The fashion industry is no stranger to controversy. From outsourced labor to overflowing sales racks, brands across the board have been accused of having a “bottom line” mentality, squeezing suppliers for every penny and privileging quantity over quality.
The flow of products from one region of the globe to another is an amazing feat of the modern economy — but it doesn’t come without environmental and human consequences. This is why supply chain is at the crux of any conversation about corporate social responsibility.
And it's why more people are asking clothing companies to look deep into their supply chains and dig out the weeds: 66% of Millennials say they’re willing to pay more for products that are sustainably produced, and 37% of people are willing to switch to another brand if it provides more transparent labelling than their current brand.
"Supply chain is at the crux of any conversation about corporate social responsibility."
The Challenge of Driving Change Across a Global Supply Chain
Supply chains everywhere operate under the assumption that “as long as my supplier is delivering on time and giving me a good rate, my business is safe.” But in this new era of conscious buying, ignoring what goes on deep in your supply chain can be damaging to a business’s long term health.
The truth is, many businesses crave better visibility into their own supply chains. But when hundreds, even thousands, of locations are involved in the sourcing and processing of a product, communicating with everyone involved can be a challenge. But achieving sustainability depends on removing these barriers to communicate standards and best practices — from manufacturers, to producers, all the way up to raw material suppliers.
These are just a few of the actions businesses can take to ensure that their supply chains are planet- and consumer-approved.
5 Ways to Achieve Sustainability
- Re-evaluate partner relationships: When your supply chain is spread across the globe and involves hundred of contractors and subcontractors, achieving sustainability can seem impossible. But it’s quickly becoming a must-do, and it begins with taking a different approach to these partner relationships: one built not on squeezing partners to lower production costs, but on establishing healthy expectations so partners aren’t pressured to produce beyond their capacity. Happier partners means a healthier, more profitable business in the end.
- Get transparent: Like we mentioned above, transparency is already playing a huge role in sustainability. Making supplier information publicly available is a great start. When parts of your supply chain are no longer hidden in the shadows, it’s easier for you and the public to hold them to certain standards.
- Invest in technology: Technologies like improved data analytics, cloud solutions, and blockchain, are just a few of the solutions brands are turning to in order to execute on transparency.
- Collaborate with partners to track resource use: Using water, energy, and chemicals more sparingly and effectively is a responsibility that has to be adopted at every stage in the supply chain. For this to happen — you got it — open communication across your ecosystem is key.
- Begin with the end in mind: 73% of the world’s clothing ends up in landfills. To make sure this doesn’t happen, brands should start at the drawing table: make space in your product portfolio for classic, durable pieces that will last more than a year. Extra points if, instead of tossing unsold inventory, you creatively recycle it for a profit. Urban Outfitters is one of many brands doing this already. Their Urban Renewal line repurposes fabrics from vintage, deadstock, and surplus materials. H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection is another example of fast fashion brands moving into “closed-loop” fashion that’s better for the environment.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in full on our Medium site. You can read it here.