Speed to market: achieving ‘the right kind of speed’

The need for speed to market is one of the major factors currently shaping supply chains. If used correctly, speed can infuse extra value into supply chains. If not, it can put unnecessary stress on manufacturers particularly. It is associated with fast fashion which in itself is much debated. IAF’s members straddle the supply chain, putting our focus on the relation between brand/retailers and manufacturers. Speed is achieved in the correct interaction between them.

Ideally, the need for speed starts with the brand and/or retailer reacting to consumer demand. Getting apparel to consumers quickly is in itself meaningless. A consumer doesn’t care about the duration of the journey from cotton seed to shelf of the product he or she buys. A consumer wants to find the right products for the right price in the store. Depending on the role of a product within a total collection, making this happen requires different supply chain logics. The basic white shirt in the collection can take a little more time to reach the store, but the unexpected high demand for purple shirts must be met quickly. So speed is used only when necessary.

New ZARA disctribution centre in Zaragoza

And when it is necessary, speed is mainly achieved by creating smarter and more agile supply chains. Simply trying to do everything faster is a recipe for creating unsustainable stress, mostly on manufacturers. A smarter and more agile supply chain can only be made through collaboration between the buyer and the supplier. It requires mutual investments and a longer term outlook. But if done correctly, the right use of speed is sure to deliver extra value to the supply chain. Rather than creating unsustainable stress it creates financial room also for manufacturers to invest back in labour conditions.

The IAF is leading a project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and carried out with Bangladeshi member BGMEA and with ILO Better Work. It is aimed at developing a training course on buyer – supplier collaboration and the element of speed to market will of course be a major element of this course. And with several of its association members the IAF works on strategic planning including knowledge transfer on achieving ‘the right kind of speed.’