Don’t underestimate supply chain efficiency
“You’re selling clothing at a low price, that must mean workers are being taken advantage of.”
The supply chain and operations side of a business is under-appreciated. By design, nobody notices if everything is running smoothly. Companies like Ford and Walmart leveraged innovative, super-efficient supply chains to make products previously reserved for the top end of society affordable for everyone.
Prices weren’t lower because the workforce was being taken advantage of or because the quality of the product was lower. In fact Ford and Walmart were generally ahead of the industry in these categories.
Business has a role to play
Business innovation has driven the development of civilisation and improved quality of life for all. They will have a huge role to play in helping to solve the Climate Emergency.
To truly make a difference sustainable solutions need to be affordable for everyone. In the future the Atlantic Ocean will not be filled with multi-million pound yachts powering families across the pond to NYC. We need solutions for everyone.
At Earth Wardrobe we believe leveraging efficient supply chains can dramatically lower the cost of ethical, environmentally friendly and sustainable clothing. How did we start?
Our parent company began life in 2016 after the founder finished his engineering degree and wanted to start an e-commerce business. Initially selling clothing on the Amazon marketplace it became clear that the red-hot competition which existed on the platform meant the business would only be successful if a low price could be offered.
There was much more cost involved in the operation beyond the hourly wage of a warehouse worker. Supply chain efficiencies and innovations would be the difference in whether the business would be competitive and ultimately successful.
Every aspect of the supply chain had to be looked at. We weren’t shipping gold necklaces, the average price of an item was £9 and our profit per item was generally around 60p. There wasn’t any room for inefficiencies.
Ultimately the operation would be based around:
- A Just In Time (JIT) inventory control system to minimise storage requirements.
- A touch-based computer program made exclusively for our operation
- An image-based machine learning system to quickly identify products
- A spreadsheet being sent from our supplier every day at 6am indicating the exact location of every piece of new stock arriving in boxes
During this time the average wage of a warehouse staff has never been below the UK living wage.
Affordable Sustainable Clothing
Fast forward a few years and it became clear our business was in a unique position. We had built a super-efficient supply chain centred around clothing. Our suppliers whom we had a close relationship with were starting to invest more into eco friendly and ethical ranges. While consumer interest in sustainable clothing had increased some companies were still charging in excess of £20 for a plain organic t-shirt. The majority of the population would not be willing to buy eco-friendly clothing if that was the cost.
We often hear from potential customers that they would only purchase if the items were made in the UK. The majority of our items are made in India and Bangladesh, which some potential customers are put off by.
The reality is the UK textile industry has been non-existent since the 70s. In comparison the Bangladesh garment industry has increased 79% in the last seven years to $34 billion. The non-existence of production scale in the UK would mean the costs would be extremely high and not of any interest to the majortiy of consumers. However..
The previous argument does not reference the important ethical issues which have been faced in the garment manufacturing facilities. At Earth Wardrobe, this is most important issue that we face. The working conditions and safety record of the textile industry needs to improve. However simply divesting from these countries and causing mass unemployment is not the answer. Instead we want to buy from production facilities who are working incredibly hard to improve working conditions and labour relations and turn around the image of textile production.
Therefore, while maintaining our goal to lower the price of sustainable clothing, we must also set strict standards our suppliers and products must meet in order for us to stock them. Organic products must have an industry accepted standard such as OCS. The production facilities must participate in a worker empowerment program such as Fair Wear.
Where possible we go further. Products in our Essential and Salvage range are PETA Vegan Approved and made in a carbon neutral facility. You can even watch a video from inside the production facility.
We’d love to hear from you if you have any feedback on our mission to make sustainable clothing affordable. You can contact us using our online form.