Back to overview
Share this post:

Change – and the uncertainty it brings – hasn’t always been a good friend of fashion. The industry has, for the most part, been procrastinating on some of the issues it has needed to solve for decades. Nowadays, how fashion brands embrace innovation, change, and digital transformation has taken on a whole new perspective.

Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about Digital Transformation, or use the links below to jump to a specific section.

Digitization vs. Digital Transformation

First things first, with the number of buzz words around digital transformation skyrocketing, it is important what we will be discussing, and what the difference is between digital transformation and digitization. 

Digitzation versus digital tranformation

Purpose is what separates digitization from true digital transformation: moving away from a short-term technology focused exercise to a long term business strategy that challenges old ways of working to create new ones that leverage technology.

How to get started with digital transformation

The only way to unlock your potential, is to have a clear idea of the ‘why’ behind digital transformation, or it may fall short and become just another IT initiative. Whether you’ve already started your wholesale remote journey or not, here are 3 questions that will help you maximize the value of your digital transformation in the long run.

  1. Why do I want to go digital?

    Reflect on your end goal. Why is it important to go digital? Think beyond those immediate needs. Understand the long-term strategic value and define a change story to drive it forward. Missing a strong change story may leave your digital transformation without fuel to go beyond 2020. By answering this question you should know what your digital driver is for digitizing your wholesale business. Some of the most common purposes for wholesale’s digital transformation in fashion are:

    - Become more efficient
    - Become more sustainable
    - Improve your sell-in experience for customers

  1. What is blocking me from going digital?
    Now that you’ve found the why, it is time to consider the obstacles in your digital transformation journey.. Don’t explore technology providers just yet. Instead, take a look at your current processes. Assess the areas that may hold your digital transformation back. For wholesale brands, content, data, samples and people’s understanding of change are common challenges in the transition to digital. Answer this question and you should know what your change blockers are.  

  2. What value do I want to unlock by going digital?

    Time to dive into the value you can get from your digital transformation in your brand. For each area, define one value unlock, an opportunity in your business that is uncovered by minimizing a change blocker. For instance, if you wish to be more sustainable, sample cost reduction can be a great value unlock. If you’ve identified multiple goals, you’ll need more than one value unlocks. As you may have guessed by now, your value unlocks will stem out of your current pain points, which are related to your end goal, your “why”. 

    🌟 Tip: Digital transformation often covers many business areas. If you don’t have all stakeholders involved yet, this is the moment to bring them into the process. This will save you both time and effort on defining and measuring the value of your digital transformation.

Once you have clear answers to these questions, it’s time to look at technology. It may sound counter intuitive, but trust us: technology is the last part of your digital transformation strategy.

The human aspect of Digital Transformation

One of the most important, but also the most underestimated elements during a digital transformation is the human aspect. A people and process first approach will actually give you the means to unlock the full potential of your digital transformation. 

Getting everyone on board is not always as easy as it sounds. No one likes to go through change, and as change is an ever returning theme in our lives, we all must experience similar phases of change (e.g. the well-known Kübler-Ross model). Let’s refresh our minds on the five stages of the Change Curve: 

Kubler-Ross Curve

  • Denial: we simply don’t want to believe that the change is happening. If we pretend that the change is not happening, then maybe it will all go away. 
  • Anger: the realization we have to change. When we realize that the change is real and will affect us, our denial usually turns to anger. 
  • Bargaining: an attempt to postpone or change what is inevitable. We start bargaining in order to put off the change, or find a way out of the situation. 
  • Depression: we realize that bargaining is not going to change the reality. We realize we cannot do anything about the change, it will happen. In this stage, energy decreases and we might reach the point of feeling demotivated and uncertain about our future.
  • Acceptance: as we realize that fighting the change is not going to make it go away we move into a stage of acceptance.

Feeling understood and empowered and having a continuous dialogue about your transformation can be life savers

👀 Here is a Digital Transformation and Change story told through the eyes of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein (PVH) Sales teams. As pioneers in the fashion industry, they have experienced Change ever since their digital journey started five years ago. 

How to adopt a digital mindset in fashion

Brands going digital is all the rage, but it's no small thing to do a complete overhaul of the way you do business. Mostly, because it means people need to do a complete overhaul of the way they go about their day to day work.

We've established that people are the true drivers behind a successful transformation and the power of a digital mindset is key to get all value out of any digitization efforts. 

During our webinar on adopting a digital mindset in fashion we discussed this in great detail, and we took the liberty of answering all your questions in a nice summary, including:

If you missed our webinar Adopting a Digital Mindset in Fashionfeel free to have a look at any point in time!

5 digital mindset accelerators

Interested in digital transformation? Here are five accelerators we have seen to be true value drivers in creating a successful Digital Transformation. 

  1. Focus on the long-term benefits, as they far outweigh the short-term challenges.
    According to Digital Selling expert Hans Summers “significant changes to long standing and familiar practices can make it difficult to adopt a digital mindset. Therefore, staying focused on the long term benefits will help to promote perseverance and motivation when challenges do arise.” 

  2. Break a big phenomenon like Digital Transformation into bite-sized increments.

    Your organization is set at the start of a Digital Transformation. So, how do you move people from the “oh, this is new and scary” to the “wow, this is actually really great”? By breaking a big phenomenon like digital transformation into bite-sized increments that will be rewarded. This will make change more digestible (and enjoyable) for everyone.

  3. Adaptability, communication, and trust are fundamental assets.
    Having a support system to guide and encourage throughout the phases of change is a major contributor in undergoing change. Feeling understood and empowered and having continuous dialogue about transformation can be life savers. 

  4. In digital transformation it's all about the journey, not the destination.
    “The world is changing so fast, that change is becoming the norm and your ability to deal with this will be a game changer for the future. But, change is definitely not easy. Especially when you’re changing the way you work. In the end, it’s important to know that the benefits of Digital Transformation far outweigh the possible downsides of change.” - A-C Polet, Head of HATCH

  5. People can make or break the success of transformation.

    Applying new technology to your organization may only be the first step towards transformation. However, remember that Digital Transformation is also very much about human transformation. This means that you need to put as much focus on people as you do on the technology for your Digital Transformation to be a successful one. 

The ultimate recipe for successful digital transformation

The key to successful change management is getting to the right starting point for your transformation by crafting a change mindset and driving behavioral change. Having been part of multiple digital transformation with brands, we summed up the 6 ingredients to achieve change: 

  1. Share an inspiring change story

    If you are in the driver’s seat for transformation you should tell a compelling change story you truly believe in. Spread your vision within your organization to make change the new norm, and bring clarity on why you want to get to your future destination. 

  2. Leadership buy-in

    Top-down sponsorship will not only help you to get the change moving, but can also prevent stalling in the bottom-up. 

  3. Understand challenges

    You need to understand that people might be naturally wary of change, and you need to admit the challenges people might encounter. In the end, you might be changing the ways of working someone might be used to for years, yet you need them to make the change a success.

  4. Empower the workforce

    Involve everybody that can help make the change a success from the get-go to ignite adoption. It is a new journey and therefore exciting to discover and ride it together. Don’t leave anyone stranded. 

  5. Future-proof skills

    Change equals newness. You don’t want to leave people in the unknown and make change feel daunting. Crafting the pathway and defining the learning curve for teams involved is therefore essential. Coaching and training will help build the newly required skills and capabilities needed for success. 

  6. Continuous dialogue

    Keep the communication flowing. All ears and eyes open – you need to constantly be aware of the good, the bad, and the ugly to deliver continuous value to the workforce. This will help you to drive change that sustains over time. 

Digital transformation challenges nobody will tell you about...

Any digital transformation journey can be overwhelming. For fashion brands, stakes are high as we try to overcome the biggest challenge in our history.  Whether you are a full digital expert or a newbie trying to help your company digitize, there will be challenges. Unplanned challenges. At HATCH, we’ve encountered a myriad of situations we couldn’t predict. Planning is key, yet a solid digital mindset is much more important to succeed. If change were easy, everybody would do it, right? At HATCH, we’ve gone through our own share of surprises. Here are some of the challenges we faced nobody told us about when we started:

  1. You won't know where to start
    Like a blank page for writers, starting can be hard. Particularly when dealing with change management, there are probably more than one areas to start with in your digital transformation. Add the pressure of external forces to the mix (ehem, Covid-19) and there’s a risk you may get stuck before you start. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Identifying the right problem to solve can be harder than solving it. Instead of undertaking a company-wide transformation in one go, embrace micro-transformations to reach positive business outcomes faster (remember: digital transformations are actually human transformations). Think big, start small and let your team’s actions drive innovation and change forward. Tip: take time understand your why (in other words, your North Star). In moments of doubt, it will help you choose the right direction to follow.

  2. You don't need a 2/3/5 year plan
    At HATCH, we often hear companies planning their end-to-end digital transformation in great detail. Don’t get us wrong: planning is important. We do so in order to minimize risks during the execution of a project. However, planning too far into the future may give you the illusion of control and leave you off-guard to the unexpected challenges you digital transformation will surface. Instead, build frameworks like feedback loops to continuously learn from your customer’s feedback (or employees) and apply those findings into the next steps of your digital transformation. 

  3.  Be ready to disappoint people

    While most leaders and employees think their company should undertake a digital transformation initiative, very few understand the impact it’ll have in their day-to-day jobs. Everyone wants their company to be modern, digital and efficient, but no-one really wants to change to achieve that. According to the Kubler-Ross model, shock, denial and anger are common first reactions in anybody’s change journey as we deny and fear what lies ahead of us. This means you’ll almost certainly meet friction and pushback in your digital transformation initiative and that’s okay. In fact, embrace it. Ask questions, let people share their thoughts and never, ever stop involving them. Communication and support are key to break that initial barrier with your users and make them part of your journey. Did you think we had it easy when we started our Digital Showroom journey 6 years ago?

  4. If you aren't failing, you're probably not succeeding either

    This one sounds counterintuitive but trust us, it’s one of the big ones. We often see brands setting up unrealistic standards for the budget, timings and milestones for their digital transformation initiatives. However, the biggest pitfall we see when setting expectations is not accounting for failure. At HATCH we have the motto “Fail forward” and we embody it in everything we do. Healthy transformation initiatives are those that can account for failure, learn from it and refine their strategies accordingly. Failure and success may seem to be opposite terms, yet we believe the first leads to the latter. There’s an invaluable amount of learning in failing and it can help your organization take a leap forward. Avoiding it may lead to your team becoming less flexible and less ready to improve, which can ultimately limit the value of your digital transformation. Set a digital mindset that encourages people to try new things, fail and learn from it.

  5. Technology isn't the first thing you need to think about

    Last, but definitely not least, let’s talk about technology. When talking about digitization it’s common to think about the technologies that will bring value to your company. Unfortunately, this focus on technology often misses the mark on the most important asset to your transformation: people. Don’t forget about them. In fact, start with them. The sheer amount of information and feedback you will get from them will help you overcome many challenges in your journey (including some of the ones we mention above). For us at HATCH, the first weeks of our Digital Showroom journey were mostly spent in showrooms, with sales reps and buyers. Sure, they thought we were crazy and looked at us with skepticism, but this allowed us to dive into their world and understand how digitization could improve their lives and make wholesale selling a true digital and sustainable experience. 

How fashion can embrace change

In the world we live in today companies like Netflix, Spotify and Uber have become mainstream because of how their services are set up and how agile the teams behind them are. What can fashion learn from this? Here are the seven principles that helped tech companies grow that fashion can embrace today.

  1. Plan for the unknown

    It’s hard to plan for new things. Especially with digital and innovation projects where the outcome is uncertain, planning can be both time consuming and counterproductive. Instead of trying to plan out exactly what in detail what the future will look like, plan for the unknown. Let your organization learn as it moves forward by letting your teams implement new learnings as they discover them. This principle can help overcome the starting block: not knowing where to start. As you progress, you’ll unlock new learnings that will make the process smoother, faster and overall more valuable.

  2. Take one step at a time

    When planning for the unknown, it makes sense to take smaller steps forward so you can put your learning muscle to work. Not only does this make learning easier, it also minimizes risks during the implementation/development process, while allowing for incorporating new learnings into your process. Taking smaller steps can also be a great way of motivating the business around progress, something that can be diluted when projects move in longer timeframes. Companies that embrace change can better adapt to new insights, no matter how drastic they might be.

  3. Share your progress

    It is nice to share results once you reach your desired destination, but when results are far in the future, the risk of losing buy-in from the rest of your business grows. In fashion the long lead times in the value chain often generate silos between teams that actually need to work closely together. Tech overcame this with continuously sharing progress in the context of milestones. This can not only reduce the number of assumptions in the process, it also creates enough communication touchpoints to avoid the surprise of changes coming your way too late in your progress.

  4. Collaborate

    What does continuous communication unlock? Collaboration. We’ve been there: big global brands with complex matrix organizations and teams spread across the world. Collaboration isn’t easy and it often fails if communication doesn’t happen often enough. So how does Tech break these silos? By creating interdisciplinary teams. Now, this may seem like a farfetched concept (marketing, merchandising, sales, design in one team?!?), but there are ways where we can put this into practice. For instance, create a go-to-market task force that encompasses merchandising, marketing and sales members to drive your sales season off to a good start. Grounding everybody’s needs and challenges in one team can make the process move easier into the future. And it helps determine how everybody plays a role in achieving a successful sales season.

  5. Reflect on what you did

    We get it. The next selling-season is already at your doorstep, and now may not be the time to look back, but to move forward. However, without taking the time to reflect you’re bound to make the same mistakes. Or even worse: let challenges become harder and harder to solve. Tech teams are used to reflecting on the work they did and how they did it regularly. All the time even. Not only looking to improve the product, but also constantly looking for ways to improve their collaboration. Without reflecting, all your learnings can end up on a wishlist instead of actually improving the day to day.

  6. Focus on value

    Wouldn’t it be  cool to have your entire digitization project full of AR, VR, AI, ML and Blockchain features?  While it might sound exciting and definitely press-worthy, focusing heavily on features and technology-for-technology-sake often leaves the most important question unanswered: how are you adding value to your business? When prioritizing what needs to be done, make sure you think of the value it adds and for whom. And this is not just for the end-user, but for the business as a whole and all of its stakeholders. Identifying and measuring value is one of the hardest, yet one of the most valuable steps to take on any innovation and digital project. It’s cool to have AR, yes, but much cooler to be able to leverage AR and cut  your go-to-market costs in half, right? 

  7. Build trust
    This may be the last, but it’s definitely not the least. There are often many people involved in driving change at an organization, let alone a big global corporation. While this is great as it creates consensus across the organization, there’s a risk you may enter an “opinion war” that leads to nowhere. How tech teams overcome this is by leveraging data. Bring data into your decision making process and nurture a culture where opinions and data can coexist and be challenged. This can unlock many situations and avoid scenarios where HIPPOs (highest paid person’s opinion) overrule any decision made.

If there’s one takeaway from this page is this: start today! No matter where you are as an organization, now’s the right time to move. Embrace change by starting with your why. Understand why it is important for you to move. The pandemic has created a paradigm where change, no matter how painful, is better than the alternative. This is the right moment to start driving a culture change in  your brand. Learn how to embrace change and turn any challenge into an opportunity to grow. Then, no matter what happens in the future, your organization will be ready for it. For wholesale, the rules of the new game are slowly coming into place, making it smarter and more sustainable along the way.