Solutions to the Top 4 Biggest Fashion Supply Chain Problems

Fashion supply chain problems and their solutions


The most significant issues facing the fashion industry today closely tie to larger global issues, including climate change and human rights. While solving these problems may be a challenge, it is possible and will create a better fashion industry for consumers and the planet. 

The top 4 fashion supply chain problems
  1. Environmental impact
  2. Labor and human rights concerns
  3. Transportation and shipping
  4. Material shortage

1. Environmental Impact

Driven partly by consumer demand, serious sustainability issues in the fashion supply chain have come to light. For example, the dyeing processes waste thousands of gallons of water per year and are the second largest contributor to water pollution worldwide.

Additionally, the production and waste of synthetic fibers is responsible for 35% of microplastic pollution in marine environments. Unfortunately, a lot of clothing goes to waste yearly, with millions of tons of apparel ending up in landfills.

Solution:

Resolving the environmental challenges facing the fashion supply chain is a complex task requiring cooperation between brands, manufacturers, and suppliers. The primary solution to this supply chain problem is changing how apparel is produced. For example, waterless dyeing processes and new dyes that lack harmful chemicals could significantly reduce water waste and pollution if adopted on a large scale.

Clothing brands are also creating collection programs for unwanted clothing to prevent it from ending up in landfills. For example, sustainable clothing leader Patagonia has an entire marketplace — known as Worn Wear — for buying used Patagonia brand clothing. Consumers can send in their used Patagonia items for trade-in credit up to $100 per item. Patagonia also reuses fabric and used items from retired products to make new, unique products.
 

2. Labor and Human Rights Concerns

The fashion industry is facing severe labor issues today. Sweatshops and unsafe working conditions in clothing manufacturing have become a major concern for consumers and brands alike. The fast fashion industry is the main contributor to these issues, but they affect the entire fashion supply chain.

Fast fashion relies on selling clothing for excessively low prices in mass quantities, often refreshing styles and collections dozens of times per year. The people who make these clothes are frequently paid less than a living wage and are subject to unsafe and hostile working conditions. Most garment workers are women, 76% of whom report being subject to gender-based violence in the workplace. Tight deadlines from brands increase the likelihood of violence.

Women are not the only ones threatened by the poor working conditions of the garment manufacturing industry. The facilities where many cheap clothes are produced today are unsafe, even at the structural level. In 2013, 1132 people were killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which housed five separate garment factories.

Solution:

Brands must change how they do business from top to bottom. For instance, they will need to focus on selling fewer items for higher prices. The focus on giving consumers a “great deal” is one of the most significant contributors to the unlivable wages paid in many garment manufacturing facilities.

Additionally, the clothing industry needs to prioritize transparency. Increasing accountability and visibility will allow brands to improve their supply chains, as well. Programs like Fashion Checker and the Clean Clothes Campaign are already working on demanding greater labor transparency from clothing brands.

3. Transportation and Shipping

Surveys show nearly half of consumers expect online-order delivery in two days or less. While Amazon may not be a fashion-specific company, it has completely changed shipping standards in the fashion supply chain. Consumers have come to expect cheap clothing that gets to them in a matter of days, typically without visiting a physical storefront.

Materials shortages, high international shipping costs and traffic at international ports are making logistics increasingly complicated. Even domestic transportation is posing challenges — the U.S. alone could be short 162,000 truck drivers by 2030. Clothing brands must make transportation and shipping as efficient as possible to combat logistics delays.

Solution:

Efficiency and innovation are the keys to tackling logistics problems in the fashion supply chain. Clothing brands can shift to domestic suppliers and manufacturers to eliminate international shipping delays. Digital twins and logistics modeling tools can help brands map and optimize their operations and even entire supply chains. Data collection tools like IoT devices can also improve visibility in the shipping process, giving businesses a clearer picture of where delays are happening.

Additionally, automation can streamline warehouse and shipping operations with tools like warehouse robots, collaborative robotics and IoT devices. Using intelligent forecasting algorithms can help clothing brands, manufacturers and suppliers prepare for changes in demand and adapt their orders and shipping plans accordingly.

4. Materials Shortages

Materials shortages in the fashion supply chain are closely tied to environmental and labor concerns. Raw materials suppliers worldwide are being impacted by extreme weather caused by climate change.

Wool and cashmere farmers have experienced rising mortality rates among their herds and flooding threatens cotton farming. Studies have found that weather patterns directly impact mortality rates in merino sheep, with sudden or severe cold weather putting sheep at high risk of premature death. Labor shortages are also reducing the maximum productivity possible for suppliers and manufacturers in all areas of agriculture.

Solution:

Rather than telling consumers they need a new closet every two weeks, brands should focus on selling smaller collections of higher-quality items meant to be worn for years. This will reduce strain on materials suppliers and manufacturers.

Additionally, clothing brands can make better use of the resources they have. Retailers can support suppliers using responsible land management techniques such as regenerative agriculture, which prioritizes making the most out of crops without harming the land. Retailers can also create used clothing collections and recycle used items and fabric in their manufacturing processes.

Addressing Concerns in the Fashion Supply Chain

The fashion industry is grappling with some significant challenges, but they are manageable. The supply chain must innovate how it does business to adapt to modern obstacles. By adopting greener, more responsible and efficient practices, the fashion industry can solve today’s issues while delivering a better consumer experience.
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