Brands are under pressure to become more ethical, but how does this pressure apply to Kiwi fashion retailers? Unravelled Consultants founder and director Vanessa Thompson explains.
We’ve all seen the headlines. A fashion brand is globally slammed in the media when someone discovers the poor treatment of their garment workers; a garment worker finally gets the courage to speak out about their ill treatment; or a disaster strikes at a garment factory (such as the collapse of Rana Plaza) due to poor safety standards and brand labels are found in the rubble. When the media talks about these incidents, it is not the manufacturer that is crushed. It is the brand.
We can no longer conduct business in this way. Businesses need to take ownership of their products right from the beginning, and light up the darkness of their supply chains to find out who is making their products. As noted business writer Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”.
Transparency of production and supply chains are more advanced in the food industry. The ‘Farm to Fork’ movement has gained momentum globally, as consumers are increasingly curious about where their food is coming from. We can now trace products like eggs to flour back to the farm where they were produced. This demand for transparency is becoming more prominent in the fashion industry, with more and more people participating in Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes movement. Consumers want to know how their clothes are made, and who made them, and if the businesses they shop with align with their values.
I have worked in the New Zealand fashion industry for most of my career, and knowing the names and conditions of the factories I worked with was incredibly challenging. New Zealand fashion businesses struggle with meeting the huge production volumes that some large overseas players would order, so often orders are placed through agents or third party suppliers in order to meet the factory minimums. This often means that traceability and accountability would stop there. In order to get transparency in our supply chain, we need to reverse the way current design and production systems are done, and rebuild the supply chain from the beginning.
To do this, businesses need to start at the raw material stage. By working directly with yarn, fabric and component suppliers, and by building stronger direct relationships, you can not only help to reduce the risk of forced or child labour in your supply chain, but also confirm that audits and certifications are up to date, and their environmental credentials check out. This will also enable you to develop new innovative fabrications, and also explore opportunities in cost savings. The next step would be to instruct your CMT factory on all fabrics and components you have directly selected. Because you have full transparency over costs and lead times of your raw materials, you will be able to make more informed and measured decisions on prices, unit buys and deliveries.
Although building a supply chain from the beginning can have its challenges, it allows your business to have complete visibility and more control over each part of your product lifecycle. In order to create traceability in the fashion supply chain, the use of Blockchain technology has grown recently, as it creates a transparent platform for all stakeholders to access at all points of the supply chain, and holds each unit of the supply chain to account. Blockchain also allows the end consumer to see the journey each of their products has made, which helps gain trust with your brand. Creating relationships with each member of your supply chain also enables you to build trust, which can lead to better efficiency and flexibility from your factory partners in the future.
Making the decision to take ownership and accountability over the whole lifecycle of your product enables you to reduce the risk of modern slavery and devastating factory events, and can open up opportunities for collaboration, improvement, innovation and cost savings in the future.