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The digitalisation of fashion - an essential guide for small businesses in Asia

September 30, 2020

For small- and medium-enterprises (SMEs) in Asia Pacific, COVID-19 has meant the transition from digitalisation as an option to digitalisation as an imperative. Remaining competitive in the apparel industry is now intimately linked to the degree of an organisation’s digital maturity. The challenge facing SMEs today is how to undertake the process of digital transformation effectively.

Mapping the state of digitalisation among SMEs

The reaction among SMEs to COVID-19 has been varied. Cisco’s 2020 Asia Pacific SMB Digital Maturity Study found that 69% of small- and medium-sized companies are accelerating the process of digitalisation in response to the crisis, seeing both the short-term and long-term benefits of doing so.  

The study also helpfully broke down the state of digitalisation among SMEs in Asia Pacific into four categories: ‘digital indifferent’, ‘digital observer’, ‘digital challenger’ and ‘digital native’. Currently, the ‘digital observer’ category, describing a company that is in the beginning stages of digital transformation, is the most populous, representing 53% of SMEs in Asia Pacific. The ‘digital indifferent’ group was the next highest at 31%, indicating that there are still many firms trying to find their digital footing.

This means that the vast majority – 84% – of SMEs in Asia Pacific are either just beginning or becoming aware of the need to digitalise, while just 16% are considered advanced in this process.  

The rationale for a robust digitalisation strategy

The apparel industry is one that changes quickly and moves fast, which on the one hand lends to the efficiencies of a digital-first business model, while on the other limits the time and space needed to properly see through the implementation of a digitalisation strategy.  

Nevertheless, the rationale for SMEs to digitalise is strong. Research from Boston Consulting Group found that end-to-end digitalisations may reduce the time-to-market for a fashion product by upwards of 40%; and technologies like 3D design could result in 70% less physical sampling and 20% fewer people needed throughout the product creation process.

Additionally, the Cisco study found that SMEs in the ‘digital challenger’ stage of digitalisation posted 50% higher sales and worker productivity growth than their peers in the earlier stages. The benefits associated with ‘digital native’ SMEs were even greater, making a strong business case for digitalisation.

Solutions to aid the digitalisation of SMEs

With digitalisation top-of-mind in discussions about the future of the fashion industry, many businesses are asking themselves how to begin or accelerate this process. We put together a few key areas for SMEs to consider:

Platforms of connection

Key for SME buyers and suppliers to thrive in a digital environment is the ability to find partners with whom they share common commercial goals. Neutral platforms are an important development in this regard and is the reason we built Serai. If the apparel industry is to go digital, greater transparency in information exchange and trust in relationship building are needed.

Production technology

For buyers and suppliers, 3D sampling and garment simulation have received increased attention as a way of increasing efficiency across the product development and approval process. The automation of production is also seeing acceleration, with technologies like automated sewing worklines enabling manufacturers to locate production closer to their customers.

Ecommerce technology

For brands, artificial intelligence (AI) is being applied to ecommerce to improve the buying experience for shoppers. Given that 30% of purchases are lost and 40% of purchases are returned due to inadequate or inaccurate product descriptions, capabilities like AI product tagging are promising to rectify this problem using data analysis and organisation.

We understand the process of digitalisation can be challenging. Which is why we envisioned Serai as a meeting place for the world’s buyers, suppliers and brands to find each other and discover the kinds of solutions that will assist in this process.

We understand the process of digitalisation can be challenging. Which is why we envisioned Serai as a meeting place for the world’s buyers, suppliers and brands to find each other and discover the kinds of solutions that will assist in this process.


Join Serai to learn more about how we may help your digitalisation journey.