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Fashion forward

Across the globe, logistics operators are seizing on growth in the e-commerce sector to increase their fashion business, Helen Massy-Beresford reports

Advances in e-commerce have been having a profound impact on logistics operators, and nowhere more so than in the fashion business, where demand for online shopping and fast delivery has opened up huge opportunities for those quick enough to seize them – and flexible enough to adapt to the unique demands of the sector.

For SEKO Logistics, fashion accounts for about 15% of its business globally and almost two-thirds of its business in the UK. The sector encompasses two very different business areas: international freight management, which involves transporting products and managing flows from factories – often located in India or China – through to the final market; and fulfilment, in which SEKO runs customers’ distribution centres, whether in the UK, US or Asia.

“Fashion companies typically have a reasonably large supply base, so they have a fairly large spread out supply chain and they have certain requirements that other companies don’t in terms of compliance, labelling, cartons and product handling,” explains David Emerson, Group Sales & Marketing Director at SEKO Logistics.

Building a reputation for fashion therefore begins with understanding a customer’s requirements, a conversation that can be as detailed as determining whether garments are to arrive folded and boxed or draped from hangers.

“Typically, it starts with one of our commercial people really trying to understand what the customer wants in those two key areas. On the fulfilment side, a big piece of the business is e-commerce fulfilment for fashion companies. We have customers that do both – where we're running everything for them – but typically most of our customers have one element of the supply chain that they do themselves and we do everything else.”

SEKO Logistics works across the spectrum, dealing with so-called fast fashion, as well as more up-market ‘boutique’ labels, Emerson continues, with its key area of focus somewhere in the middle. “Our sweet spot is kind of the customers like Jack Wills, Charles Tyrwhitt shirts, Reiss, Cath Kidston. Not quite fast fashion, but not a million miles from it.”

SEKO Logistics also works with designer clients but cannot name them for security reasons, highlighting – for a logistics operator in the fashion world – the difference working with high street chains or haute couture makes to the process. “It’s a different supply chain, because fast fashion tends to be high volume and less requirements in terms of how you handle the product, whereas if you go to a designer label it’s less about volume – it’s more quality than quantity. The difference is in how you move the product, how you handle the product, how you price it,” he says.

Speaking to this stratified business model, Matthias Hansen, Regional Vice President Europe, Middle East & Africa at GEODIS Freight Forwarding, stresses that fashion is one of its key lines. “We have low-value fashion, which is of course the majority but we also have high-value – we worked recently for Ralph Lauren in the US.”

The company uses its time-critical expertise when it comes to transporting clothes for fashion shows, with the UK, France and Italy important markets, Hansen says.

He agrees that fashion customers’ requirements can be complex. “Getting a t-shirt from A to B is not complicated but within fashion products there also include extended lines of services, such as transporting garments on hangers or steaming them before they are sent to shops. There is a lot of knowledge involved and what is important is the final mile delivery – that means designated distribution centres or delivering directly to the shops, which we do in Asia a lot.”

Tristan Koch, Managing Director Cargo Sales EMEA ISC at American Airlines – which counts Zara parent company Inditex among its fashion customers, and also ships high-end fashion for fashion shows in the likes of Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Dallas – agrees that haute couture requires a very different treatment than high street fashion.

Inditex is American Airlines’ largest single customer in Spain, accounting for fully half of the airline’s air freight from Spain and shipping to the US and Central America.

The airline caters to Zara’s unique business model by allowing for the all-important twice-weekly replenishing of stock in the company’s shops, meaning its work for this customer is time-critical. >>

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