The fast fashion industry model has increased supply chain complexity to meet cost efficiency and demand over the years. Suppliers continue to face pressure in meeting fashion industry trends causing resource, labor and environmental stress in the apparel supply network all over the world. Unfortunately, it took the devastating Rana Plaza factory fire to get the industry more focused on the supplier labor health and safety.
Multiple challenges must be confronted before addressing complex supply chain issues. One such is working to educate and provide essential tools on supplier sustainability to internal supply chain and procurement teams. This opportunity to engage employees in supply chain sustainability is not exclusive to the apparel industry. In an online poll by Ethical Corporation apparel companies dealt with these issues two ways, first, where most time was spent, working with internal procurement teams to manage their supply chain risks and then focusing on working with high-risk suppliers.
The process of identification of high-risk suppliers may vary across manufacturing industries depending on material issues, industry demands and trends. Once those issues are identified they should then be addressed through supplier collaboration, capacity building and training.
Industry standards, such as Higg index (part of Sustainable Apparel Coalition), assessing environmental and social indicators are being continuously improved to set robust, widely accessible and comparable metrics. Companies are trying to make use of available online tools and evaluation questionnaires to reach out to suppliers and workers directly – with applications such as ‘labor link’ gaining popularity. However, it was found that not many companies are making use of such available online tools as one would likely expect. Gap in education and training of employees and supply chain management teams continues to be a barrier in integration of sustainability into larger supply chain goals and actions.
Brands such as Reformation, whose product and value are built on sustainability, are more successful in integrating sustainable sourcing into their business. One of the ways in which they achieve this is by purchasing local supplies and using low impact fibers, for instance Reformation does not use any cotton in their products as the fiber has relatively high life cycle impact. Clean has been involved with Reformation supporting them in continuously improving impact analysis methods for their product lines.