Game changers of fashion & apparel supply chain


The Fashion industry has continually evolved its business and distribution strategies. In the last decades, fast fashion became more widespread and revolutionized the entire fashion industry. It resulted in a significant change in consumers' purchasing patterns. Consumers started to appreciate the fact that they could be a part of the latest trend, and get a ‘new look’ easily, and viewed clothing as a temporary treasure and not something they would keep forever. Retail brands like ASOS, H&M, Topshop and Zara delivered on consumer expectations for new designs, with their unique business models. They started providing new clothing collections on a weekly basis with extremely short stock life forcing consumers to make quick purchase decisions. 

Reducing stock life led companies to manufacture only relatively small quantities of fast selling product lines. However, these introduced a new set of challenges to the existing Fashion Supply Chain, earlier characterized by higher lead times with bulk manufacturing. This trend resulted in a better adaption of logistics processes for quick go-to-market. Logistics providers are decreasing lead times and delivering new releases to outlets as speedily as possible.  


Designed by lifeforstock / Freepik

With intense global competition, speed and availability have become key factors to acquire a customer. To succeed, fashion retailers need to be hypersensitive to their consumers’ needs and wants. The effects of rising eCommerce and mobile commerce, have been felt across all areas of retail and fashion. Retailers are constantly under pressure to offer similar eCommerce and fulfilment services, just like theenjoyable experiences in a shop, and it’s certainly no easy feat to fulfill while maintaining profit margins. 

“Omnichannel fulfillment is a critical stage in this supply chain journey.”  

The tendency of consumers to use multiple channels; stores, web, catalog, mobile, while making apurchase has driven companies to implement an Omnichannel supply chain. This shift in supply chain and change in consumer behavior has led to multiple operational challenges, such as -  

Rapid Increase in SKUs - Constantly increasing numbers of SKUs can make storage capacity adjustment a struggle, thus, requiring significant changes to the warehouse layout and picking process  

Lead Times – Unpredictable forecasts along with sub-optimized manual processes result in high and costly ‘order to dispatch’ times 

Returns - Return rates in eCommerce apparel companies can go up to as high as 35%  

Flexible Distribution System – Ability to fulfil orders across channels; eCommerce, brick and mortar stores, wholesalers, retailers, and manage peaks  

Scalable System – capability to ramp up quickly during peaks/sales without consuming too much additional time and costs for infrastructure and manpower changes 

Designed by / Freepik 

Based on business requirements, there are multiple order fulfilment solutions available today to solve these challenges. 

The most common being zone-based picking combined with automated sorter, where the entire inventory storage is divided into zones to optimize storage and manage resources. 

  • Orders get picked in batches followed by the sortation process using manual/automated sorter. This solution works best when you have split all fast moving inventory across zones. In this manner, you can distribute resources across zones and manage peaks. 

Unfortunately, fast fashion is an industry known for its unpredictable velocities. The nature of its business - low quantity with short life cycle - makes it difficult to predict which SKUs will be fast and which will be slow. Hence, distributing SKUs and managing resources across the zone becomes a challenge. The same is true with storage, where the warehouse manager has to use his wit, intuition and experience to manage storage area dynamically. All these limitations in a system make the entire process sub-optimized. 

A flexible, dynamic and smart system for agility 

With growing complexities and uncertainties, we need a system that is flexible and dynamic. It should be flexible enough to manage orders across channels and dynamic enough to adapt to changing SKUs and its velocity. Unlike a conventional system, it needs to be smart enough to learn and adapt to a new environment without human intervention. 

The GreyOrange Butler System, an AI-enabled goods-to-person robotics system, is designed for Storage and Picking, to help you handle unpredictable volumes of orders while avoiding zones in a warehouse. This system is mobile, modular and intelligent with no requirement for rigid infrastructure and fixed equipment. Its components can be added, subtracted and/or modified on the fly. This brings completeflexibility to increase and decrease capacity without any additional time and money invested in changing capacity. It has been designed to manage omnichannel fulfilment by supporting inventories and packaging in all shapes and forms, and enabling processes for both store and online fulfilment. This system has many super-intelligent and cool features; one of them being to manage Returns where returned goods get stored along with regular inventory – there is no need for separate dedicated zones and no wastage of space. 

To know more how the GreyOrange Butler system can help you optimize warehouse processes and bring the utmost flexible automation in your warehouse, contact -



Kalpesh Jeswani

A blog by Kalpesh Jeswani, a product marketing professional specialising in warehouse automation solutions for omnichannel and eCommerce retail.