Sustainable Sourcing: Addressing the Environmental and Social Impacts of Apparel Supply Chains

By Pawan Gupta, Co-Founder & CEO, Fashinza

Pawan Gupta, Co-Founder & CEO, Fashinza

The fashion industry’s adoption of sustainable sourcing practices has become a critical imperative in the face of the social and environmental challenges confronting modern societies. Large-scale implementation of sustainable sourcing is now a non-negotiable requirement for the fashion industry. The apparel sector has made significant strides in prioritizing sustainability, mirroring the growing significance of these concerns and making process improvement initiatives, such as the digitization of sourcing processes, consolidation of supplier bases, and optimization of end-to-end processes. As per industry reports, the priorities for companies were identified as the adoption of sustainable materials, increased technology adoption and digitization, enhancing transparency and traceability, refining procurement practices among others.

Embracing Sustainable Materials in Production

Despite a low current share of sustainable materials in products, the apparel industry anticipates a significant ramp-up in the next few years. The new generation of fashion-conscious consumers favors natural fabrics that are sourced from naturally-occurring fibers. Driven by a heightened awareness of environmental concerns, people are increasingly opting for dresses made of natural materials rather than synthetic ones, notorious for their polluting impact.

Apart from being eco-friendly, natural fabrics offer unparalleled comfort, softness, and breathability, making them a sought-after choice for discerning consumers. These fabrics also possess unique properties such as sweat absorption and texture variability. By optimizing the innate characteristics of these fabrics, manufacturers can develop premium pieces that are suitable for all occasions. Cotton, silk, hemp, linen, coir, wool, and leather are among the top natural fabrics of utmost importance to fashion brands and manufacturers.

Digitalization of Sourcing

The digitization of sourcing has facilitated the adoption of sustainable and environmentally friendly practices by traditional manufacturing, thereby reducing waste and utilizing improved or alternative raw resources. However, the vast majority of organizations in the manufacturing sector have yet to fully leverage technology’s potential in this area. The advent of Artificial Intelligence and Automation has driven the digital transformation, making sustainability a realistic and achievable goal. This shift aligns with the principles of the circular economy, adaptive reuse, and material efficiency.

Building Transparency and traceability

By enhancing transparency and traceability in their supply chains, apparel manufacturers can adopt sustainable practices. The absence of transparency makes it challenging to track products as they progress through the value chain, leaving brands unaware of the collections they would like to support or adapt to changing market conditions. Traceability can help supply chains identify inefficiencies, optimize production, reduce waste, and minimize financial and reputational risks. Furthermore, it ensures credibility and compliance within the network. Brands can propel themselves towards a circular economy by making informed decisions with the help of data. By embedding sustainability and ethical practices and leveraging the available data, apparel manufacturers can effectively mitigate risks, increase efficiency, and promote transparency throughout the supply chain.

Responsible Purchasing Practices

In the fashion industry, responsible purchasing practices are defined as the procurement of clothing made by workers who are treated with respect and lead dignified lives. Such practices are linked to the concept of Human Rights Due Diligence, which requires buyers to examine the working conditions of the laborers involved in the manufacturing process. To achieve responsible purchasing practices, fashion brands need to adopt certain buying practices.

For instance, they should conduct thorough examinations of the materials used, evaluate the factory’s commitment to human rights, and assess their willingness to improve the status quo. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that factory workers are paid at least the minimum wage, and failure to comply with this requirement should result in strict action. By prioritizing responsible purchasing practices and enforcing human rights due diligence, fashion brands can ensure ethical and sustainable production practices, enhance their reputations, and gain the loyalty of socially conscious consumers.

Sustainable production and consumption

Sustainable production and consumption requires a delicate balance between meeting the immediate needs of society while safeguarding the resources necessary for future generations. This entails responsible usage of resources such as water and energy, and avoiding the creation of needless waste. To achieve this, brands will need to prioritize renewable resources and consider designing products with a longer shelf life, and incorporate circular design principles into their production processes. These efforts can have a significant impact on mitigating environmental degradation and promoting long-term economic growth.

As fashion brands start to re-imagine their supply chains, it is clear that future-proof fashion is the way forward. Brands need to adopt a holistic approach that prioritizes not just fashion, but also the well- being of the planet. By embracing sustainability, fashion can create a better world for everyone while still offering innovative and stylish designs that capture the imagination. Ultimately, the future of fashion lies not just in the latest trends, but in creating an industry that is both beautiful and sustainable.