In the year 2020, the COVID-19 virus has brought a massive impact on industries across the globe. The pandemic has caused a deep disruption in our social lives, as well as the overall political and economic environment of the world resulting in some colossal changes to industries, it has forced companies to acknowledge the issues related to sustainability and injustice in their supply chain. In a recent analysis of the fashion industry by Bof and Mckinsey, it was reported that “By March, western fashion brands had reportedly cancelled $2.8 billion of orders from Bangladeshi suppliers, impacting the livelihoods of 1.2 million workers.” This situation has not only exposed the unethical hierarchical structure of the supply chain of fashion industry but also brought brands to the realization of how unsustainable this structure is in times of need.
When it comes to the business side of things, the fashion industry is slowly getting acquainted with the fact that the current supply chain system lacks transparency as well as the ability to generate steady profits in times like these. In order to compete in a fast-paced industry like fashion, brands need to come up with a faster and more efficient solution to the current state of the supply chain. This has resulted in a growing demand for digitization or having a centralized platform for information coming from all sides of the supply chain, the retailer, the manufacturer, or the designer. Now to look for a technological solution for supply chain management in fashion industry, brands are starting to lean towards computer-aided solutions like Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Product Lifecycle Management Softwares (PLM). According to Bof and Mckinsey’s 2018 analysis on the fashion industry:
“75% of the executives surveyed confirmed that Artificial Intelligence will be implemented, in one way or another, in some part of their companies’ supply chains to achieve greater flexibility in this new, fast-paced and fleeting era.”
Solutions to the complexities of the fashion supply chain
Now more than ever, the fashion industry is in need of technological aid when it comes to solving the complexities of its different layers. The worldwide lockdown due to COVID-19 has brought almost every industry across the globe to the realization that their traditional norms of conducting business are highly inefficient in times of crisis. According to Tom Linton and Bindiya Vakil, “Unfortunately, many are facing a supply crisis that stems from weaknesses in their sourcing strategies that could have been corrected years ago.” As a result, major fashion labels across the world are now looking towards tech start-ups and joining forces to come up with solutions that help them operate in a more eco-friendly, ethical, and efficient manner.
Now if we talk about simplifying the supply chain of clothing industry, in recent years, the fashion industry has seen some ground-breaking developments towards digitalizing this process. To name one such technology, in recent years, 3D virtual sampling has brought tremendous relief when it comes to digitalizing the process of product development. Through 3D sampling tools, designers can visualize a product in the early stages of development, customize and experiment with as many colours, designs or fabrics as desired, without going through the process of making physical samples. This technology has gone a long way in terms of simplifying the fashion supply chain, giving it the ability to survive in times of crisis, as well as connecting different wings of the production process, and not to mention, saving time and money for the retailers.
Creating Sustainability and Justice in the Fashion Supply Chain
According to a survey conducted by BOF and Mckinsey, “More than three in five consumers said brands’ promotion of sustainability was an important factor in their purchasing decisions.” Consumers across the world are becoming more and more engaged with environmental issues and are leaning towards brands that respect and operate in an environmentally sustainable fashion. As a result, brands are starting to look for eco-friendly alternatives for product development. Some major labels like Stella McCartney, H&M, Gucci, LVMH, etc., are now prioritizing sustainability in their collections through solutions such as 3D Virtual Sampling, Circularity, Alternative Textiles, etc. These efforts have not only gone a long way towards fulfilling the consumer need but also supporting sustainability in the supply chain of clothing industry.
Now moving on to injustice and hierarchy in the fashion supply chain, this past year has certainly been a year of revelation for people and communities across the globe. Due to industries being shut down all over the world, major brands or companies went on to cutting orders from the manufacturers. As a result, millions of workers belonging to the lower levels of the fashion supply chain were forced out of their jobs in these perilous times. BOF and Mckinsey reported that “Suppliers across the world were reported to have lost over $16 billion in revenues between April and June 2020.” This situation has resulted in consumers becoming more conscious about the social policies of the brands they shop from and how these companies are treating their employees. This, in turn, means that brands are now turning towards technology to come up with a solution to make the supply chain in apparel industry stable and sustainable for all levels from top to bottom.
Hence, we can say that slowly but surely the fashion industry is moving towards a better future. The fashion supply chain has been operating on age-old norms for a long time, but in recent times, these norms have failed. It is high time that brands change their policies and look for new and innovative ways to conduct business. Forrest Li of Sea Limited said that “We have been witnessing a profound structural shift to digitalization across our market.” This digital transformation is not only introducing new and efficient ways of conducting business but, has also gone a long way in terms of supply chain management in fashion industry.