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Pandemic Leaves No Rung of the Fashion Supply Chain Unharmed

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The world is reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the far-reaching consequences of the disease are being felt across the globe. Governments are imposing lockdowns on their citizens and social distancing is becoming the new norm. Businesses across the board are suffering, not least among those, apparel retailers, brands and their supply chain partners.

Many column inches have been dedicated to the current plight of the apparel industry, with a focus on the decline in trade for retailers and brands and the resulting loss of business for their apparel manufacturing partners. As manufacturers’ customers face dwindling customer numbers, store closures and mounting stock inventory, the immediate reaction has been a scaling back of, or delay to current production orders. From Primark to Prada, from Hermes to H&M, no recognized retailer or brand has escaped the ravages of this devastating virus.

The current state of affairs is creating major problems for apparel manufacturers around the globe, as their cash flow is affected and they struggle to raise the necessary funds to pay their workers, overheads and to cover the purchase of the materials necessary to generate new orders.

The attention given to the plight of apparel manufacturers globally is fully justified, but we should not forget the effects that COVID-19 is having on the related ancillary support industries that rely on and supply the apparel industry. The apparel industry is a many-faceted entity, and its sphere of operations is not limited to brands, retailers and their direct manufacturers alone.

Firstly, consider the knock-on effects to the fabric supply chain. Take, for example, cotton, one of the most important fiber crops in the global textile industry; fabric suppliers are seeing their orders contract at an alarming rate and the ramifications are truly frightening for some of the most fragile workers with related roles in the supply of this core raw material.

Cotton farmers in developing countries around the globe have to face living in hardship and the COVID-19 outbreak compounds their already precarious livelihoods. As many as 100 million households are directly engaged in cotton production worldwide and an estimated 300 million people work in the cotton sector when family labor, farm labor and workers in related services including transportation, ginning, baling and storage are taken into account.

A downturn in trade will impact greatly upon these impoverished workers and, sadly, the tale is the same for those workers involved in the actual fabric production process, both in the cotton fabric production industry and the man-made fiber industries that also form a vital part of the apparel sector.

Second, let us not forget all those involved in the supply of the necessary trims and accessories for apparel products. Whether they be suppliers of buttons, zippers, other hardware, woven labels, card hang tags or other packaging – all companies are experiencing a downturn in trade as orders are cancelled or delayed. Take for example YKK, the world’s largest supplier of zips and metal accessories to the apparel industry. They alone employ more than 42,000 people—all of them facing the prospect of being furloughed from their roles. This is just one company, of many, supplying the apparel industry sector that has seen its business ravaged by the decline in trade post-COVID-19

Similarly, companies involved with the development of chemicals and dyestuffs used in the processing of fabrics and finished goods are suffering a sharp decline in business or, in an ever-growing number of cases, have had to mothball their operations as local lockdown restrictions are applied.

Machinery manufacturers have also seen their business drop away since the outbreak of the pandemic. Across the board, whether it be the simpler, basic sewing machines or the more advanced hardware for the finishing of garments and fabrics companies that supply these wares and the technology support industries that come with them are all experiencing a sharp decline in orders from their immediate customers.

Last, but by no means least, the virus has affected the operations of transport and warehousing companies, responsible for the transfer of goods from the manufacturer to the customer. With no goods being produced and orders being put on hold there is a dearth of product requiring collection from factories and delivery to the customers’ warehouses and stores.

Over the course of a few short weeks the COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of the lives of us all. The apparel industry is staggering from the aftershocks of the virus and we all need to consider the wide-reaching consequences of the crisis.

From fiber through to fabric, from dyestuffs to chemical supplies, from technology and machinery suppliers even to the companies that are involved with the transport and distribution of apparel product, no corner of the apparel industry environment has been left unaffected by the pandemic.

The aftermath of the effects of COVID-19 will be suffered for many months or possibly years to come. When we consider the struggling apparel industry sector, it is important that we do not forget those who occupy important but often overlooked roles within the whole supply chain and if we can, to paraphrase old military parlance, we need to ensure that ‘no man gets left behind.’

 

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at mostafiz@denimexpert.com.

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