Sustainability in Apparel – Part 2

By November 4, 2019 FIND Papers
The Issue of Sustainability in Apparel
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Sustainability in Apparel – Part 2

Better Planning.  Less Waste. Higher Revenues

Consumer’s view of brands with credible social and environmental practices

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11 min read

A move towards a circular closed-loop system of production to recycling apparel is the holy grail.

November 4, 2019

Addressing this issue fully is an extremely complex task. It is becoming increasingly clear that the issue must be addressed by the industry, governments and society as a whole.  Apparel brands and retailers can take steps but can not solve the problem solely on their own. To ultimately be successful, industry will have to work together with regulators to pass fair and effective production and waste management laws, partner with customers to educate them on the issue and what they can do to minimize their impact and with the recycling and waste management companies to enable the industry to move from a take-make-waste model to a circular closed-loop process that takes thoughtfully enables merchandise to be produced, used, reused, and recycled to the fullest extent. 

The direct retail impact.

A move towards a circular closed-loop system of production to recycling apparel is the holy grail. However, it is a significant commitment and an ongoing journey on which retailer and indeed the industry and society will need to embark upon. Updates to global manufacturing process, fabric selections, as well changes in both civic regulations and consumer attitudes are required.  However, sans an industry and global initiative, each retailer can begin to take steps today. Steps from evaluating each phase in their manufacturing process to their retail experience with shoppers.

Pick the right materials.

Selecting fabrics and materials based on sustainability criteria such as the amount of water, chemicals, and energy used in their production as well as how easily they can be recycled are critical first steps for all apparel retailers to consider. Additional consideration of using materials that have secondary environmental effects such as polyester that contribute to the introduction of micro plastics into the water supply from wear and washing should also be evaluated. 

Finally, the ability for a material to recycled is an important factor. This variable is multifaceted as the ability to recycle a material is dependent on whether or not the material can be recycled, the economic incentive to make recycling of the material practical and finally if there is a viable path for customers to easily recycle, donate for reuse or bring their garments back to the retailer. 

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Buy the right amount.

The production phase in the apparel industry is one of the steps that generates a significant amount of waste and therefore, represents an opportunity for quick improvements in a retailer’s credible commitment to sustainability. There are multiple sources of waste that originate in the production phase from the creation of samples, production off-cuts and pattern scraps, and defects. Overstock purchases exasperate these sources of waste, e.g. the generation of production off-cuts and pattern scraps that inevitably end up in a landfill as well as the number of defects that are created that also end up in landfills or in some cases sold at discount or second hand stores. 

Apparel retailers tend to favour over ordering compared to being in a stock out position. Given the impact of stock outs and the historically high margins on apparel, this is understandable.  Not having a product can mean the lifetime loss of customers. Having too much product is less of an issue as it can be cleared at a profit, albeit at a lower margin, by sales, discounts and outlet centres.  

With the rise of advanced AI based technologies, apparel retailers now have the ability to minimize both under and overstock positions.  Retailers can us cloud-based AI solutions to plan, buy and allocate more effectively to reduce the incidence of stock outs and minimize the amount of overstock merchandise. This approach represents a large financial upside for the retailer as better planning not only drives sustainability by decreasing waste through the supply chain, it optimizes the investment in merchandise increasing both the apparel retailers margin and revenues.  It is truly an all around winning situation for retailers, customers, suppliers and the environment.

Educate Your Customers

Surveys show that shoppers are buying more apparel and using it fewer times than only ten years ago.  Apparel retailers can do much to help educate shoppers as to the environmental impact of these choices.  Encouraging shoppers to keep and use their garments longer, take care in how often they launder and make sure that they take the time to donate their used merchandise are all very helpful first steps in enlisting shoppers in the effort to improve the industry as a whole and your company’s bottom-line. 

Getting Started

At FIND, we offer FIND Plan and FIND Periscope. FIND Periscope is an excellent place to start.  Periscope provides retailers a deep dive into their data, enabling them to understand exactly what use cases their data can support, where there are improvements to be made and receive a set of best practice recommendations. Whether taking the journey with your own teams, a third party or FIND, it is critical that retailers get started to measure just how AI-ready their data is.