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Abhishek Sharma
Abhishek Sharma
Co-founder & COO, Fashinza

Transformative Practices in the Fashion Retail Industry

The fashion industry, globally and in India, is increasingly taking the sustainability path to transform the supply chain. Like several other industries, the growing environmental impact, and ever-shrinking pool of resources, including water, rising production, and logistics costs, are seeing the fashion industry explore sustainable ways of designing, manufacturing, and distributing fashion products.

The Big Picture & The Change
Rapid economic development across industries brings challenges of global warming, climate change, and depleting natural resources. The fashion industry is no exception. Being resource-intensive, the fashion industry is among the major contributors to global carbon emissions. With its various processes, including dyeing and the wet processing that fabrics undergo, the fashion industry consumes a lot of water and becomes a source of water pollution.

Due to the slow pace of technological advances, many traditional processes in the industry have remained unchanged. However, recently there have been positive developments in the fashion industry, which have seen various industry stakeholders rise to the responsibility of growing their business and industry sustainably. The focus is on age-old processes that may damage the environment and replace them with more eco-friendly practices across the fashion supply chain.

There are other factors too that are leading to industry transformative practices in the fashion retail industry. The growing crisis around fast-depleting natural resources in many developing economies (manufacturing hubs for the fashion industry) combined with the rising tribe of climate-conscious consumers demanding environment-friendly products is accelerating fashion players’ journeys to embrace sustainable practices.

Interestingly, adopting a sustainable approach toward the fashion supply chain is not just good news for the environment. It also means good business. Sustainable practices help reduce manufacturing costs and increase brand equity in the market. Being a responsible brand is a tangible business goal for many fashion brands today.

Path to Sustainability
In recent years the rise of fast fashion has seen industry players double down on production to manage the ever-quickening trend cycles. This practice further pressures the fashion industry to rethink sustainability goals and keep rising costs across the supply chain in check.

With the fashion industry having the longest supply chain among industries, players in this space have several opportunities to intervene through the supply chain and transform their business while advancing sustainability goals. Technology advancements have ensured that these interventions are less complex than earlier for players, both big and small, in the fashion industry.

Some key intervention points for the fashion industry to accelerate its sustainability journey include:

Rethinking Manufacturing Practices
While managing a growing carbon footprint is a priority in the fashion industry, other areas also call for quick and fruitful changes.

The fashion industry generates waste due to a host of old and unsustainable manufacturing practices. All these challenges present the fashion industry with opportunities to rethink and innovate with industry practices to reduce the environmental impact of every element of the supply chain.

The good news is that the fashion industry is taking the lead in adopting innovative manufacturing approaches, breaking barriers, and taking concrete steps to relook at its unsustainable manufacturing practices.

Using Natural & Sustainable Raw Material
The first step towards sustainability is the new approach several players in the fashion industry have taken toward the type of raw material they choose for manufacturing a particular garment and how the material is processed and manufactured.

Both government agencies, research institutes, and industry think tanks are working closely with various stakeholders in the fashion industry to develop alternative materials for manufacturing garments. For example, the research efforts are focused on developing materials that can replace cotton as the key raw material in manufacturing in the fashion industry.

Fashion brands, textile industries, and apparel manufacturers are looking for cellulose-based alternatives that are more environmentally friendly.

Manufacturers want to reduce the usage of cotton as a primary raw material as growing cotton crops requires a massive amount of water – a resource that’s becoming scarcer by the day.

Industry players are also working on protein-based solutions that can replace large-scale petroleum-based materials currently in use.

Manufacturers are focusing on using materials that are recyclable and easy to decompose. Many brands say no to polyester as the material takes years to degrade.

The fashion industry is consciously moving towards promoting a circular economy by increasing the usage of bio-based and biodegradable raw materials and residues in their manufacturing lines. For example, many brands commit to sustainability by making clothes from algae and nonwoven from the remains of pineapple plants. These are biodegradable materials and, once discarded, do not release microplastics into the environment.

Predictive Analysis for Accurate Manufacturing
Trends keep on changing in fast fashion. In such a scenario, traditional regression analysis methods where manufacturers look at the inventory sold last year to predict what buyers will buy next no longer work.

Consumers are discerning in their choices and are now taking cues from social media platforms and the online world to decide their fashion choices. Fashion cycles are becoming shorter, with buyers looking for new designs, patterns, cuts, and styles.

In this dynamic market, the fashion industry must manufacture the right quantity of products to avoid under or over-stocking and incurring a loss. Predictive analysis is the answer to manufacturers discovering the right style, color, size, and price while manufacturing the fashion of the future. Using digital tools, players in the fashion industry can reduce wastage in producing unwanted products; they can reduce dead stocks saving on raw material and stocking costs by knowing exactly what and how much to manufacture. Such an approach has a cascading effect on the entire supply chain, boosting manufacturers’ sustainability goals.

Building Greater Visibility in the Supply Chain
Unlike in the past, the fashion industry has access to various digital tracking tools to help players build greater visibility in their supply chains.

The lack of visibility in the supply chain leads manufacturers to overproduce and overstock, adding to supply chain woes and adding to both environmental wastage and high production and warehousing costs. Advanced technology that facilitates placing chips in garment tags allows for greater visibility as it gives brands accurate information to determine where their products are during transit. Such information helps fashion brands manage unforeseen disruption and delays in the shipment of goods from the factory to the warehouse and from the warehouse to retail stores.

Simplifying Logistics
Optimizing logistics is key for the fashion industry to go green and rationalize overall operating costs, as delivering products to the final retail destination is a big element of the prevailing fashion supply chain.

It determines and impacts the emissions of each brand and manufacturer. Therefore, the manufacturers must cut down on unnecessary miles by optimizing logistics as a function. Manufacturers pursuing sustainability goals seriously are increasingly looking at improving the energy efficiency of their fleets to reduce the impact of emissions.

More and more players in the fashion industry are leveraging data tools and real-time insights powered by artificial intelligence to organize their logistics operations effectively. Real-time data related to the movement of goods on the move and in the warehouses helps them maximize fleet utilization and save on unnecessary miles covered to manage product distribution.

Many companies are partnering with an end-to-end, integrated logistics partner to run reliable and more transparent fashion supply chains. Fashion brands are increasingly managing their logistics with fewer vehicles and reduced trips to supply and restock stores.

Reimagining Online Fulfillment With the growing adoption of e-commerce, online sales are contributing a larger share of emissions in the overall supply chain in the fashion industry. Manufacturers and brands recognize this challenge and reimagining online fulfillment. Many brands are imposing penalties in the form of online return fees. The objective here is to motivate and encourage buyers to shop mindfully and, in the process, reduce the number of returns, thereby bringing down both the environmental and operational costs of managing online fulfillment.

Digital is the Future
For the fashion industry deploying digital tools is the key to building sustainable supply chains.

Greater visibility in manufacturing operation cycles, warehousing facilities, and last-mile logistics helps industry players comprehensively view the supply chain.

For example, by leveraging digital tools, a fashion brand is in a leading position to make better and informed decisions to optimally move goods to the nearest warehouse and wait for the right time to launch a new collection in the neighborhood market.

Another advantage of greater visibility in the supply chain is that brands can quickly reintroduce dead stock from one market to another as the demand arises for these unsold goods in another region by a different set of consumers.

Visibility solutions help players in the fashion industry power a more sustainable fashion supply chain by reducing wastage as they have greater and more detailed insights into what and when to manufacture, how much to manufacture, and the markets to target.

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