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Product Development, Reimagined

  A Q&A with our Co-Founder Andrew Klein

It’s the middle of fashion month. NYFW is just wrapping, London’s up next — and the whole idea of fashion week is finally getting an overdue restructure, for more reasons than one. Another aspect of the fashion industry that needs a rethink? The product development cycle.

Here, Andrew Klein — former designer turned innovator of the product creation tool that is Backbone — on opportunities for change:

“My vision for reimagining the production cycle remains the same as when I set out to create Backbone: Taking an iterative and incremental approach to product development, as opposed to an antiquated linear approach. Historically, design companies have divided their collection development into phases. The problem with this approach is that there are so many moving parts to creating a product, from establishing a sampling strategy, to ordering raw materials and other components needed for production, to collaborating with global partners, to managing procurement and logistics. Each of these moving parts has varying lead times, as well as various opportunities for being optimized and properly prioritized. Unveiling the process means — and breaking down department silos — means approvals happen faster, longer lead time developments are handed-off earlier, teams can stay ahead of schedule and a brand is getting to market faster than ever before. The question I lead with is, “How can we create solutions that allow teams to discover opportunities to increase efficiency?”

On designing for seasons

“It’s exciting to see design teams evolve their creative strategy. Typically, a design team will carve out their looks (Resort 2022, for example) for each division and product category. These looks can be clustered under an individual season, during which several looks deliver over several months to create compartments of materials, textures, colors, and, of course, cash flow.  

What we are seeing now is a much more intentional approach, one with sustainability at the forefront. This means less season-specific colors, more multi-season materials, more “wear-now” pieces and an overall “buy less, but buy right” methodology. From a merchandising standpoint, this is the difference between breadth versus depth of assortment — of being an inch deep and a mile wide —  as opposed to producing a more narrow assortment and focusing sales on key items. 

Seasonality will always play a role in development because weather does change and offering the right items at the right time is a huge qualitative component to being successful as a brand. However, using data can help brands make more unique assortment allocation decisions based on each individual point of commerce. I’m still floored when I go into a legacy fashion store in Miami and see an overabundance of down jackets…”

On the design process a whole

“I see the design process ultimately being reimagined with the rise of the “full stack” designer. Design is really bifurcated into parts visual and monetary. The visual aspect is mainly a qualitative process. Design teams use trends, market insights, intuition to derive their creations. However, these proposed concepts must meet the fiscal needs that drive the business forward. Today, due to lack of visibility due to tool overload, tracking objectives and key results as a team is close to impossible. There’s a spreadsheet infestation that plagues creative companies, and bottlenecks real-time collaboration. I envision a less fragmented process, one that operates much more as a continuum where creativity and economics are synchronous. Decisions related to feasibility, complexity, cost and margin can all happen together.“

On what these opportunities mean for designers and product developers

“As an aggregate, teams will work much more efficiently. When applied, we’ll see creatives spending less time managing data, allowing them to focus on what they’re truly passionate about — designing. Product developers will have the tools that supplement their efforts and automate many of the tedious, and monotonous tasks related to production forecasting. Ultimately, we’ll see companies less inundated with overstock as they begin to produce right-sized assortments, and getting the right products to their customers at the right time and at the right price.”

On how Backbone realizes these opportunities

“Backbone enables teams to elevate their development process. The platform consists of a curated set of solutions that are relational in nature, and allows teams to leverage a dynamic way of working. Once implemented, teams are empowered, and all stakeholders within an organization can gain visibility of key factors across the process, like design updates, raw material utilization, unit costs and overarching work-in-progress reports. 

In practice, teams can easily file share, recycle and consolidate components, email tech packs and product specs, create visual line sheets and spin up reports in a few clicks, as opposed to the few days or weeks that it would take to create without Backbone. This frees up teams to think more strategically, and to reallocate that bandwidth to deliver products faster than before. 

The increased efficiency creates positive downstream impacts like having more time to sell goods and taking less discounts. This improves margin, and the overall average unit retail price. Shortening the development cycles also allows teams to dial in their inventory forecasts mitigating risk related to product investments.”

Author | Team Backbone

Author | Team Backbone

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