Sustainable fashion supply chain management is a critical component of any fashion brand especially within the fast fashion
A supply chain does not begin at the wholesaler. It may begin in the cotton field where labor and
weather dictate the supply. If the raw materials are collected, then they need to move to the textile
phase which can also be disrupted by labor and transportation. Textiles then need to be transported to
apparel manufacturers who will cut and sew the latest trends before heading off to distribution.
It would be a rare occasion to have every section of a supply chain within the same region.
Any problems along the way will interfere with the flow of inventory.
Consumers are now wanting to know where their clothes are coming from. But some brands rely on
multiple manufacturers, in some cases between 1,000 and 2,000, to meet demand. (1) The question is,
how does a brand with that many manufacturers remain transparent? Do they really know who is in the
entire supply chain?
Why is sustainable fashion supply chain management important to a brand?
One of the main issues in the industry is the difficulty to predict what the consumer will want at any
given time. It can be a costly mistake to have too much of the last big style as the new one is hitting the
Having an effective supply chain management team can reduce overstock and create a steady supply of
what the consumer demands. If not managed, inventory costs can cut into a fashion brand and retailers
Why is sustainable fashion supply chain management an integral part of their success?
Supply chain management can keep a fashion brand competitive by creating efficient communication
channels with a diverse supplier network. When a trend changes you can quickly identify the best
partners to meet the demand. Your partners also need to be nimble in this fast changing industry.
Having a network allows you to sample several suppliers and minimize costs.
Consumers are also demanding sustainable fashion and ethical supply chains. Supply chain management is
necessary to better manage resources. Sustainable suppliers create less waste and use less energy and
water in every step of the process.
Having strong supply chain management also cushions you from disruptions from shortages and delays
in shipments. A diverse network makes it easier to pivot when needed.
Fast fashion versus slow fashion
Just 20 years or so ago we had about four seasons of fashion. But now, fast fashion takes up the
majority of what you see on the rack, which is only produced to last through a few wears. Fast fashion is
very damaging to the environment, as well as the people who produce the clothing.
Instead of having many weeks of seasonal fashion, fast fashion is measured in days. This means more
trucks on the road, ships on the sea, or planes in the air, at every stage.
After all the polluting practices from field to manufacturing to transportation, the apparel ends up in a
landfill before the next season arrives. Approximately 92 million tons of textiles end up in landfills each
It is not a sustainable fashion process.
Slow fashion allows the designer to analyze the impact of each stage in the process allowing for
responsible design and sustainability.
What brands have made their supply chain sustainable?
A study done by The Business of Fashion along with McKinsey & Company found that sustainable fashion tops
the list of biggest challenges facing the garment industry. (3)
But many are taking on the challenge.
Big fashion brands like Prada, Adidas, Versace, and Hermes are talking about sustainability and social
injustices. While high fashion styles trickle down to the fast fashion items most consumers purchase, not
all of us are able to buy from the high fashion brands. Approximately 88% of Americans buy fast fashion.
If you search for sustainable fashion clothing, you will find some brands that are affordable. You must consider
that the clothing will last longer than fast fashion, so the price is often comparable. Here are a few
examples that claim to have clothing in the $25 – $100 price range.
Patagonia is a Certified B Corp, Fair Trade Certified company that uses organic cotton and recycled
materials in their products. They give back to environmental initiatives and work with US factories as
much as possible to reduce their carbon footprint. On the other end of the life cycle, Patagonia offers a
secondhand collection to keep items out of the landfill.
PACT is based in Colorado and offers Certified Fair Trade, non-GMO organic cotton clothing. They make
sure the supply chain is environmentally safe and clean.
Quince out of San Francisco wants to bring ethical and eco-friendly designs for reasonable prices.
Other sustainable clothing companies plant trees for every purchase, use only sustainable fabrics such
as hemp, support social causes, and buy carbon offsets to cover the impacts of transportation. (4)
Many well known companies are creating sustainable supply chains which means any fashion brand can
do the same. The first step may be to meet with a supply chain expert and find out what is for your
Let us know what you think. Do you have any topics you would like to see us explore? Are you a sustainable fashion company?