Fashion brands that do not conduct business with a sustainability-first approach are putting their future profitability at risk, industry experts warn.
As due-diligence legislation across the globe moves closer to being realised, fashion brands are being warned to take the necessary steps to future-proof their supply chains from a sustainability perspective before it is imposed upon them.
Fashion technology solutions provider Lectra hosted a webinar with its, director of corporate social responsibility, Elie Khayath and the co-founder of Paris Good Fashion, Isabelle Lefort, to discuss sustainability and the role it will play in the fashion industry in 2023 and beyond.
Lefort noted: “Sustainability is a priority for today, across the world. No continent is exempt from climate change. Look at what has happened with cotton in Pakistan following the flooding, the California forest fires, drought in France. Scientists have repeatedly been telling us; we have less than 10 years to effect change.
Khayath added: “The fashion industry needs to exit the culture of disposable everything. We need to break the cycle of mass throwaway. We need to do it and do it fast. Something went wrong in our fashion machine and everyone knows it.”
The two said the industry was locked into a “vicious cycle” with Lefort pointing out there is an “absurdity in spending millions on clothes that won’t sell”.
As consumers become more switched on about the planetary and social impact of their purchasing decisions and actions, fashion brands are being held accountable for happenings in their supply chains.
Lefort said “reputational risk” could be costly for any business.
“I think it’s important to be conscious of this. The most successful companies in our industry are those whose brands are based on healthy, innovative, creative models with balanced business models.
“I know in France, but also in other countries, many companies are looking at and reviewing their business models based on scientific data. It is important to trust the scientists, who have all the data in hand to help us. But we also need to hear from the economists who seek to optimise business models by combining technology, sustainable development, stakeholder integration and profitability. It’s very important to be able to think of these three things in parallel: sustainability, profitability and technology. We will only succeed if we mix all of these together.”
Khayath acknowledged that transitioning to an all-sustainable production model can be daunting for many companies. He said there are different levels depending on the role within the supply chain. At the brand level, he said an option that is growing in popularity is producing smaller batches of high-end, more durable garments.
Technology, he added has a major role to play in that transition toward fashion sector sustainability.
“Through technology, at least partly, you can absorb some of the cost and limit price increases. Lectra, for example, works with its clients to minimise fabric consumption, produce smaller batches responsibly and profitably and help you better match production and demand. “
Leforte agreed that a shift toward more on-demand production and anticipating what the consumer wants and then “producing exactly that” is the way forward.
“If you reduce waste, energy, transport etc – you reduce your impact on the planet, but you also increase your profitability. Pharmacy is an example where they have done this successfully; where they produce and distribute the right products at the right moment and I think we need to be able to do the same. We can do it, We have the data and technology to do it. We have an industrial revolution. We have to push and accelerate. But we have all the tools to do it.”
To enable sustainability to truly happen in the fashion industry, the change has to span all levels, from the start of the supply chain right through to the end consumer.
Khayath said that it was crucial consumers are brought in on the sustainability journey.
“Fashion companies need to create a longer-term story with their customers in order to change their mindset and create a community around more durable, quality products. Many companies treat their customers as one-shot buyers. But you have to treat them as partners, as investors, who are going to stay and remain with the product for the whole lifecycle and maybe you are going to sell them services and create value. This is what is going to bring positive change to the industry. And long-term prosperity for the companies.”
Sharing best practice approach across the entire industry is essential, Leforte asserts.
“No single company has the solution. But together, we can share best practice and succeed. Businesses can no longer go on producing without thinking of the long-term consequences. Companies currently produce more in order to grow, knowing that 40% of what they produce won’t be sold. This model cannot continue, particularly at a time when we are in a sourcing crisis with raw material pricing and energy costs. To anchor this, we need to anticipate and produce exactly the right amount of garments. If we do this we will reduce the cost of production, reduce environmental impact and increase profitability. We can really work together to share best practice in technology and sustainability.
“We have to stop thinking we
will take care of this problem tomorrow. Bankers, legislators, investors and
insurers are stepping in because the risks are growing. And that will put
further pressure on companies that are not in a position to change. These
actors will force that change. We don’t have time with climate change. This is
our opportunity to reinvent our business model. We have the data, and the
technology to do it. We just need to change our mindset.”
By Just Style