Why Supply Chain Visibility is Essential for Fashion Brands

It is no secret that the majority of consumers would prefer fashion businesses to disclose their supply chain, but unfortunately, the manufacturing of fashion has never been an open book. This is why consumers must use their purchasing power to encourage brands further to take traceability seriously, which includes knowing exactly where all the stages of the supply chain are.

Brands have always been more about ducking and diving rather than the sharing of information. It is quite the norm for industry suppliers to be a closely guarded secret. The good news is that the advancement of technology has been introducing more accessible ways to add transparency and traceability into the production of fashion goods. Although the adoption of these technologies has been slow, there have been some fashion brands like Patagonia, that are starting to see the benefit of having visibility. It is becoming more apparent that the industry as a whole is slowly beginning to reach a point where it realises why supply chain visibility is essential for the future of fashion.

From Fiber-to-Retail, Mapping Your Fashion Brand Green

Did you know that less than 5 percent of the top 250 apparel brands can track their garments back to the fibre origin? Some would argue that is a shockingly low number considering that awareness is rising, but there are a couple of reasons why the industry is hesitating. One is that supply chains were not designed to be transparent, and two, there is no immediate ROI for investing in transparency. That being said, there are more solutions readily available for fashion brands interested in finding a way to map their product supply chain. 

According to Andrew Stork, an Academic Professional Development Adviser at the University of Sheffield, supply chain mapping is a living system that graphically represents the supplier network driven by a master database which is open to all stakeholders, so each user has the same understanding. So far, we have seen a few early adopters successfully adopt a respectable level of transparency. They are the brands that have identified that supply chain mapping and transparency go hand-in-hand and that you can’t have one without the other. 

When it comes to sharing information about raw material suppliers, most brands are being driven to evolve past the traditional ways of manufacturing. This is mainly because consumer attitudes to sustainability and supply chain transparency are continually changing. Recognising that a positive change within the fashion industry needs to happen Eileen Fisher shared in a Vision2020 statement: “It’s no small feat to map a global supply chain, but it’s a matter of integrity. We need to verify how every last fibre is grown, and every last garment is dyed. We need to know that every factory, spinner and mill is following strict labour standards.”

Technologies designed to Support a Brand’s Footprint Chronicles

As the fashion industry takes a leap towards a greener future, there are dozens of technologies bubbling up to assist brands in their sustainability efforts. One of these technologies is the Suuchi GRID. Hoping to modernise the traditional apparel industry Suuchi Inc. has been celebrated for digitising the manufacturing process with its technology. The Suuchi GRID is a structured, transparent supply chain technology that allows brands to track their entire process through Suuchi Inc.’s curated network of factories and mills or companies can bring their own network and use the technology to track across their suppliers. It also pushes companies towards sustainability by providing a sustainable path for the growth of their brand.

More recently, the Lenzing Group introduced a blockchain technology designed to bring about a new level of transparency and traceability in the textile industry. Working in close cooperation with TextileGenesisTM, WWF and Hong Kong-based brand Chicks, Lenzing’s blockchain technology was created to enable brands and consumers to identify TENCELTM branded fibres across each production and distribution step. The technology also allows consumers to verify the garment composition and the underlying textile supply chain at the point of sale, only by scanning the barcode with a mobile device.

On their pilot project Stefan Doboczky, Chief Executive Officer of the Lenzing Group stated in their press release: “Together with TextileGenesisTM, we pursue the ambitious goal to achieve an unparalleled level of transparency for fashion brands and consumers. We will use blockchain technology to maximise the digital traceability of fibres, thus making an important contribution to green up the fashion industry.” He continues: “This strong belief in and commitment to sustainability will support the business with TENCELTM fibres.” For the moment, Lenzing is carrying out further pilot tests that involve partners along the entire value chain, and they expect the platform to be fully operational as of 2020.

Going forward, I foresee data influencing how seriously fashion brands take their sustainability performance. Data is already playing an integral part in encouraging fashion brands to map their supply chain. According to Anthesis, a global sustainability services and solutions consultancy, if data is harnessed correctly, brands will be able to calculate their carbon footprint of their supply chain using real, and sourcing teams can evaluate water risk across different geographies of supply. Also, efficiencies can be targeted at individual factories based on a scale of improvement opportunities and decisions about strategic sustainability priorities can be made clear and communicated efficiently.

Written by Muchaneta Kapfunde


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