We recently hosted our first-ever webinar with industry leaders, on the reshaping of the fashion industry through and post COVID-19. Our panellists Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of SupplyCompass; Tamsin Lejeune Co-Founder & CEO of Common Objective; and Brooke Roberts-Islam, Founder of Techstyler & Forbes Writer sought to unpack just how the industry must change course in the midst of unprecedented global exigencies.
Digital networks for streamlining supply chains, forming trusted networks, enabling transparency, and driving efficiencies will be key.
New opportunities for small and emerging businesses to work with suppliers becoming open to forming fresh partnerships are materializing.
Embedding and communicating sustainability, the evolution of brand-supplier dynamics and shifts in production volumes will be inevitable
New, experimental, demand-driven business models will emerge with an emphasis on quality, innovation, and adaptability.
The webinar kicked off by them addressing key challenges raised by and voted on by the audience through a live poll. A large percentage of respondents raised the challenge of securing their businesses’ finances over this period, having to pay their employees and various partners across the supply chain.
The second key challenge raised by 38% of the respondents was around sourcing and finding the right materials and suppliers in a time when personal visits and flying across the globe are impossible. Here the elemental importance of switching to digital means was stressed upon, with Flora discussing how SupplyCompass facilitates accessing trusted, vetted partners through their robust network and digital platform, highlighting how the right digital ecosystems naturally allow for these partnerships to be established with minimum effort.
Tamsin noted an interesting trend in a general spike in engagement with 280,000 views in April across Common Objective, and double the number of new users including suppliers, indicating a general trend among suppliers who have potentially lost business and are willing to reach new clientele. She noted that this crisis could be capitalised on by new businesses, as it provided previously unseen, favourable conditions for new entrepreneurs looking to build supply chains from scratch. Suppliers, previously reticent to smaller businesses or offbeat models are now opening their doors to all options, eager to build new and improved partnerships.
Suppliers, previously reticent to smaller businesses or offbeat models, are now opening their doors to all options and are eager to build new and improved partnerships.
Navigating Transparency and Sustainability
29% of respondents raised the lack of visibility and transparency over supply chains as another challenge. Flora discussed the importance of having complete visibility of every tier in brands’ supply chains citing their fears when the crisis emerged in China, with many not knowing which part of the supply chain could be traced back there. The importance of producing as close to the source of raw materials with minimal geographical distance between the various components of the supply chain, as well as continually asking questions is fundamental to not only operating ethically but for mitigating risk through the length and breadth of the supply chain.
Poll respondents also cited general uncertainty over what to change in their business model and operations and what the next step should be. Tamsin explained how the pandemic has forced companies to step back and think of ways of working differently with sustainability as a significant driver. Communicating sustainability more effectively and procuring certifications will be key for brands and suppliers respectively. As the rules and playing fields have dramatically changed with brands exposed in their handling of supplier relationships pushing millions of garment workers into dire circumstances, sustainability will no longer be seen through a uni-dimensional lens.
As the rules and playing fields have dramatically changed, with brands exposed in their handling of supplier relationships pushing millions of garment workers into dire circumstances, sustainability will no longer be seen through a uni-dimensional lens.
Emergence of experimental, tech-driven business models
Brooke presented anecdotal evidence of companies like Ganni exploring different avenues including diversifying both their product and business model, through archive sample sales, focusing on ramping up rental models, playing around with volumes, cycles, and drops, using deadstock and reducing overstock. Here the key theme is experimentation, with the crisis providing a perfect time to pilot new ideas and innovations that could potentially change the way systems function.
Several pertinent questions submitted by the audience in the run-up to the webinar were also addressed. Efficiency through technology without cutting unit costs, reducing multiple layers of sampling through 3D design systems, demand-driven models, and reduced lead time through digitalized, streamlined supply chains, was emphasized by Flora. She also stressed upon building win-win partnerships between brands and suppliers and understanding all the factors that determine the geography of production while recognizing that good factories can exist simply anywhere in the world.
Efficiency through technology without cutting unit costs, reducing multiple layers of sampling through 3D design, and reducing lead time through demand-driven and streamlined supply chains, was emphasised.
The importance of entirely reconstructing the system as opposed to merely treating the symptoms in the case of the reaction to the Rana Plaza disaster was also discussed by Tamsin. Fast fashion models simply look at material substitutions for easy impact while prioritizing colossal volumes and quantity, entirely undoing any positive impacts.
Collaboration, innovation, accelerating leadership among suppliers, and a change in the brand-supplier partnership dynamics, along with business opportunities for e-commerce, leisurewear, trans-seasonal looks, and lasting, quality-driven pieces were discussed by the speakers as the immediate shifts that the industry can look forward to.
Enduring themes that will determine how the industry recalibrates will undoubtedly be the digitalization of supply chains and processes, a conscious practice of multi-dimensional sustainability at the very core of business practice, and the emergence of new business models that are robust, adaptive and sustainable even in the face of possible future crises.
- Time for change: How to use the crisis to make fashion sourcing more agile and sustainable – A report by Mckinsey and Company, 2020.
- Brooke Roberts Islam on how the fashion industry is transforming – A series for Forbes, 2020
- SupplyCompass Certification Guide – A guide to navigating certifications and standards, 2020
- Over 300 free pieces of content for brands and businesses to support businesses preparing to grow and operate sustainably post COVID-19 – Free PRO content by Common Objective
- Crowdfunding for Common Objective – Campaign until 22nd May, 2020