Why The Uniform Industry Relies On PLM
The entire apparel sector runs on PLM. All kinds of brands and retailers use it, day in and day out, to better manage their design, development, and sourcing processes. And manufacturers around the world improve collaboration with their suppliers by using PLM - sharing live data rather than relying on flat technical specifications.
But for some industries, PLM is more than a valuable tool for process improvement and digital transformation. It’s essential to survival.
These are businesses where traditional, manual methods have become totally unsustainable. For these companies, PLM is a way of life – a mission-critical system that allows them to cope with huge complexity, rigorous compliance standards, and massive scale. And this makes them perfect showcases for the value that PLM can realize for other businesses who wrestle with similar, but less extreme challenges.
This blog will be the first in a series zeroing in on these unique markets and their relationship with PLM. And we’re starting with why the uniform industry relies on PLM.
Designed to last
Uniforms are big business. From hospitals to hotels, schools to science labs, students and workforces need outfits that are instantly identifiable, fit for purpose, and super-hardwearing.
But creating uniforms isn’t as simple as standardizing a single design and then commissioning order after order. Even the simplest-looking uniform is the result of continuous improvement and uncompromising standards.
The first priority is creating a new uniform in PLM is safety and performance. Whether it’s a slip-resistant sole for a shoe, or a fire-retardant chef’s blazer, uniforms must adhere to rigorous standards before they’re approved for sale. To be blunt: people’s lives depend on it.
And that level of safety needs to last. Gloves designed to withstand hazardous chemical splashes, and high-visibility jackets for construction both need to perform perfectly for their full lifespan.
At the same time, a uniform’s appearance needs to be consistent and durable. Every uniform in a collection needs to look the same. Colors cannot fade. Construction cannot fail. Because while a split seam in a fashion garment will lead to a return, a defect in a uniform can lead to brand damage for the customer – or even casualties if it affects performance.
Uniform companies’ success depends on a no-compromise approach to material quality, manufacturing methods, fit, and durability. And this means that their development, prototyping and production processes need to be tightly controlled – something it’s all but impossible to do without PLM.
And that’s before we even think about doing it at the scale the uniform industry routinely deals in: minimum order quantities that make even global fashion brands look small.
Imagine producing the signature outfits for a global courier service, and staking your reputation on their performance, to get an idea of the stakes uniform companies to take on. Now imagine doing that without a comprehensive material library, full supplier collaboration, field testing integration and other key components of PLM.
Feel safe, feel fashionable
As niche as some of its requirements are, the uniform industry isn’t insulated from the rapidly-changing pace of fashion. Although function comes first, form is just as important. Like fashion garments, uniforms need to flatter people with the fit, and make utility look unique. And like the broader fashion industry, uniform companies are facing the same pressure to shorten cycle times and become more agile in their product creation and production processes.
The uniform industry is also forging ahead in mass customization – an area that fashion is looking to follow. For example, several customers might start from the same basic pattern or silhouette, but designers then add new components or embellishments.
So for a uniform producer, PLM is essential for both sides of their business. First, they rely on it to manage the requirements that are unique to their sector. Second, they need it to cope with the challenges they have in common with other apparel companies.
And this means that uniform companies need to find a PLM partner who knows what makes them tick, as well as understanding the fashion industry as a whole.
You’ve probably guessed that there aren’t many of these PLM partners around. So when uniform companies find one, they tend to stick with them.
We know this because our solution has been developed in partnership with leading workwear and uniform brands like Town & Country and Utility Garments. As long-term partners, they and others have helped us to shape our Visual Next PLM solution to meet their exacting requirements. And along the way we’ve also introduced new technologies to help optimize the uniform design and development process – from body scanning to white label client portals that allow customers to order uniforms directly from our Customers websites, with order details appearing instantly in our end-to-end PLM and ERP system.
Look for further installments in this series soon, as we shine a spotlight on other industries that leverage PLM in unique ways.
Charles Benoualid is the Vice President of Research and Development at CGS inc.