The lifecycle of an apparel product: 9 steps to arrive at the store
Fashion companies will operationally follow their seasons and will therefore perform all activities according to their place in the season.
Seasons do not run synchronously to years, but the way years are divided into seasons depends of the kind of apparel industry the company works in and its sales cycle. Years are divided into two seasons at least, which will be the case mostly on the high end side of the apparel industry. Fast fashion companies like H&M will even have seasons of 4-6 weeks.
Because different seasons are managed at the same time, it is necessary to manage the fashion product lifecycle to keep all processes on track.
But what is the lifecycle of an apparel product? What is the process from concept-to-customer?
9 steps a fashion product has to follow to arrive into the customer’s hands:
1. Concept creation
The concept creation of the collection will be the first stage of a new product. A collection will be conceptualized, and defined on a brand specific level more than a year before the product is sold to the end consumer.
2. Collection formulation
The company will define the collection with its seasons, and delivery windows within seasons, and the price ranges are linked to the collection as well. In companies which trade in large geographical areas one style might need more than one delivery window, as it will be summer in one area and winter in another and you can therefore not sell the same products at the same time to all customers.
Right after the concept is ready, the process of designing the products of the collection is started. The design team will create a lot more designs than needed, as at a later stage the sales and merchandising team will perform the approval process, during which a lot of styles will be dropped, or re-designed. Only part of what is designed will actually make it into being a sold product in the end.
The products which will be manufactured will first be created in a small quantity as sample material. Samples will be used to test the design and fabric also on a living person, and if approved will be taken into the showroom for wholesale pre-sales purposes, or be taken on the road for travelling agents.
5. Pre-sales period
The fashion company sales will start with the pre-sales period, during which the products are presented to the wholesale customers. During this period the fashion company will get feedback from the market about their product and will regularly adapt their products to the wishes of the market. During the pre-sales period B2B sales of the items which are ‘in market’ are captured on a high level, long before the sales to the end consumer will start.
6. Pre-sales orders
When the first demand from the wholesale customer is captured with the pre-sales orders and the forecast of own retail and e-commerce is done, it will be possible to purchase the base materials because at this moment the demand is known on colour level.
The most important aspect of bringing a fashion product or collection to market is production and manufacturing. Most commonly, fashion companies outsource this part of their business process, but the base material and the fabrics will be provided to the factory or often dictated by the fashion company (but bought and owned by the factory, which then charges a price for the complete product).
When production is concluded and the products are ready and approved to be released, you will likely have them shipped. Some companies will delivered directly to their own retail stores or accounts. Most often, the goods are received in an office or distribution warehouse.
9. In-Season period
And finally the product ends its journey and we are in what is called the “in season” period: when the product is currently being sold to end consumers. If all these processes are kept on track and the company is able to automate all the changes on the products, it will be able to limit time consuming processes and improve control and insights, thus succeeding in delivering a high-quality product that will meet their customers' expectations.