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STUDY: Patagonia streamlines product development

By Retail Technology | Wednesday January 8 2014

Specialist collaboration software improves time to market, management efficiency and analytical insight for outdoor apparel retailer

Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company, is using the latest in cloud-based product development workflow tools to speed time to market, collaborate with vendors, reduce waste and innovate with analytics.

The California-based company recently implemented FastFit360 software from Visuals in Motion to specifically enhance sample management and tracking processes. 

The software provider said users send images, video files and comments to their own secure site within FastFit360, communicating in much the same way they do in popular social media applications. Images and video files of physical samples, for example, can be annotated with instructions for revisions, such as moving a zipper, changing a hemline or adjusting the curve of a collar.

“Using FastFit360, we’re able to have meaningful and productive digital ‘conversations’ between our headquarters and our global supply chain,” said Valerie Arnold, director of business operations for Patagonia.

Product development analytics

FastFit360’s analytical tools provide Patagonia with actionable insights into product development lead times and vendor performance. Like many apparel businesses, the company was frustrated by a lack of historical data on lead times and limited visibility into the seasonal status of sample making across its vendor base.

It also needed much better visibility into vendor performance on critical metrics such as sample-making speed and the time prototypes spend in-transit to Patagonia for review. This important information, which is essential to perform accurate vendor rating, can be difficult for apparel manufacturers to measure, given the complexities of international shipping, country-specific holidays and individual factory shutdown periods, as well as a number of other variables.

Using real-time data feeds from the cloud software, FastFit360 gives Patagonia the ability to generate dashboard reports on a wide array of metrics by season and by vendor. These metrics include average number of prototypes per style; number of dropped styles; prototype transit time; sample turnaround time, and average development time by factory among others. 

Using vendor rating and analytical tools, Patagonia also can view, download and print reports on development and pre-production status by season and by factory.

Faster speed to market

Patagonia was able to implement the software quickly with its 30 in-house product developers. And most training time was devoted to helping users understand the system’s style hierarchy, including how to establish styles and manage iterations throughout the sampling process.

“Training was extraordinarily minimal because the solution is so user-friendly,” Arnold commented. “FastFit360 has been one of my favourite implementations because it’s been so easy.”

Patagonia piloted FastFit360 with five global vendors and then rolled out the system with its entire supplier base of approximately 60 global producers. Because of the cloud- based architecture of the solution, there was no capital investment required in servers. Patagonia and its suppliers access the software via the internet through a secure, password-protected URL.

A primary objective for Patagonia is to eliminate at least one prototype from its product development cycle. Traditionally, Patagonia has averaged three prototypes per style, with each sample requiring approximately six weeks of cycle time. These weeks typically are spent communicating changes to vendors, confirming the vendor’s understanding of necessary revisions, producing and shipping the new sample, and reviewing the new sample.

With FastFit360, all communications about revisions occur digitally until the sample is approved for shipping. And communications are sent and received in real-time via users’ mobile devices or desktops, where sample updates and review requests appear much as they would in a social media interface. As a result, the global vendor has not only written instructions but also visual information to serve as a guide for making changes, leaving less risk for errors due to cultural differences or language barriers.

“We’re really leveraging FastFit360’s imagery to reduce our prototype iterations and to improve overall communications,” added Arnold. “We can annotate everything appropriately on the designs – it’s great. For the users, it’s similar to communicating with Facebook. It’s very intuitive.”

Improved communications

The intuitive information flow within FastFit360 also has helped Patagonia achieve another major goal. The company has successfully migrated more business communications away from individual email accounts and into product development software accessible by multiple members of the team. The firm’s old reliance on a maze of emails between individuals caused interruptions, confusion and delays when there were staff changes, leaves of absence and even holidays.

“Now our data is always associated with the style, so our people don’t have to search through their inboxes or do hours of research to determine the status of development,” Arnold said. “We knew we really needed to give developers a tool to use in communicating with the factories. It was a desperate need, especially with all of the inefficient email and so much time spent organising inboxes and files on the network.”

Environmental benefits

Patagonia’s use of technology, from product lifecycle management (PLM) to supply chain management and now sample management, plays a significant role in how the company lives up to its mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”.

By removing just one prototype from its product development process, Patagonia eliminates the need to air ship a garment, as well as all of the jet fuel, pollution and packaging associated with international transportation. Every mile a physical sample has to travel adds to Patagonia’s carbon footprint, which the firm is committed to minimising.

Use of FastFit360 for 'e-sampling' and sample management is also reducing the amount of paperwork and packaging associated with accepting and processing physical samples at company headquarters. Arnold concluded: “It’s amazing how much waste we are now able to avoid.”

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