AS Colour, one of Australia’s fastest growing socially responsible and sustainable fashion labels shares how partnering with Manhattan Associates strengthened the loose threads of its supply chain to spin the label into global success.
Minimalist style has taken the fashion world by storm in recent years. In general, despite the focus one puts on their style, a basic white t-shirt is a staple and will never go out of fashion.
From hipsters to baby boomers, and from the modest to the trendsetters, neutral coloured clothing is a product desired by all. Fifteen years ago, Lawrence Railton, Managing Director and Founder of AS Colour recognised a gap in the market for high quality basics. Back then, e-commerce was a fresh concept and transactions were made through fax and ERP.
Today the brand is regarded as one of Australia’s iconic fashion labels, with retail stores in fashion capitals across the nation including Fitzroy and Chapel Street in Melbourne, Bondi in Sydney and West End in Brisbane. Although most AS Colour wearers are Australian, the brand was born and bred across the fence in New Zealand.
“It all began in a 300 sqm warehouse in New Zealand, with calls and emails from Australians wanting basic t-shirts,” Lawrence says. AS Colour has since expanded to a global presence with four distribution centres. “We recently opened a new 18,000 sqm warehouse in Melbourne, have a warehouse in Los Angeles and another one just outside of London.” With operations in four different time zones, Lawrence highlights the importance of finding a flexible warehouse management solution (WMS).
Global support was a driving attribute in choosing Manhattan Associates as AS Colour’s WMS provider. Whilst auditing factories and developing the brand’s management systems and policies, AS Colour maintains an ethical sourcing framework. Lawrence says it’s more important the brand finds and works with factory owners and management who share the same values, operate a culture of dignity and respect, are in it for the long term, and who are willing to embrace change and continuous improvement.
Offices around the world have adapted from in person collaboration to virtual meetings during the COVID era. For most companies, installing or upgrading solutions with clients have been postponed due to travel restrictions. Lockdown restrictions in all distribution points for AS Colour didn’t halt progress for the brand, as they are emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever.
Conferences to webinars and face-to-face coffee meetings to e-meetings have successfully been done. But unlike Australia, New Zealand underwent a hard lockdown in March. “The whole logistics industry was grounded to a halt, there was no freight moving at all besides supermarkets. It was definitely a challenging time,” Lawrence says. Whilst tumbleweed was rolling through Auckland airport and highways, Lawrence and his team were building an entirely new WMS to integrate into their flagship distribution centre.
AS Colour is the first company in the world to implement Manhattan Associates’ SCALE WMS remotely via video communication.
Due to the consumer demand an evolving business model, Lawrence says their previous WMS had reached its end of life and lockdown couldn’t prevent the strong need to upgrade to a more versatile solution that could cope with AS Colour requirements.
Lawrence laughs when he recalls his wife asking, “do you have another Teams call again?” throughout New Zealand’s level four lockdown, but he was determined to be well equipped with knowledge and support from Manhattan, who were assisting via the internet 2000kms away.
In a matter of weeks, when most other warehouse productions had fallen to radio silence, AS Colour implemented their new WMS. “It worked so well; I don’t see any difference from in person to remote installation. It just proves you can receive quality service without the physical aspect and more companies will need to adapt to this contact-less style of business,” he says.
Lawrence notes that AS Colour is proud to have 100 per cent traceability of all its garment suppliers and believes that being transparent is a vital attribute in designing and manufacturing its premium apparel. In total, the company has 16 garment factories in total with nine key factories. AS Colour’s core t-shirting range is produced in Bangladesh and 40 per cent of more detailed garments are produced in China.
AS Colour’s commitment to social responsibility extends beyond direct suppliers. With its suppliers consistently updating and improving their manufacturing facilities, by making full use of all the technological advancements in the textile industry, Lawrence says it’s also essential the WMS can continually comply with mobility to change too.
“Our business is a carbon copy in each country we operate in. We have high expectations and have a strict on-boarding process. We needed a solution’s provider who could be a partner to us, in the same way we are with our own suppliers,” Lawrence says.
Prior to lockdown restrictions, AS Colour was struggling with cycle counting efficiency and also due to its substantial business growth, as well as the introduction of new product categories such as its organic cotton products. “During the pandemic we’ve seen a huge increase in our e-commerce sales as well as B2B and as more countries emerge from lockdown orders, we expect demand to continue,” Lawrence says.
He noted that a lot of customers who cancelled off-shore production are now turning to AS Colour as a life-line, which pushed the pedal to find a WMS provider in the early stages of the global pandemic.
“We needed to be able to make changes ourselves, but a global partnership and support to all four of our distribution points across the world drew us to Manhattan,” Lawrence says. AS Colour went live with its new WMS during lockdown without one physical handshake from a consultant.
Looking back on the experience, Lawrence recalls the cost-saving aspect to the screen-time support. “Instead of burning lots of jet fuel flying around the world spending hours in transit, we could communicate at the push of a button. It was certainly a smooth and sophisticated process.”
Lawrence acknowledges the unique circumstances but notes the business has already reaped in the benefits of a quicker WMS installation that was done remotely. “We operate in New Zealand, which is already isolated on an island from most of the world, so we’re used to calling in to places and people around the world virtually. I’d say there is no challenge going live with a WMS remotely, if anything, it’s much quicker – especially if you’re with a trusted and experienced provider.”
SETTING THE TREND
“We’re not chasing market trends in the world of fashion, we’re building core quality basics,” Lawrence says. Although the brand’s top selling product was designed eight years ago and is considered a timeless staple, AS Colour is setting the trend in its progressive way of modern business.
“Not only did we manage to go live with an entirely new WMS and integrate it successfully into our complex supply chain, it was delivered ahead of time, a couple of weeks earlier than expected,” Lawrence says. Despite the desire to keep testing the deployment, he says Manhattan consultants gave the company the confidence to go live.
“You can develop your own rules, change them and have flexibility, but support from global partners is how the business
can continue to grow during this unknown time,” Lawrence says. “It simply came down to learning the Manhattan solution, adapting with it and now actioning it to our full potential.”
He credits the video conference calls that have provided the brand with excellent training through a new medium of problem-solving. “We are now around seven times the size of what we were when we implemented our previous WMS, so the fundamental reason we partnered with Manhattan is to have support that will leverage our growth of quality products,” Lawrence says.
“We choose not to have a logo; our apparel is purely on the fabric and quality of the finish. We know our products will be in our retail range for beyond ten years. As we sell our T-shirts as blanks for customisation, whether that be daily wear or for a uniform, we know our supply chain solution will stand the test of time too.”
With the Auckland warehouse now in full swing, Lawrence shares he is excited to open AS Colour’s new Melbourne warehouse in October. “We’re also seeing our California business growing rapidly so we see our Manhattan solution going live beyond the Australia and New Zealand region. Support doesn’t have to be physical, it’s incredible what can be achieved and how our work environments will continue to adapt,” he says.
AS Colour may not be a fast fashion company, but its commitment to its supply chain practice has enabled the brand to be fashion-forward in its production line. “Logistics isn’t rocket science. We are committed to all elements of production, including continuing to invest our time and resources into being socially responsible, while also understanding the true value of quality and cost of a product. These factors have definitely all contributed to the long-term success and sustainability of our supply base,” Lawrence says.