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First-Ever Global Apparel Sourcing Expo Stresses Sustainability, Supply Chain Resilience

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The apparel supply chain has needed a shot in the arm in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as retailers struggle between catering to demands for sustainable products and finding new ways to source materials.

To solve these problems and ultimately promote stronger supply chains for the ready-made garment industry, International Apparel Federation (IAF) launched its inaugural Global Apparel Sourcing Expo 2020 in partnership with Foursource and Sourcing Journal. In visiting the Global Apparel Sourcing Expo, attendees can explore 200 exhibitors (with short-term capacity still available), browse through 10,000+ products in their digital showrooms, visit six country pavilions and get direct access to the nine exporters’ associations involved with the event.

The Expo also includes a sourcing conference, featuring a full slate of speeches and panels on consecutive Thursdays through Aug. 6. The first day of the program, held Thursday, July 16, focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top steps to ensuring sustainable supply chains

Christian Ewert, president of non-profit association, Amfori, which advocates for open and sustainable trading, kicked things off with a keynote that made clear that the COVID-19 crisis could be a turning point toward the industry becoming a more “resilient, carbon-neutral and circular global apparel industry that benefits everyone.”

Presently, the apparel industry is responsible for 10 percent of all global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, but Ewert sees a bright future if stakeholders take responsible business steps in the short term to ensure sustainability.

“Businesses will need to proceed as much as possible with payments as usual,” Ewert said. “Do not renegotiate prices of payment terms. Make the effort to understand the local context including the current situation and measures taken. Communicate with local producers to understand whether they are operational or not and to discuss specific challenges that they’re facing. Engage with trade unions and local stakeholders to get their perspective in supporting effective workers.”

Additionally, with women comprising 90 percent of low-paying jobs, the onus is on the retailers and manufacturers to ensure that women and other vulnerable groups are safe throughout the crisis.

In the longer term, businesses are going to need help from governments if any large-scale sustainability initiatives will get off the ground. For one, they will have to improve systems of social dialogue via trade unions and more clear-cut grievance mechanisms in factories. But Ewert also pointed out that all parties must commit to the Paris Agreement and reduce emissions, as well as partner for pragmatic legislation furthering environmental and human rights due diligence.

“Similarly, there are endless opportunities for the development of new technologies that allow for better supply chain mapping, more sustainable production of garments and improvement of conditions for workers,” Ewert said.

’Symphonization’ sets equal audit rules for brands, factories

Today’s retailers, manufacturers and factories also have an opportunity to reset the supply chain social compliance paradigm through the concept of “symphonization.”

Avedis Seferian, the CEO of non-profit social compliance organization WRAP, introduced the term, defining it as the concept of brands and retailers moving away from operating their own set of rules and internal factory audits, and instead collaborating with specialized independent organizations that provide a menu of options for the supply chain to use as a whole.

Traditionally, buyers and manufacturers often saw each other through an adversarial lens, and as such, responsible sourcing rules that were set by the buyers typically fell in the laps of the manufacturers due to the activities they conducted.

Brands and retailers created their own social compliance standards, resulting in audit fatigue as factories required multiple audits each year. Unfortunately, harmonization of standards across the supply chain failed despite many attempts from retailers, brands and manufacturers to collaborate.

“This is an industry that does not lend itself at all to ‘one way,’” Seferian said during his session. “It’s the fashion industry. You cannot simply force them all to do things just one way. All these attempts at harmonization were all doomed to fail, because they all insisted on a one-size-fits-all solution, which was not practical.”

But symphonization can overcome these challenges, starting with the realization that responsible sourcing rules should be designed so that all parties have a responsibility to follow rules, not just manufacturers.

The solution to audit fatigue, according to Seferian, is to replace proprietary programs instituted by retailers and brands with a third-party organization that had its own existing supply chain audit rules in place.

The core of circularity: high-quality, long-lasting products

Another major goal organizations are trying to achieve to build a resilient supply chain ties back to the idea of the circular economy. Markus Weiser, who works on sustainability strategy at Gore Fabrics, observed that due to the number of consumer apparel market cycles increasing per year, by 2015, the average consumer bought 60 percent more items of clothing, yet kept them only half as long.

Weiser says more companies are getting circularity wrong because it is “meant to keep all those mini-seasons going without any further adjustments. Just now if you want a ‘circular’ model, you’d be frantically spinning many cycles, but our footprint and our toll on the planet will keeping growing.”

Gore’s core belief should be worked into the circular economy in one obvious way—make fewer high-quality products that last longer. It comes down to “containing the hunger for virgin resources and for the wastefulness of our industry,” Weiser said.

In one example of averting traditional dyeing methods, Gore uses alternative technologies designed to allow for adding colored pigments to fibers from which yarns and fabrics are made. Under this process, known as solution dyeing, manufacturers can save up to 50 percent of the water used for conventional dyeing methods. A side benefit is that the colors are more fade resistant.

By 2030, Gore has the goal to reduce absolute carbon emissions originating from its manufacturing sites and offices by 60 percent, as well as reduce absolute product-related carbon emissions by 35 percent.

Tune into the Global Apparel Sourcing Expo 2020 on Thursday, July 23 for the next slate of presentations, which will focus on developments, trends and opportunities in global sourcing. Speakers include Julia K. Hughes, president of the United States Fashion Industry Association and Han Bekke, president of IAF, among others.

The third and fourth days of presentations will continue on Thursday, July 30 and Thursday, Aug. 6.

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