PLM cloud-based software’s secret benefits

Are there any hidden functionalities of PLM cloud-based software systems that could make fashion suppliers’ lives easier? Laura Syrett investigates.

The biggest benefit of PLM cloud-based software is often overlooked. Credit: Shutterstock.

Cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) tools are becoming increasingly popular in the apparel industry, as fashion brands and garment manufacturers look to advances in digitisation and data sharing to plan, monitor and control how their products are made, used and reused.

Software companies such as Computer Generated Solutions (CGS), DeSL, Centric Software and Aptean have been working hard to hone their specialised fashion-focused PLM programmes.

DeSL’s VP of global sales and US PLM operations Pam Peale said her company stresses PLM tools’ ability to capture and accelerate the ideation process of a clothing and textile design’s development into a final product. Another benefit is the ability to set configurable key performance indicators (KPIs) in the system that use a company’s data to analyse the efficiency and effectiveness of its processes, while improving overall quality management.

“DeSL can replace the plethora of manual documents and processes,” Peale told Just Style. “The technology allows for quality control at the factory and approvals are captured prior to shipment.”

Peale explained that DeSL’s software also offers a colour lifecycle management feature that allows for real time communication of a garment’s colour concept and specification, between brand, agent and mill, reducing or eliminating the need to send physical lab dips (dyed material samples to check the colour), which helps save time and improves the sustainability of the clothes production process.  

The mine’s concentrator can produce around 240,000 tonnes of ore, including around 26,500 tonnes of rare earth oxides.

PLM’s most obvious yet overlooked benefit

383 Design Studio’s digital fashion design software trainer and instructor Mikelle Drew-Pellum noted the central benefit of PLM is to streamline workflow. It’s obvious and not particularly exciting but she believes it is often overlooked by smaller fashion brands or designers who mistake its simplicity for a lack of value-adding potential.

“PLM is basically an online Excel spreadsheet (...) probably the least creative bit of software you could give a designer,” she said, yet it can be very effective.

She added that PLM allows fashion industry users to keep on top of questions that previously might have slowed down or disrupted their operations, such as whether certain garment designs have progressed to the production line or been dropped and which factory is producing the garment without having to check back through email chains, spreadsheets or PDFs.

“[At the moment] you only really see PLM systems in larger companies, and the price of many of them can be cost-prohibitive for smaller brands. However, because a PLM system can help you streamline your workflow, I would argue that it’s much more important for smaller brands to have one,” stated Drew-Pellum.  

Mines in Bayan Obo in Inner Mongolia, China, extract one the largest deposits of rare earth metals found in the world. Credit: Bert van Dijk/Getty images

Reducing supply chain disputes, generating up-to-date tech packs

Mikkel Wittrup Kruse, director of revenue operations at fashion software company Delogue, said that by acting as a “single source of truth,” PLM software can help reduce the chance of disputes within fashion supply chains.

“Historically, what we've heard is that a lot of brands have automatically blamed mistakes on the suppliers, but this way it becomes very clear where the mistake was made - not just to beat someone over the head with it but actually to find out where in the process this mistake was made, and then you can eliminate it in the future,” he said.

PLM tools can also be used to automatically generate tech packs - documents provided to factories by brands or designers containing information on how to make, construct, and assemble garments - which Kruse explained is a common “pain point” for fashion designers who sometimes mistakenly send out of date versions to their suppliers.

“It’s a big issue if by accident you send the old tech pack [to your supplier] and then you have the wrong sampling process going on. [But with PLM] you can always be sure that it's up to-date data because every time you make a change, it's saved,” he said.  

Collecting compliance data with PLM tools

Kruse added fashion brands can also use PLM tools to collect compliance data for regulators from across the apparel supply chain, catered for by specially developed add-ons to existing PLM systems.

In 2023 Delogue launched a new compliance module that allows suppliers to upload data on areas such as the type of fibres used in garments and the results of chemical testing on textiles to comply with labelling requirements in different jurisdictions. Plus, the European Union’s (EU) digital product passport (DPP) requirements that are expected to come into force during 2026.

DeSL’s Peale said ensuring and logging supplier compliance is also an important feature of her company’s tool: “Supplier certifications and compliance documents can be stored against the supplier record. DeSL’s PLM can monitor expiry dates of the documentation, allow self-service for vendors, and create scorecards from current and historical data,” she said.

Such systems can help companies deliver on sustainability, with Peale saying the goal of its PLM’s quality management features “is to ensure products are made to specification and supplied from vendors operating to highest levels of social compliance and ethical trading levels”.

DeSL’s tool can help “ensure compliance with social and human rights requirements, not just in your organisation, but, more importantly, your entire supply chain, from fibre to finished product,” added Peale.

While such developing features are a positive step, they can impede the appreciation of PLM tools’ benefits to buyers who need to understand how PLM technology is constantly improving, offering new possibilities for users.

Peale thinks that PLMs such as DeSL’s will in future be able to offer artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive assistance to help users make sourcing decisions, creating illustrations, and by providing graded specification suggestions. Such IT power will be hard to ignore for clothing and textile companies seeking to hone their efficiency.