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How Should Fashion Revolutionize the Raw Materials Supply Chain?

Raw materials take many steps to transform from input to finished product. As a result, retail brands often don’t have a direct relationship with or true visibility into the raw materials tier of their supply chain, but this may be poised to change.

A number of factors are causing the apparel and footwear industry to take a closer look at their material sourcing.

Covid-19 offered a wake-up call to companies early in the outbreak, as a delay in raw material shipments out of China put a pause on production in then unaffected countries. At the same time, a heightened awareness for sustainability has fashion firms choosing materials that are better for the planet and opting for more supportive partnerships with their producers.

Ahead of our upcoming virtual Sourcing Summit panel, “Rebuilding the Raw Materials Supply Chain: The Outlook for Inputs,” Sourcing Journal asked industry executives to weigh in on what is in most dire need of change when it comes to this area of the market.

Luisa Herrera-Garcia, senior vice president of production at John Varvatos

“I believe the entire supply chain needs to be reevaluated.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the whole world to a full stop. It has forced us all, especially our industry, to look in the mirror and say it’s time to change. Suppliers need to reduce their lead times, become more efficient with less not more. They need to be sustainable without asking the customer to pay more. The days of having to buy large quantities are over. We need to be smarter and be quick to adapt to change.

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Ethical sourcing is key to a successful supply chain. Suppliers need to develop materials with complete transparency from beginning to end.

This pandemic is a moment in time, but what we do and how we move forward will lead us to a better tomorrow.”

Jess Bensley, senior product manager at Teva

Jess Bensley Teva“There is room for improvement for the industry to use various materials that are ultimately better for our planet. Innovation around circularity will drive business into the future where we can produce great-looking product while having a positive impact on the environment. As consumers become more educated on the harm many fashion brands are inflicting on the earth, the brands that care will rise to the top. Start exploring your packaging and materials; there are almost always improvements to be made.”

Marc Lewkowitz, president and CEO of Supima

Marc Lewkowitz Supima“For revolutionary change to occur, there is a pressing need for deeper collaboration and partnership between brands and retailers and the fiber supply chain. Cotton is the recipient of all the upstream price pressures, and the expectations of continued investment, sustainability efforts, transparency and continual improvement in every aspect is not viable nor sustainable under current industry value demands/expectations. Additionally, honesty in marketing must be authentic around claims or certifications, as there is often little or no scientific rigor to validate them in the marketplace.”

Hanna Hallin, global sustainability manager at Treadler

Hanna Hallin Treadler“It is no secret that our industry today is wasteful. Instead of throwing away fashion, textiles and scraps, it can become new fashion. And the revolution is already here, we just need to give it traction by scaling available solutions to replace resource-intense materials. Materials such as cotton and viscose need to be replaced with circular alternatives, where we can convert discarded or worn out textiles, including blended fibers, to new quality fibers, using a closed loop of water and energy. One example is the hydrothermal process implemented by HKRITA, in partnership with H&M Foundation and Novotex. We are proud to be able to offer access to these types of recycled fibers, such as Circulose, at Treadler via our supply chain services. By offering access to H&M Group’s supply chain and the group’s strategic sustainability work, we hope to help clients overcome initial business barriers and accelerate the change needed in our industry.”

Marcus Chung, vice president of manufacturing and supply chain at ThirdLove

Marcus Chung ThirdLove“I think there’s an opportunity to create stronger connections and synergies between raw material suppliers and brands. There is a ton of overdevelopment, with suppliers creating seasonal collections that don’t go anywhere, and brands are not great at articulating what they’re looking for. It would be amazing if there were a service or an app that could match suppliers’ stock availability, innovation, new development, etc. with specific brand needs in a simple, straightforward way.”

Javier Trocoli Llorens, global technical leader softlines, toys and childcare at Eurofins Softlines & Leather

Javier Trocoli Llorens Eurofins“Raw materials are the starting point of the whole supply chain. In the multi-tier garment and footwear industry, every layer is interrelated. With consumers’ preference, habits and valuation changed after the pandemic, we ought to question our way forward—this essentially includes better mitigation of environmental impacts and enhancing transparency from not only raw materials, but to manufacturing processes, production cycles, logistics and the product lifecycles. We are all at a new forefront in striking the fine balance between business growth and sustainability. Everyone should take a strong stance, for the environment and mankind.”

Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

Gary Adams Cotton Trust Protocol“The challenge with raw materials, and cotton specifically, is while growers were making improvements for decades to improve sustainability practices, we haven’t always had the tools to track progress year over year. We understood that the availability of accurate and verifiable data would be of significant benefit to the cotton supply chain. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol provides growers, merchandisers, and brands the data to understand U.S. cotton’s water and energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, land efficiency and soil carbon. Not only does this data improve supply chain transparency, but it provides growers with a blueprint to make their farms even more sustainable.”

Tricia Carey, director of business development at Lenzing

Tricia Carey Lenzing“The most dire revolution for raw materials is carbon reduction. We need to scrutinize ways to decrease our carbon footprint in order to reduce the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere contributing towards global warming and climate change, as part of SDG 13: climate action. With approximately 110 million tons of fiber produced or grown annually, we must examine how raw materials are made and what measurable impacts are required to achieve the business ambition of 1.5 degrees Celsius. As we build back better, as well as build back greener, we must consider the CO2 footprint of raw materials and collaborate in ways to reduce carbon emissions.”

The conversation on remaking the raw material supply chain will continue at the upcoming Sourcing Journal Summit 2020, R/Evolution: Overhauling Fashion’s Outmoded Supply Chain, on Oct. 14-15. Get your ticket here to reserve your seat.