Making fashion supply chains more sustainable

Finally, major fashion brands are waking up to reality and altering their supply chains to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. Historically, fashion supply chains have been some of the worst in the world in terms of environmental impact. This is due to their disparate and fragmented nature, with fabrics and materials being sourced, manufactured and processed in such a wide variety of places that it can be difficult to keep track of. Not only is this leading to environmental harm on a massive scale, it is also inefficient from a business sense.

Did you know that the choice of raw material can define up to 50% of final environmental impact of a piece of clothing? Clothing companies are now approaching this issue in a variety of ways. Zara’s sustainable range, #JoinLife and ASOS’s Africa range are made using environmentally friendly fabrics and have been proving popular. However, they also range a dangerous notion to consumers that sustainable clothing must be more expensive than traditional alternatives. This is not the case, and in fact through efficient supply chains and sourcing, sustainable clothing can be just as cheap as other types of clothing without sacrificing quality.
By making supply chains more transparent, the public will be better able to hold businesses to an expected standard. There are a number of ways to encourage a more transparent approach, such as making supplier information available to the public, and ensuring a much closer relationship between retailers and producers. In some cases data, such as water and chemical usage, is not made available because suppliers are not measuring it at all – this must change if practices are to become more efficient.

Innovation and advances in technology could also provide a valuable piece of this sustainability jigsaw. The rise in ‘big data’ and increasingly sophisticated digital tools could be used to better plan and then execute supply chains with little waste or inefficiency. From a production perspective, research and development into methods to reduce the environmental impact of factory processes are ongoing. As these techniques become increasingly ‘tried-and-tested’, their uptake is likely to increase exponentially.

But the responsibility does not rest solely with the manufacturers and sellers, of course. Our wardrobes are the end of the supply chain, and so ultimately through our consumer choices we make the final call on the type of clothing which should be most heavily produced and advertised. Let us remember our own roles in cleaning up fashion supply chains, and alter our behaviour accordingly. 

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