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The Changing Face Of Fashion: Building A Sustainable Supply Chain

If there’s one retail industry that remains reasonably unaffected by rising prices and inflation, it is apparel. Everyone buys clothes, and the choice is often about which clothes to buy than regarding whether to buy them at all.

“There’s no such thing as too many dresses.”

“One cannot have too many shoes.”

These statements, often made in passing, are reflective of a global economy that rarely sees slumps, if ever. As an answer to ever-changing demands, fast fashion too has come into the picture, change collections six times a year.

However, there is the elephant in the room. And that elephant is squatting squarely in landfills across the globe, weighing trillions of tons, if not more.

As one of the economy’s driving forces, fashion has a responsibility towards adopting sustainable practices, and one way to do that is to build a supply chain that reduces wastage and improves efficiency. What’s more, customers today are starkly aware of the consequences of their buying habits- while they may or may not make fewer purchases, they are certainly looking out for labels that reduce their impact on the planet. Are you one of them?

What is a fashion supply chain? It encompasses everything that happens in the business to bring a product to the shelf for purchase. A supply chain includes design and manufacture, as well as logistics and transportation. In the landmark book titled ‘To Die For’ by Lucy Siegle, she says that this seemingly straightforward step has 101 sub-steps!

The trouble with apparel and sustainability usually begins with the numbers. One pair of jeans never harmed anyone, but one billion? This is why customers are rapidly turning to locally sourced, organic and sustainable clothing. Because today, we could really use a few drops in the ocean.

How can you, as a business, contribute to these efforts? By making your back-end more sustainable. Here are a few pointers to follow:

1. Have absolute control over your inventory. This is important not just for more sales but to be able to produce and market only as much as you can really sell. Overproduction is fast fashion’s biggest problem, but you can help solve that.

2. Offer customization options so that you can go into production on some products only after they have been purchased by the customer. This helps reduce the need for disposal and deep discounts which in turn cause wastage.

3. When you design, design a collection. So many private labels today struggle with trying to do too many things at once. The problem is that all of these things rarely ever fit together. Instead, a capsule for each season is easier to shop, moves more products off your shelves and can be mixed and matched to make several different outfits.

4. Denim are some of the most resource-intensive products to make. Some brands like H&M have started a denim exchange initiative that allows the cloth to come back into production once it has been sufficiently used. Likewise, Levi’s phased out PFCs and found more environment-friendly options to make their denim water repellant. What’s more, some brands are also making denim from shredded plastic recovered from our oceans.

5. Spearhead initiatives to get people to buy less, or to recycle more! As a business, this sounds counterintuitive, but some of the fashion brand's conscious effort proves that it can work. By offering discount coupons for old clothes and a host of initiatives to use more recycled cotton, it is building both price and material efficiencies into its supply chains.

As you might have observed from some of these pointers, a sustainable supply chain cannot work in a silo. You need an action plan that works across all stages of the production and buying process. Take the initiative to get people to wear your clothes at least twenty times before throwing them out, a product of good quality.

Likewise, you can also become an advocate for your own clothes by encouraging reselling of unused products- become the marketplace for customers who bought your clothing but never used them.

Each of these actions demands that you make changes every step of the way.

Confused as to where to begin? Get in touch with us using our contact form, for a perspective on how you can make your fashion business more sustainable and friendly for years to come.

Fuel4Fashion is a design, branding and technology consultancy for the fashion and apparel industry. We provide consulting and advisory services across design, business and IT processes to early stage and mid-sized apparel manufacturers and brands looking to grow their business with the help of smart sustainable management practices. Visit our website here and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for regular updates.

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