The swift growth of e-commerce and the adoption of DTC channels have led more footwear companies to embrace digital infrastructure than in previous years. But for many, this transition to technology can be slow and difficult, particularly if the digital solutions aren’t tailored for a footwear business. At Evolution Design Lab, they have addressed this problem in a new way: by designing their own software in-house.
“After evaluating the entire landscape of the product offerings, we felt that no one single solution, nor any mix of multiple solutions, could meet our specific requirements and needs,” said Michael Chen, CEO at Evolution Design Lab (EDL). “If our trading partners cannot be deeply integrated, then we’re merely trying to put hacked solutions in place rather than a truly complete platform — hence why we built everything from scratch.”
EDL has created a single ecosystem for use both internally and with all supply partners. The software includes portals tailored for factories, buyers and everyone in between, to ensure that all partners have access to current and accurate information at each stage of production. (Partners of EDL were taken into account when designing the software, to ensure a smooth user experience.)
Investing in creating an in-house software comes with some risks. Management may waste time and resources on digital tools that are ultimately abandoned, because some employees might resist a new method of doing things, while others could experience friction when working with software that is not specialized for their design purposes.
“Software is only as good as what the users make of it,” explained Chen. “We committed a tremendous amount of engineering to make a system simple and user friendly. What we learned through this process is that [the] engineering [team] had to change their perception of users; end users had to find a way to adopt change. Bridging that chasm between innovation and execution took time, but the balance is what drives EDL.”
At the footwear design stage, the EDL platform allows users to create 3D designs that can then be viewed online and rendered instantaneously with different materials. There is also a function which allows multiple users to access a shared page from multiple locations, to improve collaboration and response times. Once a product is designed, this function can be used to demonstrate different SKUs to potential retail partners.
The platform is also able to generate spec sheets and bills of material for each product, to be shared with supply chain partners. This aids in production planning, minimizes waste and can speed up the time to market.
While the software currently only has a case study of one, EDL reports that utilizing the technology has reduced development costs by nearly 75% on footwear samples, while increasing the product line and SKU depth by over 300%. The company has also been able to repurpose its sample room into light production, which Chen described as “turning a traditional cost center into a profit center.”
While this digital ecosystem is the result of 15 years’ worth of engineering and optimization, EDL has found it to be particularly useful during the pandemic — especially the remote collaboration capabilities with EDL’s external partners. Their positive experience of the interface has encouraged the brand to expand the technology into an enterprise solution.
“We believe this kind of technology can revolutionize retail and manufacturing,” said Chen. “We are in the process of spinning this technology off as a completely independent entity, to be a service provider in the near future. In order for the technology to be adopted, it cannot be a six- or seven-figure implementation that’s difficult and expensive, but something that’s non-committal and as easy as Google Sheets to implement.”
Until that time, Chen has some advice for footwear brands that want to establish an efficient software solution, but don’t have an in-house engineering team. He recommends that, when considering the investment needed to implement the technology, look at the internal cost in terms of culture and energy — not just at the price of the software.
On a more technical basis, the specific offerings of a provider should be compared to a brand’s individual needs and nuances. Even well-established solutions can prove ineffective if the new user experience doesn’t align with internal work flows.
“No two companies are the same, [yet] software vendors have the unenviable task of trying to meet the needs of many,” said Chen. “In the end, if the benefit outweighs the cost, then that’s something that a company can move forward with.”