This article is a preview of Fairchild Media Group’s Virtual Sustainability Summit, themed “Sustainability Now: The Pressure Grows,” which will take place on April 21-22. Speakers will include executives from Levi’s, Eileen Fisher, L’Oreal, Zero + Maria Cornejo, Parsons School of Design, Estee Lauder, Farfetch and more.
Boosting circularity, recycling and responsible raw materials usage is commendable, but one of the simplest ways to be a more sustainable fashion business is to get your inventory liability down. Period.
Mitigating unsold merchandise and reducing production waste involves a tricky dance of accurately predicting consumer demand, pivoting from physical to digital sampling, and increasing speed to market so supply accurately aligns with fleeting trends.
At this month’s Fairchild Media Group Virtual Sustainability Summit, the “Reengineering Product Development” panel brings together a powerful mix of speakers with different expert vantage points. The panel, which will take place on April 21, will include Mou Nath, global innovation and sustainability strategist at global sourcing company ZXY International; Amanda Curtis, CEO and co-founder of on-demand product management platform N.A.bld (pronounced “enabled”); and Dan Leahy, co-founder of product decision platform MakerSights.
“Today, companies are claiming to be sustainable, but at the same time they have so much excess inventory,” said Edward Hertzman, founder and president of Sourcing Journal and executive vice president of Fairchild Media Group, who will be moderating the the panel. “You simply cannot be a sustainable enterprise if you’re throwing 20 or 30 percent of your products into landfills.”
Getting the merchandise level down with on-demand manufacturing is one way to reduce waste, producing literally just what the customer ordered. “We took the concept in the startup business world of minimal viable product (MVP) and applied it to the retail sector,” Curtis said of the N.A.bld platform, which launched successful on-demand programs for heavyweights like Project Runway, Disney Fashion and Macy’s. Using the company’s proprietary software, brands create digital tech packs that are bid out to domestic manufacturers specifically set up to produce small runs at a competitive price. Transparency into the entire process builds consumer engagement, trust and loyalty, turning the few-week manufacturing wait into a “fashion experience” instead of a commodity purchase.
“We see this as ‘smart fashion’ not ‘fast fashion,’ even though it does let brands operate in an almost fast-fashion model,” Curtis said, but “without all the negative environmental and humanitarian issues.”
Another way to reduce inventory waste and better forecast what the consumer will actually consume is with data and predictive analytics. After all, more money is lost on markdowns and lost sales by having the wrong product on the shelf at the wrong time than any tariff, return or sustainable fiber premium cost.
MakerSights builds a metaphorical crystal ball by looping customer voices into the equation, via behavioral purchase data or post-sale customer feedback. “You can analyze those responses and use that demand prediction to meaningfully reduce the investment that you make in products that don’t sell,” said Leahy. And there’s no time to waste when it comes to wasted merchandise. As Leahy pointed out, markdowns as a percentage of real retail revenue were about 5 percent in 1980 but are now north of 40 percent.
But while fashion executives agree they want their businesses to be data driven, they don’t always know how to get there. “Analytics are really helpful, as long as you’re putting yourself in a position to respond to them,” said Leahy. “What goes hand in hand are the process improvements that allow brands to be more responsive to the demand signals they’re seeing, as well as the measurement of the demand signals itself. Together you can create a much more responsible organization that’s going to create a lot less waste.”
On the global manufacturing side, ZXY’s Nath explains how investment in digital tools for 3D design and development during the pandemic proved itself to be an effective sample reduction method that should be adopted as table stakes going forward. “There are too many layers of approvals and sending samples back and forth from the manufacturing country to the brand companies where executives check and approve. We have minimized that,” Nath said. The challenge, she noted, is training the industry to better embrace it.
“How you bring solutions within your proposals of product will be the key for brands and companies going forward,” she said. “You have to look at the post-Covid period and ask, ‘Is it just a temporary shift or a long-term shift?’”
Join the discussion during the FMG Virtual Sustainability Summit to learn more about:
- Why consumer loyalty is higher and return rates lower with on-demand manufacturing
- How to use consumer feedback for more productive design development
- How to test a whole product line with just one sample
- How to partner with technology to empower and enhance internal teams
- How to adapt short-term digital lessons from Covid-19 into long-term solutions
Click here to get your ticket today.