Panel Discussion: Building Resilience & Value in Fashion’s Supply Chain


  • Amanda Martin, Senior Vice President, Chief Supply Chain Officer, Neiman Marcus Group
  • Kathleen Talbot, Chief Sustainability Officer & VP Operations, Reformation

Event summary by Mariel Abano (FASH455 student, Spring 2022)

COVID-19 and other external shocks such as the Ukraine-Russia war shifted the fashion supply chain from its conventional low-cost model. In response to the changes, brands and companies focus on flexibility, strengthening their relationships with suppliers, and sustainability.

Regarding the pandemic’s impacts on the apparel supply chain, fashion brands need to be more future-oriented to better prepare for unexpected market shocks that may come up in the fluctuating world. Flexibility within their merchandising teams allowed Neiman Marcus to pivot during the pandemic and market differently within the context of the pandemic. The company explored new ways to connect with its consumers via digital platforms as many physical stores closed. However, fashion companies need to be flexible enough to respond to the increasing demand from its growing e-commerce platform. This is not always easy to happen.

Likewise, Reformation tries its best to predict demand, build supply chain capacity, and manage lead time during COVID-19. Their manufacturing chains within the U.S. and vertical integration helped them respond quickly to supply chain disruptions. As a result, the company pivoted quickly to athleisure even though its brand is typically known for its event-wear dresses.

Meanwhile, when evaluating their supply chain, Amanda Martin explains that Neiman Marcus prioritizes labor, speed, and cost. With this, there is a balance between investment of capital and resources and mitigating costs like surging fuel prices.

The relationship with vendors also matters during the pandemic. For example, Neiman Marcus’s relationships with its vendors built over the years allowed the company to move more quickly from ocean to air shipping during the pandemic. In the discussion, Amanda Martin explained why the relationship between retailers/brands and manufacturers needs to help both sides grow and benefit. Likewise, Reformation also focuses on people and their relationships with their suppliers during the pandemic. Kathleen Talbot emphasizes that brand-supplier relationships are evolving. Fostering two-way conversations is key to moving away from the previous model that prioritized the needs and wants of the brand over the manufacturer.

Sustainability is NOT ignored during the pandemic. For example, fashion companies increasingly use technology and process management to take accountability for supply chains and improve traceability. In terms of environmental impact, there are more applications within sourcing emphasizing recycled and renewable materials. For example, Reformation recently launched a new circularity initiative that focuses on extending a product’s lifetime and then recycling that back into the system. When creating new styles, the company started from sustainable fibers. Further, they hope to shift transportation from air to other means to minimize their carbon footprint.

[discussion is closed]

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

4 thoughts on “Panel Discussion: Building Resilience & Value in Fashion’s Supply Chain”

  1. This panel discussion was extremely insightful in understanding how both Reformation and Neiman Marcus adapted throughout the supply chain crisis. Based on the panelist’s views on the future of the supply chain, it appears that both Reformation and Neiman Marcus aim towards a more vertical supply chain. Fashion companies supply chain and sourcing strategies will continue to evolve through the use of technology. Using technology to improve traceability and process management will help brands go deeper into the supply chain and take accountability. Reformation focused on building partnerships with supply chains during the pandemic and they were able to adapt due to preexisting vertical integration which gave them control of their own manufacturing.

    1. I thought this panel discussion effectively compared not only the differences in systems within a retailer (Neiman Marcus) and a brand (Reformation) but also the difference between a company that previously prioritized sustainability and one that is changing. One of the most important messages throughout the conversation was the necessary role sustainability has played in the adaption due to COVID19. Reformation, a company that has always put sustainability at the forefront of its business, talked about its current vertical integration and the perks of flexibility in the company. I also thought a major benefit the brand shared was its power of control to create equally beneficial relationships with partners. Not only does the company want to benefit butt hey also want to provide resources and implement strategies for their partners long-term. Neiman Marcus’ response to these ideas was agreeable. In fact, the retailer spoke of the current uprooting of the company’s system to adapt many of the policies and practices Reformation executes.

      1. well said! and many initiatives are hands in hands–digitalization, sustainability, and supply chain transparency.

  2. This panel discussion is about building resilience and value in fashion’s supply
    chain. The first panelist Diana Lee goes through an extraction of the report. Senior fashion executives were interviewed about key points and this is shown in chapter one. The “meat” of the report is focused on strategy and tactic when it comes to the supply chain. Panelist Diana Lee speaks upon the exposure shocks that the fashion industry deals with and this is due to high labor intensity. Another key point is that the pandemic created new challenges such as demand surges and operational bottlenecks. These surges and bottlenecks compound one another and that is why we are stuck in this vicious cycle. After listening to this panel discussion I genuinely enjoyed it and feel much more enlightened on the topics that were brought up. From Amanda and Kathleen’s viewpoints and perspectives, I believe that fashion companies’ supply chains and sourcing strategies will continue to evolve in a positive way, sparking a focus on increased spending. I think that these companies striving to and already having certain relationships with their consumers is a key factor for growth. For the future, I could see many companies will choose to recalibrate their retail footprints but the market environment will remain complex with constant new challenges to address even if they are small such as shipping delays.

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