Friday, July 29, 2016

‘Fixing Fashion’ One Stitch at a Time

In the opening chapter of “Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes,” author Michael Lavergne describes the current state of the global fashion business. He laments: “The fashion supply chain is fractured, and the people who make our clothes have become faceless.” Lavergne, a long-time sourcing executive with various apparel companies, should know as he worked in the vanguard of global sourcing beginning in the 1990s and the genesis of the fast fashion phenomenon. 

A spate of books published over the past few years explores various aspects of the global garment business. Examples include "Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy," a perspective of global supply chains; "Fugitive Denim," an examination of the ugly aspects of global denim production; and, "Over-Dressed," an exploration into the morass of the global sourcing business. All good books, but all written by industry outsiders (an academic and two journalists).

However, it is Lavergne’s experience as an industry executive that sets his account apart from the others.  Well-written and insightful, “Fixing Fashion” should be required reading for any new hire in the industry. Part industrial history, part personal memoir, and part call-to-action, “Fixing Fashion” is an insider’s look at the global garment business.

As Lavergne explains, with supply chains spanning the globe, today’s apparel business is typified by hyperactive global sourcing, quick turn inventories, and rapid product replenishment -- all supported by a seemingly insatiable consumer demand for ever-changing, inexpensive apparel. Greasing the pathways of global sourcing is a series of regional and multilateral free trade agreements to expedite trade in the name of lower costs and higher margins.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Beyond Globalization: A Changing Textile and Apparel Industry

There are two distinct tiers of today’s textile and apparel industry to approach consumers. One tier embraces intricate far-flung global supply chains, a behemoth pumping endless quantities of mass-produced textiles and clothes onto the shelves of retail stores everywhere. Many of the companies operating in this tier are famous as purveyors of fashion as a commodity to the consuming masses throughout the world. 

The other tier is far smaller, comprised of local supply chains and high-value-added production. Typically produced close to consuming markets, products of this industry tier are often seen as a stylish alternative to the mass-market offerings of many fast fashion retailers. Such local industries exist in the United States and Europe; although perhaps supported by large mills, garment production is often conducted by small, specialized companies, many of which are not known beyond the confines of a regional or city market.

Indeed, the majority of consumers buy their clothes from large, integrated retailers, while a growing subset of the consuming public favors small-batch, locally produced apparel. Moreover, the appeal of local over global, small over large, reflects a shifting paradigm of consumerism.

When the forces of globalization were unleashed beginning in the 1970s -- more formally supported with the advent of the World Trade Organization in the 1990s -- the United States, the victor of the Cold War, the unchallenged leader of the global economy, enjoyed the benefits of a unipolar world. In the past, the American consumer was often seen as a buyer of last resort. Whenever the global economy tanked, American consumers were always there to take up the slack. Global manufacturers were always assured that a market existed for their products.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How The Textile Supply Chain Can Save The Planet

Change can be difficult. It can also be disruptive. Take climate change, for example. Representatives from 192 countries recently penned the Global Climate Treaty in Paris. Although far from a comprehensive solution to the challenges of climate change, the treaty is a good start and does provide a basis for further action.

A major shortcoming of the agreement, however, is that it is so broad. Signatory countries pledged to cut carbon emissions over time, but the management of such reductions was discretionary. Further, it was unclear from the agreement text how manufacturing industries should reduce their carbon footprint over time.

But this vagueness could encourage companies, if not whole industries, to find a better way. Which brings me to our industry.

There are dozens of environmental initiatives in the global textile and apparel industry, all well-meaning and managed by determined leaders to lessen the supply chain’s environmental footprint. Taken together, the aggregate impact of these various programs falls short, pieces of an incomplete puzzle. Moreover, some of these programs are little more than marketing window dressing for consumers to feel good about their purchases and for manufacturers to bury the truth behind their business practices.

Take a look at the current state of the industry: it’s a significant polluter. For instance, a virtual plastic island floats in the Pacific, much of which is the result of product lost from container ships at sea. Moreover, those same container ships consume fossil fuels like never before; the longer the supply chains, the more fuel consumed. And there are those awful landfills, packed with endless tons of discarded clothing. There many may other examples, too. It’s not a pleasant picture.