Although apparel supply chains have become more complex and demanding, to prevent a bleak future, we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room- we need to reinvent fashion’s supply chain. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt both the supply chain and the global distribution channels, now is the time to start paying more attention to the behind-the-scenes strategies. This will allow fashion businesses to address insufficiencies currently affecting workers within their supply chain. Doing so will also enable the industry to make critical decisions, innovate, and invest in new purpose-driven solutions for disruptions like COVID-19.
Integration, Incentives, and Increasing Trust in the Supply Chain
Some of the ways that fashion businesses have been addressing fashion’s supply chain problems have been through adopting a more collaborative attitude. A great example of this is Kering. They made the methodology open-source and offered a tangible way to build collaboration at scale and draw in retailers who use shared supply chains. Another company making a difference is Nike. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the sports giant launched a joint program with its suppliers to implement best practices and technologies along their supply chain.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force change, Suuchi Ramesh, Founder & CEO of Suuchi Inc., believes that all industries, but especially the fashion industry, should begin the process of digitization to start repairing their supply chains. “A modern tech stack will not be optional in a post-Coronavirus market, so this is the time to identify and integrate lightweight software to track and manage all of their supply chain partners,” she explained. Adding: “Companies should also use this time to rethink their sourcing and production networks and create a strategic matrix of geographically diverse partners.”
For decision-makers to grasp the severity of the situation and implement sustainable solutions, it’s essential to dive deep into the root of the problem. I asked some experts to share their opinions on how the fashion industry can start to repair the broken supply chain.
Tai Ford, Marketing, Communications & Project Management at Retraced
Now is the opportune time for the leaders and decision-makers in the fashion industry to build strategic road-maps that enable them to thrive in a post-Corona world. It all revolves around more reliable connections and transparency between the stakeholders within the value chain. Decision-makers can improve this right now.
First, they need to get more information about their supply chains. They need to map their supply chains, note all the companies involved, and establish a more direct connection. A direct link will likely include cutting out some “middlemen” and gaining more oversight. Tools currently exist to enable brands to do this, and to figure out: Who are all the players involved? How have then been affected by COVID-19, and how can we build a more profound connection so that going forward, we can help mitigate against supply chain disruptions? We’ve seen that sustainable, fair fashion brands who have streamlined their supply chains to enable greater transparency and oversight, like ArmedAngels, have been able to adapt quicker, and still engage with their suppliers to try and help during the crisis. This type of relationship and connection will help stakeholders make their operations more robust (and trustworthy) in the future.
Now is also an opportunity for the industry to get closer to the consumer. The low cost, “fast fashion” model, has been disrupted, and the impact of canceled orders (lost jobs, and livelihoods) is felt strongest further down the supply chain. Compounded with the health crisis and poor health infrastructure present in the countries where lower-tiered suppliers are located, we start to get a clearer picture of the crisis’s devastating impact on the industry. Real people, real lives, and families have been negatively affected by the pandemic – not just P&L statements. And consumers will take notice.
Brands and manufacturers have an opportunity to share their transparent efforts with consumers, to help win their trust and loyalty moving forward. Similarly, the appetite for excessive fashion shopping will likely drop. Having a closer connection to consumers can help companies scale down and be more precise in their production planning for the future.
Greater connection, communication, and transparency between value chain stakeholders will help correct the current shortcomings and allow the industry to create higher-value products and services that can endure during times of crises, and seize the opportunities to come for fashion’s future.
Stylianee Parascha, Founding President of Fashion Revolution Luxembourg
The Coronavirus crisis, despite its brutal nature, helped us to make an equally brutal realization: our economic systems are fragile and not fit for purpose. The fashion industry is weak, ill-structured, and not resilient at all. I want to see more transparency. I want to see real collaborations and partnerships emerge. We need a system that supports garment workers and puts them in a position they deserve, as our beautiful clothes would not exist without them.
Brands need to take responsibility for their workers, as outsourcing production was supposed to be a win-win and not a way for brands to take advantage. Treat them with dignity and respect and pay them accordingly. I want to see overproduction stop, and overconsumption and excess cease to exist. It’s high time that our needs come before our frivolous wants.
Sandra Capponi, Co-Founder, Good On You
Sadly, the pandemic has had devastating impacts on the fashion community, from business closures to countless people losing jobs. Garment workers in some of the world’s poorest countries face grave danger, exposing deep flaws in global supply chains.
Retail stores all around the globe have closed, countless workers have lost their jobs, and vulnerable communities in global supply chains are facing grave danger. Businesses are shifting focus to de-risking supply chains, expanding eCommerce platforms, investing in employee engagement, and returning to purpose-led strategies. I’d like to see the fashion industry change to put people and the planet first. We need to start today to create a sustainable future in fashion. And everyone has a role to play. It’s time to reinvent the future of fashion to protect the very makers of our clothes and the environment that connects us.
Tanyaradzwa Sahanga, The Business of Sustainability and Transformation at 37Thanks
The current global production and supply chains are excellent, highly efficient, well-oiled systems that successfully churn out product to meet and exceed global consumer demand and desire. This same efficiency is also one of the fashion industry supply chain’s shortcomings, as much as it is a strength because it feeds into the most significant flaw of the fashion value chain – output volumes are excessively high each season.
We need less efficient production lines that enable a reduction in the volume of the product created seasonally. Since the global pandemic impact on the apparel industry, this has become all the more clearer.
So how do we, the industry, achieve that shift from high volume to essential output?
One method is intelligent digital systems integration along the value chain to allow smart business volume adjustments. The technology exists and ranges from automation to Blockchain to AI and beyond. Furthermore, the technologies have already been in some pilot-scale applications, including some projects that I have had the privilege to work on across the globe with various business partners testing new models of operation across multiple parts of the value chain. The necessary shift goes beyond the pilot-scale and goes beyond restricting the application of these technologies to niche arenas. To truly enable seasonal relevant volumes in the supply chain, the times we are in now demand a more adaptive model of creation, to which I believe the integration of technology en-masse across the entire value chain would be one useful tool.
The impact of this has undeniable sustainability benefits, reducing excess production, to only meet needs reduces fashion items that are destroyed for legal reasons, or oversaturating the fashion retail markets with a fast product that will ultimately end up in landfills after a short lifecycle.
Aniela Hoitink, Founder of NEFFA
The future of fashion is collaboration, not only within the conventional supply chain but also with innovators and stakeholders from other sectors. We all wear garments and are part of the problem, only together we can boost solutions!
One thing that Covid-19 is showing us is that the conventional fashion industry no longer works. In the past 200 years, fashion became a vast and complicated industry with thousands of stakeholders that were left behind when things went wrong.
This crisis is an opportunity to change that industry and to look at other, more sustainable ways of developing materials and producing garments. We have to look outside the fashion industry for solutions that can restore the supply chain.