Trends and themes for London Fashion Week are always going to be closely guarded secrets until the models actually walk down the catwalks but this year we can be pretty safe in predicting sustainability will be evident in many collections.
Despite the industry increasingly recognising the need to address this issue the fact is fashion and sustainability are somewhat at odds. Part of the fabric of the clothing sector is constant invention and reinvention with the launch and production of multiple new collections each year. This sits uncomfortably with a sustainability agenda that incorporates a desire to reduce consumption and waste.
This scenario is exacerbated by the fact that when we speak to companies in the fashion sector they typically operate with very low levels of stock accuracy. As many as 90% of the companies that approach us have little visibility of where there stock is within their supply chains.
As many as 90% of the companies that approach us have little visibility of where there stock is within their supply chains.
There continues to be a reliance on old-school manuals and spreadsheets and the processes are far from streamlined. This is made more acute by purchasing and logistics frequently having different systems. This can lead to the wrong products being sent out, these are then returned and are then often incorrectly logged into the system. This leads to a cycle of waste.
It is not unusual for companies to see limited stocks in certain stores and to then ship new inventory in from say a Netherlands hub when they could have sourced the required items from other stores in the UK that had over-stocks. It is often easier for companies to simply order more items than to track those in the existing system.
There is a reluctance to change the status quo because in the fashion world there is a perception that this will potentially destroy the secret sauce that differentiates brands. IT and Technology is often seen as a hindrance to an industry which prefers to focus on styles, seasons and ranges. IT is seen as purely something that the finance department deals with.
To drive change in the industry we’ve focused on highlighting sustainability. We’re advocating improved stock management systems and greater control over inventory, which give a clearer view of where the goods are in the business and a by-product of this is a reduced level of waste caused by avoiding over-ordering and excessive manufacturing.
Meanwhile, we’re finding a growing number of companies are starting to build carbon emission models from which they can highlight how they are improving their sustainability because they are reducing their carbon footprint. This enables them to earn a big tick in the sustainability box. Carbon footprint is very often used as the proxy for sustainability with many organisations. But to build a true sustainable model it requires more than just cutting your carbon emissions.
Highlighting where you are reducing carbon emissions is a very easy thing to present to stakeholders and the outside world whereas it is not so easy to admit your warehouse control is horrendously poor and that you’re now going to do something about it. We’re comfortable with fashion companies using their carbon footprint and reduced carbon emissions to provide them with cover when overhauling their stock management systems but it should not be used as a shield to avoid them addressing this extremely serious issue. Doing the latter prevents them from going on the journey that leads to them becoming truly sustainable fashion businesses.
We’re comfortable with fashion companies using their carbon footprint and reduced carbon emissions to provide them with cover when overhauling their stock management systems
Let’s not be under any illusion that implementing a system that delivers the highly-desired single view of stock across a business is an easy task. It’s certainly not a five-minute job. It requires a full omni-channel integration that brings together department managers from all parts of the business who then need to agree on the relevant end-to-end processes. At the heart of these structures is the storage of data that gives companies proper control over their stock and the ability to make intelligent decisions around ordering and fulfilment.
The past 18 months has seen many fashion retailers recognise their limitations around stock handling as more of their revenues have gone online. This has in turn highlighted the serious issues they face with waste and their shortcomings around sustainability. This scenario is unsustainable both financially and ethically. Addressing it could finally lead to supply chains and stock management strutting down the catwalk as they become recognised as key themes and trends in the fashion industry.
Phil Bacon, senior fashion consultant at Xpedition
Join Phil and Retail Insider editor Glynn Davis at Xpedition’s VIP breakfast roundtable on Friday 17 September at National Gallery London, as we explore sustainable business models in Fashion and the challenges brands face as they look to gain a competitive edge in the new world.