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What is PLM? with Dr Jo Conlon

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

As part of the blog, podcast and support channels here at Fashion Podcast, I will be interviewing a selection of industry professionals about their roles, with the vision to support students in their early career choices as well as supporting graduates into their first or future job roles. I hope that you all find them insightful! These blog posts are scripted from the Podcast episodes from ‘The Fashion Toolbox Podcast’ available on all Podcast listening platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Dr. Jo Conlon. Woman with shoulder length curly dark brown hair, smiling.

This week I was joined by Dr Jo Conlon.

Dr Jo Conlon is a Lecturer in Fashion Business at the University of Manchester and Programme Director of the on-campus fashion business programmes. In 2019, Jo completed a Doctorate in Education (EdD) investigating how digital technologies can reshape fashion business education. Jo has over ten years’ experience teaching Fashion Business within Higher Education. Prior to this, Jo worked extensively within the supply chain of Marks and Spencer as a Technical and Sourcing Manager. Her early career was grounded in a systems approach to product development and global supply many years before this approach became best practice. Her research centres on the enabling role of digital technologies on knowledge management, learning and change within organisations. Jo has also received funding for two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) projects to implement emerging and enabling technologies. Jo is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a member of the Chartered Management Institute and an Associate of the Textile Institute.

Fashion Toolbox 00:00

Thank you so much, Jo, for joining me on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

Can you tell me about how you came to work in in the Fashion industry and your background?

Dr Jo Conlon 00:12

Yes. Thank you for inviting me. It's really nice to be here. I think like lots of people, I fell into the Fashion industry, I have science A levels, and I liked making things and I didn't know what to do at university. And somehow, I stumbled across doing Textile technology, and that's what I did. So, I studied Textile technology at Manchester. And at the time, there was a scheme by Marks and Spencer’s, they called them Marks and Spencer’s Supplier Scheme. So, I was sponsored through my undergraduate programme which was great, but it also meant that I had opportunities for placements. So I had placements at the end of my first year, and then two placements at the end of my second year between my second year and my third year and then I went into the Marks and Spencer’s Suppliers Scheme, Graduate scheme on graduation. So really, that's kind of how I fell into the industry, and have been very happily employed in it ever since really!

Fashion Toolbox 01:10

That sounds like a really good scheme. Do Marks & Spencer’s still do that?

Dr Jo Conlon 01:14

No, I don't think at the time what they were trying to do, there were still lots of people, lots of factories and textile manufacturers working in the UK. And they were trying to encourage graduates to go and study textiles in order to move the industry forward. So, it's kind of like an incentive scheme. And it certainly worked, and I benefited from it and I think it was a really good scheme. And I think that kind of thinking really from a consortium of retailers or suppliers or whatever would be really beneficial to go forward because, there was a small bursary, which at the time was, well it's very nice, isn't it? But the best part of it was getting the experience so having the opportunity to have, a mentor in retail or in manufacturing and get experience was really good.

Fashion Toolbox 02:04

Yeah, it's absolutely priceless. And I think that, especially with everything that's going on at the moment, if we decide to bring manufacturing back, we're going to be a little bit stuck. So, these schemes would just be fabulous to re-introduce. So hopefully, that's something that we're going to gain from this negative one positive!

Dr Jo Conlon 02:25

We have to look for the positives. I think that's the thing, you know, great change often happens when things have really been very bad. And that's not to diminish what people are going through at the moment and the losses that people have suffered. But I think you have to remain optimistic and optimistic for change for the better.

Fashion Toolbox 02:42


So, could you explain what PLM is for any listeners who may not be aware?

Dr Jo Conlon 02:48

I'd be amazed if anybody did know what it meant! So, what I would like to say first is not to think of PLM as a software, it is software as in it's an IT system, but not to think of it as a software, but to think of it as an approach to doing things in a systematic way, using technology to help you. So, it's also kind of like a journey. So, we haven't got a fixed destination in mind. We're just on this journey to make things better. And PLM is the vehicle that we're going to get in to get there. So PLM stands for Product Lifecycle Management and the 'L' part of it for me is really important, because that is 'Lifecycle' so that it covers all the aspects of a product from the first time a designer has an idea about it all the way through that creative process, on through manufacturing, right back through retail, and eventually through sale and feedback from our customers through social media or any other way that we could get data once the product is actually live with the customer. So, I think the lifecycle part is really important. But what a system, the PLM system will do for you is it gives everybody that's involved in that what's called a single source of truth. So it's like a hub, or a pot, or a digital filing system where all the information about that product is stored and everybody that is connected to that, whether they're a designer, one of your suppliers, or somebody that's working in retail has the opportunity to look at that information and look at that information and it's live, because then it can help you make better decisions. So, everybody's connected to the same source of information, and everybody can do something with that information. The benefit of that is, if you've worked in a system before or you've worked with email or Excel sheets that are sent out very often you can be working on out of date information or even products that have been pulled. And you have been still working on it because you haven't got up to date information. So, having a live system, and a live source of truth for everybody is kind of invaluable. So that's kind of the way to think of it. Like a way that we can all look at the same sort of information. And a way of remembering what PLM is, is most people use this; they call it the 'three P's'. So, the 'three P's' are people, product data, and processes. So, it's a way of systemising all your processes, putting in standard practices. It's a way of capturing all your product data, so all the data about your designs, your materials, your bill of materials, your suppliers, your test results, all that data to do with the product. And then the major part of it is the 'P' for people. So, it's a collaborative tool to allow us all to work more collaboratively together. So from the designer to speak directly to the supplier for the supplier to have some input at the mood board stage, that kind of a way of enabling a much more collaborative, two way discussion between all of the people that are involved in making a product. And so, in this, what it has the potential to do, is to bring our suppliers in. So we don't just have all the expertise in head office and at the design stage, and then we just push it out to our suppliers who then of manufacture it and then push it back to us like it's some kind of hot potato, we can work collaboratively with it. And everybody through what's called the 'extended enterprise' is connected in the system. So, we're all in the system, we can all see the data, and we can all therefore be much more responsive and accurate and collaboratively within a way of a system that has brought us all together. I would like to add, so what I think PLM if we see PLM as a methodology or as an approach rather than a software, what it does for businesses is kind in stages. So, depending on where you are on how advanced your systems are, PLM will do different things for you. So if you don't have any standardised processes whatsoever, what PLM will do is help you put those in and you will benefit from the best practices of other people who have already put the system in. So, it will help you get organised and systemized and set up standard processes. If you're a bit more advanced, it will help you build on those best practices so that you're optimising things. So, you are learning where you're inefficient, you are learning where you've got bottlenecks, you are learning where things have gone wrong and you've got quality or production issues. And then you can do things in your business to make those problems go away. But the potential of PLM now isn't just about optimising so that we're faster and more efficient and making less mistakes. The potential of PLM now is to connect all the different digital software's that we have, and to make them work together. So rather than having all the different parts, your social media data, your design data, your 3D data, your manufacturing data all separately, if we could bring it all together, we'll have all that information to make even better decisions. So, it's kind of like two stages, optimising what you've got and becoming the best that you can. And then the transformation stage. So, PLM has got two aspects to it. And they're the benefits that it brings to business. But the first benefits that it brings to businesses are well documented so that the efficiencies that it can bring, as I talked about at the beginning of people not working on out to date or obsolete information, quality errors, reduction in quality, improving in just people's time and efficiency and production times all that data is well documented and what it actually delivers on the promise to optimise your processes. There's good information out there if people wanted to look at the detail.

Fashion Toolbox 09:22

Yes, I couldn't agree more with that, because I work in Product Development and I cover multiple aspects of the product development process. So, the tech and everything in Excel sheets, all the Gantt charts that you have, it's so difficult to keep those up to date. And to have a system where everything is in one place and you can just update one thing and that updates everything is just, it's just like a dream.

Dr Jo Conlon 09:52

Yeah. For the system to sort of help you It should be, in terms of automating work workflow. So if you, say I put in that a lab dye has been approved, that then means something to somebody else, I don't then have to notify the person their workflow will automatically be updated that that's happened, and therefore they can get on with it. And in terms of your priorities, it can help you organise your workflow so that you do the thing that's most important to the business, not the most important to you. And that's sometimes not very, not how we want to work, but if we're working for an organisation, that's how we have to work, we have to work on the business priorities. So yeah, organising workflow, stopping spending half of Monday in a critical path meeting and actually doing your job. Happy Days!

Fashion Toolbox 10:44


So, in terms of for a Garment Technician, for example, how much easier does building a tech pack become by using PLM?

Dr Jo Conlon 10:56

So, we can have an interesting chat about tech packs, really. So, I'll start with how it can help and then I'll say how I think it should change. If you imagine that you're building your bill of materials, and everything is at your fingertips, so you can see the button, you know how what ligne the button is, you know how many holes it's got, you've got a picture of it from the library, you have got the same for your fabrics, you know that it's approved, you know that it's production proven, etc. Just imagine how much easier building your tech pack is, because it stops, it's kind of like a filing system for people who, you know, designers and product developers are creative people they don't want to be administrators, that's not what they came into the world for. So, if the system will help them with administrative detail, which is so important to get right for the manufacturer, then that's really good. So, the library so in what happens in PLM, is you build all your components and all your patterns and all your construction methods into a library. And then you it's kind of like it should be a drag and drop, it's not as easy as that, it's more like a tick. So, then you can just go in the library and get all your materials and build up your tech pack really easily. So, it should be much more efficient once the library is populated, then then currently. But what I want to say, on tech packs and PLM. So if you have a tech pack, which you build in a PLM system, and then you save it as an Adobe PDF file and you email it to your supplier, you are no longer working in a PLM system. Because the whole point of the system is that the suppliers should be involved too. So, what I would say on tech packs is maybe we need to think about them differently. What if when we are doing our mood boards and we are putting our mood boards together, what if we invited our suppliers in? And we said to them, what do you think about this? And they'll say, actually, that pocket placement has previously been a real quality issue for us, or that kind of zip is a nightmare or, we have made a style very similar to that actually, we could just get going immediately. We've got fabric surplus fabric that we know that if you could use this, you know, we could... So what I'm saying is if we invited our suppliers in rather than just sending them a PDF, what we could do is we could make things even more efficient, we could eliminate a lot of waste, waste through effort and waste through not using the resources that are available to us. So that's what I think. The difficulty with getting things systemized is we then end up sticking with how things are and that's not how we should do things, we should use PLM to think this is the best way of doing it at the moment, but all the time thinking what if we did something else? What if we did this? So, on Tech Packs it would definitely help you, but remember that the end game is that we're trying to connect everybody through the whole lifecycle. So, the minute we come out of the system, we've kind of broken that. And then to say, Ok, this is tech pack is kind of a formula that's in the in the fashion industry, but what if it wasn't? What if we did it differently? How can we do it differently? And that's what I would encourage people that are coming into the industry to do.

Fashion Toolbox 14:27

Yes, I completely agree with that. The whole aim of this is that it should be a collaborative system. And we should be including suppliers in everything right from the start right to the finish because they have got all the knowledge and they could make things so much easier for us, so I do I completely agree. And in terms of the freedom that PLM gives us at the moment, yes. Oh my gosh, that's what we need because at the minute, we are just getting drowned with the admin tasks and we cannot be creative, we need that freedom.

Dr Jo Conlon 14:33

And I think in the future what could also happen is, why not involve your trend data or customers or something in there? You can be collaborative with your supply base, but you could also work collaboratively with your customers or with your customers data. Just so that we're I don't know, I mean there are problems with that, isn't there? And I know friends who are designers would be screaming at me. But do you see? we can work collaboratively into the supply chain and into our customers and I think that would be a good thing.

Fashion Toolbox 15:42

Yeah, I think that 3D might offer us those benefits hopefully, in the future.

So how useful is a PLM system far transparency and the maintenance and upkeep of your supplier databases, vendor databases, and how Is it different to using Excel?

Dr Jo Conlon 16:03

So, this is probably why I became interested in PLM. Because my job as a Fabric Technologist who was working in sourcing was to keep all the test data, so the fibre composition, any flame retardancy, any test results like that, the supplier appraisal documents. But also, if you were a Garment Tech all of the factory audit data, all of that has to be saved somewhere and that's not easy. Again, people who wanted to be a Fabric Technologist didn't want to do admin either. So what the system will help you do is all that data needs to be in there to allow you to progress the product and therefore when you need it because there's a problem, a quality problem, or a query on, for example, somebody asking where this was made, you'll have the data to hand. But equally all that information this is about, as we were talking at the beginning, it's about all that information should be available to everybody. So, if a supplier is offering something cheaply, more cheaply than a second supplier, then the person who's making that buying decision needs information about how reliable that supplier is. Because cheap is good, but if it comes with quality issues that cost the business money, or if it comes with delay, then a slight reduction in the cost isn't actually worth it. So if you have all this data available to people so people can see the supplier performance and their appraisals, then you can make a proper decision on where you place your orders and I think that's really important for everybody to be involved in. Then, as we move, I'd like to live in the happy day where we would actually know where things are being made because we have seen both offshore and onshore that brands are just not performing on knowing where their goods are being manufactured, and we need to get better at that. So, with having everything in a system, you can have live data to track where things are, and then you also have traceable data, that product history of where things were made. So, as we move to a more transparent and more sustainable business and fashion industry as a whole, having a PLM system, or equivalent in place, I think is an imperative.

Fashion Toolbox 18:43

I completely agree, that is what we need, moving towards a more sustainable and traceable, transparent future. So, this kind of business model is just imperative isn't it?

Dr Jo Conlon 18:56

In this day and age, it should not be acceptable for brands and retailers to not know, effectively where things are being made, and the conditions in which they're being made.

Fashion Toolbox 19:10

So, PLM has been implemented in a lot of industries already, and they have been using it quite successfully. And I think fashion is probably one of the slowest uptakes!

How do you see PLM benefiting the Fashion industry?

Dr Jo Conlon 19:28

You are absolutely right. Firstly, so PLM isn't just for the fashion industry. PLM is for anybody that makes anything so if you're making a car or ship, a helicopter, pharmaceuticals, whatever, even buildings have an equivalent, you know, if you were in construction, there's an equivalent system for construction. It's like if you're making stuff, everybody's worked out there needs to be a better way of doing it, than the way we're currently doing it. So, we can learn a lot of lessons from the automotive industry and other engineering systems where PLM is much more advanced. You touched on 3D before, because we all know that cars and helicopters and ships aren't made in a sample room, they are made in 3D in 3D design, and then they are prototyped like that, and then they go into production. And those products are really complex. Our products are complex, but I would argue a helicopter is probably more complex. So, I think we certainly can do it. I think what PLM can do is show us or model us a better way of a better future and I think that's what it offers organisations. So, it can obviously, this is where the data comes from on being more efficient, reducing quality, being faster, it comes from other industries, as well as from Fashion. So, there's this good history to show that it will improve your business.

Fashion Toolbox 20:56

I think one of the exciting things as well is that the successful industries that are using PLM and 3D software like automotive, they've got a circular business model. So hopefully, putting that in for us is also going to be circular and we can start to replace things and improve things and not have this throw away fashion.

Dr Jo Conlon 21:21

Absolutely. I think it's really interesting that you brought up circular but I think as people who are who are interested in circular and get more into it, I think we realised that we probably can't solve or we can't be circular as the Fashion industry. Probably the Fashion industry will need to populate other sectors with its waste and equally benefit from 'food' from other systems. And if all manufacturing goods were in a system where we could share data on a big scale, then we could see where there were resources that were available to us more widely. So, it doesn't have to be just that, you could think... Yes, it would be a huge leap forward if the Fashion industry did it. But the fashion industry could connect with other industries, then we can really get circular.

Fashion Toolbox 22:15

Oh, yes, definitely. as a whole. That could be really exciting.

Do you think that PLM is something which students should be learning at undergraduate level?

Dr Jo Conlon 22:24

Yes. Is the short answer to that! Yes, I do. But I think I would say it's not easy is it? What I would say is, the way I hope I introduced it to undergraduates was to show them about the changes that are happening in the industry, to not make it all about the tech, but to make it about change and opportunity and the importance of future industry professionals understanding end to end so understanding enough about fabrics, enough about how designers work, enough about supply chains, logistics. And I think PLM offers you a mechanism to see the industry, because it's hard, isn't it? Unless you've had some experience in the industry, how do you get a picture of how it's all interconnected without that real live experience? It's difficult. But I think PLM can help give you is kind of like a map, isn't it or a template for the whole industry and then students can see how all of the parts connect, and then find their place in that because there's so much, such a wide diversity of jobs and opportunities available to graduates not just the obvious ones. So, I hope it opens up the industry and people can find interesting places for them to work in. So, I absolutely think that people should learn about PLM. But I think they should understand it as a way of understanding the industry. So, it's just a tool, a framework for understanding the industry and to understand where you could be part of it. And also understanding that when you are part of an industry, you're passing information on. So, you're part of a very long chain. And that's why it's important that you do it right. And you do it on time because of the consequences.

Fashion Toolbox 24:27

Yes, it is a brilliant tool for understanding the process of the industry. And I think one thing that we need to realise is that we are fast changing, the industry is changing really quickly and everything is moving digital PLM is probably, we're all going to need to learn to know in the future. And as well, roles are merging, which means we need to know more of the processes. So, PLM is a great model to support that.

Dr Jo Conlon 25:02

But what I would also encourage students to think is what you're learning today. That is to recognise the pace of the change of industry. So, what you're learning today, in five years’ time, not going to say it's obsolete, but it will have changed dramatically. So always be thinking of how might this change? How could we do it differently? how, you know, what if? all the time what if? what else? all the time because to learn, we're not trying to teach you, we're not training, there's the difference between education and training. Training tells you how to do a job and that's why I've tried to stay away from 'how you put things in the library' and that kind of thing and focus more on the bigger picture of what PLM could do for the industry, because we need graduates to go out with the energy and the belief that they can change things for the better. And that's what I would want students to go away with, to see PLM as a means to understand the industry in all its interconnections, but also to see how it might change and how they could change it. Because one of the best examples, one of the highlights and I love this story, one of the highlights I had, I was describing something, it was probably a lab dip process or something or something in pre-production, I don't quite remember, but I was just telling how it was in the industry to my students, and I looked up and somebody just went, "Isn't there an app for that?" And it still tickles me today. Because that is so true. And I just said "No, sadly, there isn't. But please invent one!" because that's the thinking we need. Just like that sounds really tedious, long winded, and unnecessary. There must be an app for that. Yes, go and do it. That's what we need.

Fashion Toolbox 26:54

Yeah, so I think that we are an industry of problem solvers. So hopefully, we'll keep inventing more things!

What skills are required to successfully operate a PLM system? And what level of knowledge is required of the Fashion industry to do so?

Dr Jo Conlon 27:12

It's so I would say when people talk about PLM, they are very often not talking about PLM of today, they're talking about PLM of 10 years ago, or PDM of 20 years ago. So, technology has changed, hasn't it? So, when you get your phone now, it's fairly intuitive how you do everything. And PLM systems will get to that stage. But currently, they're not, the user interface I think could be hugely improved and could be much more appealing and intuitive, like your mobile is. So, when you're faced with a current PLM system it is quite daunting because there's lots of boxes to fill in, lots of things to tick and to understand. And it currently can be quite over facing, but I think it will improve. So, to be able to manage in that environment, one you need hope it'll improve, but two, you do need a little bit of understanding of how things work. So you need to understand what a designer does and how they go about translating sales data and trend data into a new product, you need to understand product development, everybody should understand the basic materials in our industry, for example, the difference between a woven and a knit and all the rest of it and how these things are made, and how things are put together how a garment is constructed, because once you've got that basic understanding, then you can navigate the PLM system, but without it I think you would be a bit flummoxed.

Fashion Toolbox 29:00

What is the difference between PLM & PDM?

Dr Jo Conlon 29:08

Okay, so. So PDM stands for Product Data Management, and it's a precursor of PLM. So, we all know that technology evolves. And the difference between the two is that PDM was just managing the product data, it wasn't collaborative, you didn't have your workflow in it automated, and it wasn't as connected but it was a step towards PLM.

Fashion Toolbox 29:38

What job roles would you say would usually be likely to need to know how to operate a PLM system?

Dr Jo Conlon 29:47

I would say that in the future everybody is going to be working in the system. We've talked about all the job roles from designer through to manufacturing and shipping and even marketing and social media data, and whatever else comes next. So, everybody will be working in the system. And you don't have to really know that you're working in a PLM system to know that you'll be working digitally. I don't think you need to worry too much about that. But I think we will all be what we, I think probably already all are working in a system and in the future a PLM system also because PLM is becoming kind of like a catch phrase or a catch all for all the different technologies. So without throwing too many acronyms in, there is there's another software called ERP, which deals with all your invoicing and your actual financial transactions data, but all these technologies, with all their three letter acronyms should be able to work together in a system. So, I think if we just see PLM as the system and find ways of making all the different technologies work together openly and transparently, then you can see that we're all involved in it. So then the skills that you need to be able to work in that kind of connected way, is you have to understand your place in the chain, and have an understanding of workflow, understand time management, be able to communicate effectively to them, you know, think about you know, when we're sending information to people that their English isn't their first language so, let's send a picture, let's send a 3D picture, the ability to be able to collaborate, which means not just thinking we've got all the knowledge as you've mentioned earlier, we'll send it out there to truly collaborate for that to be two way and to be open to change. So, I don't think you need to know too much, I don't think people need to worry about being in a PLM system, you will just be working in a digitally connected environment. And they're the skills that you need to be able to be successful in that environment.

Fashion Toolbox 32:10

I don't think that there's not a massive difference between what data you input and an Excel and what data you can input in PLM. So, it's not really big and scary and is just such a smoother process. So, it's definitely not something to worry about.

Dr Jo Conlon 32:25

And you only have to do it once if you put it properly. If you put it in properly in the PLM system, there it is for forever.

Fashion Toolbox 32:31

Yes, that's the good thing! With the ERP systems as well, I think promisingly a lot of the PLM companies look like they are now offering plugins for the ERP which makes that whole process a lot smoother. So that's good and get all the departments involved.

Dr Jo Conlon 32:51

I think that's evident. Design is probably the most, well it gets the most prominence and is the most developed, isn't it? But you can see that from the fact that you can design in Adobe, and that will plug into PLM systems from that. And all the 3D software, Clop, Browzwear, Optitex all work with PLM systems and that that's the whole idea that we should just exactly as you said, like plugin, plugin that bit. Designers learn to design in Adobe, that's the best Creative Suite to be a designer in, therefore let's not reinvent that for a PLM system, let's just get that to work with the system. And the same for all the technologies all the way through the supply chain.

Fashion Toolbox 33:42

Yes, constantly adapting.

What is the future of PLM? And what other innovations can you see happening in the future?

Dr Jo Conlon 33:52

There's so much because I think probably until now, when there was a lot of promise and a lot of potential and not a lot of actual delivery on that promise. Because we didn't have cloud-based data storage, because we didn't have widespread 5G networks. So, lots of things were just sort of evolving, but not quite happening. But I think that we will get there with all of that now with, on the cloud is and app based, it just becomes a way of working. So, I think we're about ready to really see big changes. I think the biggest one is definitely designing in 3D, as we've talked about, numerous times throughout chat, but you know, that's one of the big things. Associated with that is having 3D material platforms, so that you could have all the different materials as a designer, we can work physically, and we can work digitally, and we can be able to design things. Lots of people are working on fit, fits a big problem in the industry. So, scanning software to improve fit, personalization. So, you know, once I've put my 3D body scan in the system, can I actually get something that's more or less bespoke made for me, but through a mass production system? There have been lots of people doing interesting work on that. Can I pick a print? Could it be 3D designed so I can see it? Fitted to my body shape? 3D printed if I’ve chosen the printed design and sent it to me? Just think about how much waste that cuts out of the system and how much choice that brings to me as a buyer, as a consumer. So, I think that will come in, and then we have to tackle this issue of sustainability and waste and exploitation of workers in our supply chain. So, visibility will help understanding, a system will help with the, if we just have visibility that would help. But then in the future, you know, what can blockchain do? What can other technologies bring too so that we're not producing stuff to just go straight into the landfill, the sales, and the landfill, so that we can eliminate waste and we can treat our workers with respect.

Fashion Toolbox 36:26

Yes, I agree. Just thinking about the future of the industry just seems really exciting at the moment. I mean, there is so much bad going on that we're hearing about, but it hopefully is opening the doors to all this sustainability, traceability and transparency, and I guess the ethics and how we treat people, it just really needs to come to the forefront. And hopefully, this is what's happening now.

Dr Jo Conlon 36:55

Absolutely. Another thing social media has a big part to play in that doesn't it and I think that's sort of closes the loop of the data. There have been problems in our industry for years and years, and people have been trying to do things about it. But now I think that now the consumers are really aware, and that's having impact on brands, then there is a real impetus to do something. It's not an easy task to do, you know, making a garment is complex. There's lots of suppliers involved all at each stage. So, it's a very complex process to get a handle on, but I think we should be doing a much better job than we are.

Fashion Toolbox 37:43

How can you see PLM working alongside 3D technology?

Dr Jo Conlon 37:48

Well, I think it is actually I think we just need to not see these technologies as separate. Just like we can't, you've mentioned this, about how we how roles are blurring, and we all need to be more flexible. Technology needs to be able to keep up with those changes, doesn't it? So, if we have siloed software, and siloed job positions, which means we just we stay in our little bunker, and we don't talk to anybody and the technology does the same thing. We're never going to improve things. So, both people and technology need to work collaboratively so that the phrase for technology is 'agnostic' which just means it's flexible, and it doesn't care what platform it works off. So, we're getting to a more open software and where different technologies work together, and the interface will work effectively. Again, that's not an easy thing to do, you know. So that's a change that's happening. So, the technologies are designed to work together, and I think that that will improve things. So, as we mentioned before, PLM software's will work with 3D design programmes.

Fashion Toolbox 39:00

That is, it's just really promising that things are moving that way because that siloed mentality is just where mistakes happen. Because people are just staying in their own lane focusing on what they're doing and they're not talking to anybody not collaborating. So that just communication is always key, isn't it? So, PLM and the other software's working together and all being one will be great.

As a lecturer in Fashion, are there any common questions or concerns that you get from students about PLM?

Dr Jo Conlon 39:40

Again, as we started this conversation, I'd love to get some questions about PLM. This is the difficulty, isn't it? So, software in a creative industry, is a system, a knowledge management system going to be very exciting to students? No, it isn't really as it. But it is important, and it's important that we know things about it. Concerns, I suppose that you might have a concern that it would diminish the creativity or the excitement of the industry and I would say, No, it doesn't, it should free you up to be more creative to have more energy to do the things that you joined the industry to do. It shouldn't be detracting because, as we touched on from personal experience, administration isn't, it's not fun, and as creative individuals that's not what we want to do, so let's embrace the system. And not to be worried that you'll end up thinking it's all tech because it really isn't. It can't be it has to be about the product, it has to be about the consumer, it cannot be about the technology, so don't have those concerns.

Fashion Toolbox 40:55

I definitely agree that it frees you up, frees more time to actually do what you're supposed to be doing your creative side and my involvement in the product it's just, that's what we need.

Dr Jo Conlon 41:07


Fashion Toolbox 41:09

How will a knowledge of PLM benefit graduates or anyone working in the industry as an additional skill for that matter?

Dr Jo Conlon 41:18

What I think it will do is so if you had experience of PLM, and you put it on your CV, or you could find a way of putting it into your skills somewhere on your CV or application. What I think it does is it differentiates you because it shows that you are up to date with what's happening in the industry. So I think it's a really important differentiator and I've got good evidence of the students that have studied PLM and who have been able to put it on their CVS that it has created interest and topic of discussion, so it's got them to interview and it's certainly been interesting at interview. I can't guarantee you're going to get a job. But you know, what we need to do is to be able to differentiate ourselves and show that we are up to date and interested in the changes of the industry. And I've certainly got evidence that shows that having PLM on your CV does that. And I think a good way to get information, if people were looking for something to read this in a great digital magazine called the ‘The Interline’. You have to Google 'The Interline' from Mark Harrop’s team, at whichPLM which is doing loads of really interesting articles. Next month is all about sustainability, this month has been all about 3D. So I think if you can prove that you're up to date, and you can bring that to your application and to your interview, then you're really showing how you can differentiate you so it will benefit you in that way. And just to add to that is that's what the industry needs, the industry needs young people to come in and to change things, to recognise that those of us who've been in the industry a long time, although we might have an interest in technology or a passion for change, we don't have your intuitive knowledge of living digitally. So, we still kind of live analogue/ digital, you know, carry around a notebook, but you know, do I mean, we live like that. So, to have that technology first mindset that 'isn't there an app for that?' mindset is absolute gold in the industry, if we're going to deliver change, and to recognise the value of that, that you bring to the industry, to not think that you know, nothing, you should stay quiet and not contribute and just worry all the time, but to find somewhere where you can make your voice heard. And there are increasingly there are systems in businesses to get that contribution from those people at the very edges of the company who might have some really cracking ideas, so to believe in your contribution, and to just sort of look for opportunities where you can make a difference.

Fashion Toolbox 44:15

I completely agree with that. At the moment I have noticed a rise in jobs digitally. So, there's a lot of companies that are advertising for people with digital knowledge of 3D software, PLM. And those seem to be the roles that are really getting pushed at the moment.

Dr Jo Conlon 44:32


Fashion Toolbox 44:33

So, it's really interesting to see that post pandemic that this is the way that things are going.

Dr Jo Conlon 44:39

And also, the amount of free online courses that there are, so you can download free versions of lots of technologies. And yes, it takes a commitment and it takes time. But you can familiarise yourself with that. You don't have to wait for it to come on the curriculum for your lecturer to do, you can do that. And there's really good guidelines, I'm sure Optitex particularly have got really good lessons, I haven't checked the others, but please do, Optitex, Browzwear, Clo3D. They recognise that unless they make this available to users the likelihood of it getting adopted in the industry is much higher. Therefore, I would encourage people to look what's freely available, and try it for yourself, and then look for ways that you can get accredited for things or get recognition for things. And just think about how am I making myself different and attractive to prospective employers all the time?

Fashion Toolbox 45:48

Oh, yes, definitely. I couldn't agree more with that. It's just that lifelong learning mentality, isn't it and keeping yourself up skilled at all times because like we say the industry is forever changing.

Dr Jo Conlon 46:00

And that's it. And that never stops, you know. So, I'm currently learning how to use Adobe Spark. And this is just going to be the way it is all the time. No one is going to put me on a training course, I'm going to have to find that I need to know that and then learn how to use it and then try it. And that, you know, lifelong learning is the way forward. And because of the current situation there's some amazing stuff being made freely available. So, make the most of it.


Glossary of Terms

Button Ligne = Ligne is a historic unit of length. It is a French word meaning “line”. It is used to measure the diameter of a button and has been used as such for centuries! Although the measurement was generally replaced with the adoption of the metric system, the term is still used to this day to measure buttons.

GANTT Chart = Simply put, a Gantt chart is a visual view of tasks scheduled over time. Gantt charts are used for planning projects of all sizes and they are a useful way of showing what work is scheduled to be done on a specific day. They also help you view the start and end dates of a project in one simple view.

ERP = ERP is an acronym that stands for “Enterprise Resource Management”, the consolidated process of gathering and organizing business data through an integrated software suite. ERP software contains applications which automates business functions like production, sales quoting, accounting, and more.

ERP facilitates your company operations across every department. ERP solutions improve how you handle business resources, whether it’s raw materials for manufacturing or staffing hours for human resources.

Tech Pack = A tech pack is a blueprint created by a designer. It contains all the components and instructions required for a manufacturer to turn your design into a finished product. That includes materials, gradings, seams, colorways, measurements, trim, labels etc.

Useful Links

Further Reading

Conlon, J. (2020). From PLM 1.0 to PLM 2.0: the evolving role of product lifecycle management (PLM) in the textile and apparel industries. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal.DOI: 10.1108/JFMM-12-2017-0143

How PLM drives Innovation in the Curriculum and Pedagogy of Fashion Business Education_pdf
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