all my heroes are weirdos

We're All Mad Here

how many spreadsheets to make a dress?

After a whole week of writing up on Fashion Revolution, I was ready to disrobe and focus on a less material topic, but today has been by far the best day I’ve had at work in a while – and not just because I was out of the office, technically not doing any work.


I attended Digital Revolution – Virtually Taking Over Fashion, hosted by ASBCI.

A full six hour conference, Ted Talks style, with industry experts on stage giving their view on how technology and fashion are moving forward together, hand in hand.

I’ve been living and breathing this subject for the majority of my career but with a microscopic focus over the last eighteen months. And while one or two talks did trigger my resentment towards retail’s deliberate manipulation of consumer behaviours, the majority of the day made me pause for a mindful appreciation of the craft, hard work and creativity in the world of Fashion. Both analogue and digital.

I’ve now worked for four major global brands across four very different industries, yet all of them have had at least this one thing in common – they all develop, source and serve up products to their customers.

My roles have always been at the back end of the supply chain, where my passion lies. I love the creativity of design, the technical ingenuity of product development, the fun of bartering in negotiation and most of all I love being able to build ethical and sustainable supply partnerships.


One thing that has always genuinely surprised me in each company I’ve worked for, is how they’ve so successfully grown into international businesses worth billions when, even if their front face is the highest of tech, their operational infrastructure is basically gazillions of excel spreadsheets, paper-clipped together.

The pace of technological advancements in the consumer world is so fast, so changeable and so disruptive, that companies now – regardless of their trade – are having to evolve quickly into a state of constant digital transformation.

Look at Netflix, Airbnb, Uber and Amazon. They’ve all barged in with a sledgehammer and smashed up the competition quicker than you can click a button.

A statistic that stays in mind is from a report I read about a year ago now by PWC that says within the next five years, 4 out of the top 10 players in every industry will have been displaced or replaced by a new entrant to the market.

Technology is reshaping our world and Fashion is no exception.

There’s so much exciting stuff going on in this space which I’ll write about at some point soon, but first I wanted to sketch something up that I doubt many people are familiar with.

How many spreadsheets does it take to make a dress?

Necessity used to be the mother of invention, but nowadays it’s born of inspiration.

Designers tend to generate new product ideas through the likes of shopping trips, social media searches and catwalk shows. They take hundreds of photographs, scribble down notes and save lots of images.

When they’re back in the office, the spend hours uploading their research, selecting what they want to work on and typing up their notes.

Mood boards are put together, which are basically what my Scrapbook Sundays used to look like but on a much larger scale, cutting out images and sticking them to a board. Trend packs are created with the chosen stories and colour palettes for each month and the designers go off to do what they do best.

Finished designs are tracked and sent over to the technical and buying teams. It’s at this stage, the buyers are making sure the designs have a place in their range and are likely to fall within their cost parameters, whilst the technologists will be ensuring the design has all of the right measurements to make sure it fits right.

Once the full product brief is ready, it’s either sent by email via in-country sourcing teams, or direct to the suppliers for costing.

Cost negotiations go back and forth, suppliers chip in with their ideas on design and suggest amends to product specifications. The to-ing and fro-ing is usually over a combination of emails, phonecalls, spreadsheets and a bit of face to face. Samples are made and shipped thousands of miles for more tweaks and approvals.

It’s very rare that the first sample will be signed off, so this back and forthing continues for various iterations, across thousands more miles, until they get it right.

Once the final design and the final cost is agreed, a purchase order can be raised to lock down the deal.

To avoid a bible-length script, I’ve skimmed over the surface and it doesn’t really do it all justice.

My point is that it can be seriously admin-heavy, take months of hard work and myriad spreadsheets to get from Farm to Frock. So maybe it calls for a little bit of mindful appreciation when we’re getting dressed in the morning.

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