Of course, there are many things that traditional PLM vendors have in common with those in the fashion industry. Managing data, searching, viewing, sharing, collaborating, and other areas are generally supported in some way by most PLM solutions. However, there are many areas where the fashion industry has unique requirements for PLM. That is why there are a host of niche vendors that provide PLM solutions to the fashion and retail industries.
Some of the PLM vendors that specifically serve the fashion industry are: Yunique PLM, Lectra Fashion, Visual 2000, WFX Cloud PLM, BlueCherry by CGS, and more. One might wonder what larger PLM vendors are doing to support this dynamic industry. Larger vendors such as PTC and Dassault have also built solutions to support the unique needs of users in the fashion industry. However, there are certain aspects of the fashion industry that are very different from the traditional automotive and aerospace industries that make it challenging to use traditional methods.
The fashion industry, and many other retail industries require a level of speed that traditional PLM solutions do not necessarily support. Think of the minimum level of speed you need to deliver fashion, and you will have some idea of what this requires: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. All of these seasons require new and unique fashions that the public can buy during a very short time-frame. No one buys new cars or lawnmowers for every season (unless you are Jay Leno); we expect these products to last many years.
Most large PLM vendors come from a legacy of supporting large 3D CAD models. PTC, Dassault Systemes, Siemens PLM, and Autodesk, all provide comprehensive 3D CAD solutions. Pro/Engineer, or Wildfire, or Creo from PTC; CATIA, or Solidworks from Dassault Systemes; NX, or SolidEdge from SiemensPLM; and AutoCAD, or Fusion, or Inventor from Autodesk. Supporting complex 3D CAD model assemblies with a PDM system during extended product design is not exactly the same as supporting a group of people using Adobe Illustrator that must coordinate very quickly with sales, retail, materials, stores and others around 2D information.
PDM BOM Legacy
Another key feature of fashion PLM is the technical specification package (Tech Pack). This can be considered a BOM for the creation of fashion items (sort of), but it is much more. The Tech Pack must include illustrations, measurements, target specs, sample materials/fabrics, shrinkage and other tests, plus many more details. This file is used as the garment proceeds through the design process, and people will potentially add/change information all along the way: the pattern maker, the designer, during fitting, potential manufacturer, and so forth. This file must be put through a change control process like any complex BOM, and a very flexible workflow must be supported. Traditional PDM systems do not always support this kind of file or processes out of the box.
Traditionally, the larger PLM providers have provided expensive solutions with many features that are often overkill for the small fashion shop. Today there are many lower priced solutions that support fashion without providing too many features at too high cost. There continues to be a high level of interest in replacing inefficient Excel files with a good solid PLM system in the fashion industry. The future for PLM is strong in the fashion industry, with 63% of apparel companies saying they plan to further invest in PLM technology this year.
Today we see many of the traditional CAD/PLM vendors providing strong solutions to fill gaps in their solution mix to support the fashion industry. PTC, for example, has a solution called Windchill FlexPLM that does an excellent job of supporting this industry. We will likely see many traditional vendors follow this example in the future as they seek to provide solutions that can support the fashion industry.
Those are just a few of the differences as I see it with PLM for the fashion industry. What have you seen in your experience. Let me know and we can have a fun discussion.