The supply chain of a clothing item

Have you ever thought of the ‘background story’ of the clothes you wear, how their production started, what materials were used and who made this piece that ended up in your closet? You might be the final stage as a consumer but this item has passed through a long chain of events before it reaches you.

Supply chain explained

The term ‘supply chain’ is basically a network or chain of events, with many parties involved in the process of a product or a service from its first production stage until it reaches the end-user.  The two main parties are the brand and its suppliers but along the ‘chain’ a number of steps (activities, entities, resources and logistics) need to be undertaken. These steps/processes refer to production, marketing, operations, distribution networks and transportation services, financial issues and customer service.  Producers, retailers, warehouses, vendors, transportation and distribution companies are essential parts of the supply chain. 

Respectively, Supply Chain Management (SCM) includes physical and informational flows. The former refers to the ‘visible’ piece of supply chain: transformation, storage of goods and materials. The latter refers to all partners’ coordination and control for the long term plans of a product from the first until the last step.

What is included in a clothing supply chain?

The global clothing supply chain involves as many parties and stakeholders as tonnes of oil, chemicals and water and other natural resources.  However, to simplify and summarize it the procedure includes the following main steps:

  • The source of raw materials: This relates to the very beginning of the chain, meaning planting, harvesting and collecting materials like cotton, silk etc, or production of synthetic fabrics such as polyester.

  • The factories that process and turn these materials into fabrics and later garments. These often refer to the apparel manufacturers in developing countries. Currently the biggest apparel factories are in China, Bangladesh and Cambodia that lead the global workforce in apparel manufacturing.

  • The distribution networks by which the garments are delivered to the customers which includes the global shipping in order for a clothing item to end up on the shelves of the shops and finally in our closet.

The transparency of the supply chain in the fashion industry

Since supply chains are a complex system regarding the flow of commodities and the actors participating from beginning to end, even the most transparent fashion brands have difficulties tracking all the steps along the process. Another issue is that fashion companies search for cheaper options on resources and labour since operational costs across supply chains can be high. Hence, it can be hard to retain traceability and accountability. Fashion supply chains are characterized by short product life cycles, uncontrollable variety of products, intensive labour production and long distribution processes. Complexity increases and transparency decreases. 

It is beneficial for brands to attempt a supply chain as transparent as possible for the sake of the authentication of sourcing and the quality of the garments. Clear communication across all stakeholders and distribution channels is imperative. The biggest benefit is of course brand reputation and consumer trust. According to research, 52% of millennials and 45% of Gen-Z do thorough research of fashion brands before purchasing. That means they do not only search for product reviews but also about the garment’s supply chain background. Building a transparent fashion supply chain helps not only the brand itself but also it reveals its identity and its ethical efforts to its target audience.

How ‘ethical’ are clothing supply chains today?

Ethics is another big chapter on the supply chain of a clothing item. The term is closely connected to sustainability and environmental efforts but also to labour conditions. According to the International Labour Organization, more than 21 million workers are victims of forced and unethical labour in the apparel industry. The Rana Plaza incident in Bangladesh that killed over 1000 people due to bad infrastructure of the apparel factories, is considered one of the most tragic events in industrial history. Fashion brands ought to reassure that fair trade is also accomplished along the supply chain. 

Considering the environment, fabric production has always been an energy-intensive sector involving the exploitation of resources and labour, hence being responsible for environmental pollution. Fast fashion especially has ambiguous supply chains due to its need for responsiveness in the continuously changing trends and massive production practices. Affordable prices, quickly created clothing collections are only some of the elements that can convince one that Fast Fashion supply chains are not the most ethical and ecological. Companies often do not obtain sufficient leverage to check all the steps of the supply chain and at the same time remain sustainable and ethical. “Price pressures and sustainability pressures are conflicting” says Prof. Nieuwenkamp chairman of Responsible Business Conduct of the OECD

What is the solution? Many fashion brands are still working on ethical and environmental matters. Sure thing is that they need to get a better understanding of their supply chain in all procedural steps. This is imperative even if they need to decrease production and profit in order to gain more stable business relationships and coordination. They need to put more resources into supply chain traceability systems that can be updated in real time in order for millennials and Gen Z customers to be convinced.

How does Kleiderly contribute?

At Kleiderly, we have made it our mission to reduce the fashion industry carbon footprint and thus the amount of clothes that end up in landfills annually. We want to give unwanted clothes and overproduction a new, sustainable life by turning them into clothing hangers, solving two issues at once: Accumulated clothing waste and oil-based plastic usage.

Sources:

https://www.kleiderly.com/our-blog/fast-fashion-explained

https://www.kleiderly.com/our-blog/what-are-alternatives-to-plastic

https://www.kleiderly.com/our-blog/what-is-fair-trade-and-why-is-it-essential-in-ethical-fashion

https://www.kleiderly.com/our-blog/fabric-series-all-about-cotton

https://www.kleiderly.com/our-blog/fabric-series-all-about-silk

https://blog.makersvalley.net/a-modern-fashion-supply-chain

https://goodonyou.eco/rana-plaza/

https://www.eticanews.it/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Report-Bank-J-Safra-Sarasin-Supply-Chains-in-the-Clothing-Industry.pdf

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/product-life-cycle

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/what-radical-transparency-could-mean-for-the-fashion-industry

https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang--en/index.htm

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