Ashley Miller asks how fashion businesses can play their part in improving the industry’s environmental credentials
It seems we have a serious shopping habit, with the rise of fast fashion in particular fuelling high repurchasing rates. The number of times we wear clothing has fallen by as much as 70%, which goes some way to explain why clothing production has doubled since 2014. While this is obviously great news for the itself, with the UK fashion industry contributing £28.1 billion to the national GDP this year, up from £21 billion in 2009, when it comes to the environmental impact of this massive uplift in fashion sales, the picture’s not quite so rosy.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if the global fashion industry continues on its current growth trajectory, it’s highly likely that the sector will be using more than ¼ of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050. Add to this the fact that less than 1% of clothing is recycled here in the UK and that 300,000 tonnes of fashion waste are sent to landfill every year, and it’s hardly surprising that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has recently launched an inquiry into the UK fashion industry’s environmental impact, investigating carbon and water use throughout the clothing lifecycle as well as how more clothes can be recycled.
Many industry players are already on board with helping to lessen fashion’s environmental impact and improving their #FashionFootprint, with 64 fashion labels pledging to go green by 2020, but for fashion manufacturers in particular, what more can they do to help? With a view to achieving production efficiencies, reducing waste and boosting their environmental efforts, more and more manufacturers are assessing their systems, investing in new technology like to give them new capabilities and to support processes not traditionally seen in the fashion industry.
Production efficiency ensures fewer resources are used and less waste is produced, two of the key environmental factors that need to be addressed by the industry. With the right systems in place, it’s possible to synchronise the entire product lifecycle in a single, integrated solution, bringing together all business processes from design through to despatch. What this means is real-time access to business-wide information – enabling faster, smarter business decisions as well as the ability to quickly locate any inefficiencies. This deeper understanding of the complex, interdependent nature of all business processes helps to identify major efficiency savings, in terms of time, cost and resource consumption, optimising operations and improving the business’s environmental footprint.
The same ERP system can help to dramatically reduce waste, with advanced Material Requirements Planning (MRP) functionality enabling intelligent reordering of stock, alongside intelligent inventory management and in-built BI capability for increased forecasting accuracy. The comprehensive nature of the system means that all processes are integrated from the outset, so there should be no more costly redesigns or remakes because designs don’t fit the spec or financial constraints, or over-production of particular garments because of inaccurate forecasts, with more instances of ‘right-first-time’ meaning much less waste at every stage of a garment’s journey.
Usually associated with the food and pharma industries, the need to trace products (and their component parts) throughout the product lifecycle is vital for the fashion industry if it’s to encourage recycling and the concept of the circular economy, where garments can be made with a lifespan that benefits the environment. The right systems provide end-to-end visibility across all materials, processes and procedures in the fashion supply chain, with backwards and forwards traceability making it possible to ascertain where garments or raw materials have started from and where they end up.
As retailers and consumers become more environmentally-savvy when it comes to fashion, it will be more important than ever for clothes manufacturers to be able to show evidence of their various environmental endeavours. With advanced reporting functionality built-in, integrated business-wide systems provide the level of detail needed to highlight just how hard the business has been working to reduce its environmental impact. Bespoke reports can be created to show specific areas of the business, for example, a reduction in power and water consumption during production, or an increase in waste products being re-used elsewhere in the business, or even a report detailing how the business forecasts a longer lifespan of particular products. With all the information accessible via a single system, it’s straightforward to prove your environmental credentials, showing just how your business is making a real difference.
If fashion manufacturers are really going to contribute to making the industry’s impact on the environment less harmful, businesses need agile systems in place to not only enable cost-effective but also efficient production, resulting in fewer resources consumed, and less waste being produced, providing real-time evidence of measures being taken. With the right processes and infrastructure in place, fashion businesses can still respond to customer demand and run profitable operations, without compromising their environmental principles and without it costing the earth.