and on shelf in 3-6 months,” Field said. If the larger brands “cannot create a much more agile and responsive development cycle, they will fall behind,” he said.
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