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Denim Industry Will Look to Digitalization, Ethical Supply Chains Post-Pandemic

As parts of the world experience a second wave of Covid cases, experts in the denim industry search for a silver lining.

Though the industry saw a number of bankruptcies, closed stores and canceled orders this year, it also saw an opportunity for a reset. In the Sourcing at Magic Sustainability Summit roundtable on Wednesday, panelists considered it a long-awaited catalyst for change.

Cindy Lin, CEO and cofounder of Hove Social Good Intelligence, a social impact tech company that uses data to connect consumers with ethical businesses, referred to the pandemic as a necessary moment of pause that has exposed some of the industry’s dirty secrets. “Because there is now a pause, all of these problems that were there before have really been highlighted,” she said, specifically pointing to environmental issues.

Lin noted that it’s caused many to see the connection between their collective actions and the state of the world. As a result, she feels the pause has also created a more patient consumer—a striking contrast from the fast fashion-obsessed society that existed before it. “[They’re beginning to think] ‘If I wait, I get better quality,’ and ‘If I pay this tiny bit more, I get a better-quality product that has these positive impacts,’” she said.

Focusing on the positive impacts of a sustainable product is a concept Lin wishes more companies focused on—and it’s exactly what her business aims to do. Hove’s platform uses more than 200 decision points to measure a company’s social and environmental impact and how it links to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This venture points to a larger industry shift to greater transparency. Panelists agreed that it’s no longer enough to say a product is sustainable—companies must provide information on why it’s labeled that way. “Sometimes I’ll see a tag that says a product is sustainable, and that’s nice, but why is it sustainable?” said Roger Williams, executive producer of the denim documentary “Riverblue.” “Tell me more. Give me a story.”

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Though Williams is in the business of storytelling—his award-winning film exposed some of the denim industry’s environmental impact and opportunities for improvement—companies don’t need to be expert content creators to get their point across. Sharing information on elements such as water-saving methods and ethical sourcing practices can be a way to get the consumer involved in driving social and environmental change.

And there’s proof that consumers are looking to support ethical businesses. Despite the tumultuous events of 2020, Australian brand Outland Denim saw success with the crowdfunding campaign it launched at the beginning of the pandemic. By May, the brand reported that it raised 1.32 million Australian dollars (approximately $867,919) from both private investors and consumers seeking equity in the company, which is known for its humanitarian efforts and anti-slavery initiatives.

Adaptability has become a valuable quality to have in a pandemic, from  how consumers shop and brands produce, to how apparel companies conduct business. The rapid adoption of digitization is an example this.

Now more than ever, experts are communicating beyond geographical barriers through video calls. Denim veteran Adriano Goldschmied pointed out how technology is connecting people in unprecedented ways—and it’s driving the industry forward.

“We are living in the future,” he said, adding that technology has the power the change everything from the way the industry communicates to the way it goes to market.

Digital sampling, for example, has changed the way designers create clothes, allowing decision-making closer to demand and resulting in less waste. Goldschmied envisions a future full of not just virtual samples, but virtual consumer-facing showrooms as well.

Considering the industry’s continued technological advancements and consumers’ growing requests for more sustainable options, Williams is also optimistic about the future.

“The future looks really bright for the fashion industry,” he said. “It can change, and I think it’s going to change really quickly.”