FBI Wise Words

How to Streamline the Design and Merchandising Process

By Jill Mazur, August 3, 2016 



At the beginning stages of any fashion business the goal is to get product produced, ship it to the customer and get paid. The next step is doing it all over again season after season. Once you have this process down and you’ve been able to grow your business you start adding staff and systems.  The most important systems are your sales order, inventory management, purchasing and accounting systems, hopefully, an integrated solution at that.  At that point your sales, customer service, accounting, purchasing, shipping and operations teams should be working like a well-oiled machine (or not).  It’s your design, merchandising, product development and marketing teams who are now overloaded or overburdened with work. 


These days design, merchandising and product development have to be ever more creative in the way they create styles and bring products to market. 

  • How do you design the right product for the right customer at the right time?
  • How do you cut down on excessive sampling?
  • How do you streamline your development process and increase communication with your vendors?
  • How do you take the guess work out of costing a product?
  • Is it possible to increase your speed to market without sacrificing quality?


More questions come to mind. 

  • What can you do to save money when developing design samples?
  • How do you track or calendar the important events and due dates in the design, merchandising and sales process?
  • How do you create the best possible presentation of styles or samples to your buyers with the least amount of stress?
  • How do you know which vendor to partner with when developing new styles?
  • Even more important, how do you track the actual cost of developing new styles and samples?


If you’re like most small companies, your design, development and merchandising team wear a lot of hats.  Most likely they’re sending spreadsheets and image files back and forth to your factories, requesting samples and tracking material and product costs, all while trying to keep within FOB and Wholesale price points.  Meanwhile, your merchandising and marketing team are attempting to create seasonal product line sheets for sales meetings and customer presentations.

How do larger companies handle these complexities? You’d be surprised.  Many larger companies are still using the same types of spreadsheets and image files that small companies use.   Some companies continue to add more “bodies” to do the work and work harder, not smarter.  It’s not until they reach a tipping point that they actually start looking for a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution.  PLM systems support planning, calendar, design, development, sampling and commercialization processes.  Many of them also have workflow notification and vendor portals which allow vendors to access and update BOMS, cost sheets, materials and more.  Image files from Adobe Illustrator©, InDesign© and other design software can be integrated into PLM as well. 


The reality is that the work still needs to be done. Seasons and products need to be planned. Products need to be designed and developed.  Costing and pricing expectations need to be met. Samples need to be produced and delivered.  By using collaborative PLM tools to track costs, due dates, product development and more, in one place, helps keep your business on track.  The benefits of PLM are innumerable:  increased speed to market, decreased product development costs, collaborative planning and workflow tools, visibility to the design, patternmaking, sampling and merchandising process and more. 


If you’re not using a PLM system, you may want to think long and hard about making this investment in your business.  Let me say first, PLM is not for every company, especially small businesses or businesses with very few new styles per season.  However, as your business and/or product line grows, you need to incorporate tools to allow your company and capacity to grow as well. 


These days, consumers are willing to spend on luxury items if they are of true quality and value.  Are manufacturers willing to spend on software if it is of true quality and value to their business?


Jill Mazur is an independent apparel business and technology consultant working with Fashion Business, Inc.

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