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Creating seamless communication throughout the fashion supply chain

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The fashion industry is fuelled by an international supply chain that stretches far beyond the runway or clothing store. Numerous stakeholders must communicate about sales, shipments, supplies and more. To help facilitate this collaboration, the European Commission offers eBIZ, an interface that enables the fashion industry’s 850 000 companies to integrate their operations and create Europe’s world-renowned clothing.

Long before a garment appears at a fashion show or on a display rack, a lengthy – and often international – collaboration must take place. The glittering world of fashion is underpinned by textile producers, distributors and designers from around the globe, all of whom rely on the ability to exchange huge amounts of information about product features, when certain goods will be received, what clients purchase and more.

Because quick and accurate communication is crucial for success, the European Commission launched eBIZ, an interface that allows stakeholders in the fashion industry to exchange data and bolster productivity. Run by private organisations, eBIZ has now reached its fifth year, helping hundreds of textile, clothing and footwear companies communicate every day.

Prior to eBIZ, the various information technology (IT) tools used up and down the supply chain were often incompatible, creating confusion about, for example, when an order was received or shipped. Such data had to be manually encoded into a company’s IT system, and because these systems varied significantly – and because there can be more than 30 transformations between raw materials and a final article of clothing – there was ample opportunity for confusion. But by offering full compatibility between IT systems, eBIZ is helping stakeholders avoid the problems of yesteryear.

eBIZ: using a common language in the fashion business

eBIZ began by creating a common electronic ‘language’ that would enable business partners – from fabric manufacturer to downtown (or online) clothing stores – to be digitally integrated. The so-called eBIZ Reference Architecture, which established how players in the fashion industry would ‘speak’ with one another, was tested from 2008 to 2010 by more than 150 companies across Europe.

This trial proved the remarkable benefits that could be gained by companies using the common electronic language defined by the Architecture, including cost-reduction, higher efficiency and better time to market. Such improvements were particularly important for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which had little or no previous experience with digital communication.

eBIZ had grown significantly by 2012, thanks in part to the activities of the ad-hoc international working group ‘European Committee for Standardization’ (CEN). This group gathered 54 organizations from 10 European countries and agreed on a new, upgraded version of the digital language designed to address the current business challenges.

By mid-2013, more than 300 companies from across Europe had benefitted from eBIZ. This widespread participation illustrates a growing awareness of the importance of standardised IT and of stronger cooperation with business partners.

Coordinated by Euratex, the European textile and clothing confederation, and technically managed by ENEA, an Italian public research organisation, the eBIZ initiative has gained widespread acknowledgement from both the IT community and fashion industry.

The companies’ experiences

Some of the key benefits reported by companies:

  • Reduction of order management costs by up to 60 %
  • Elimination of the use of fax and a 95 % reduction in phone and email communications with sub-contractors
  • Better time to market and improvement of reaction times to orders by 10-15 %
  • Integration with suppliers and customers
  • Simplification of procedures and removal of errors in manual data entry
  • Great savings in maintenance and updating costs of enterprise resources planning (ERP) systems
  • Availability of state of the art specifications, tailored for the needs of small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises
  • Technical upgrades in 2013, expanding technologies, e-invoicing and business models


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