Posted on April 19 2021
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and the second largest consumer of water. According to research, 30% of fashion products were never sold, resulting in 92 million tons of solid waste. The Pulse of the Fashion Industry report projects that, by 2030, fashion brands will see a profit reduction of $52 billion across the industry, if they continue to operate like now.
Meanwhile, consumers are living in the age of abundance - a quick search on Nordstrom for dresses yields over 8,000 results; a simple purchase such as toilet paper requires a decision from 20 different options. Moreover, fast fashion brands have forced the entire industry to compete over speed and variety, leading to the pinnacle of obsessive consumerism. Overproduction has become one of the most pressing issues to solve in order to create a more sustainable fashion ecosystem.
Here Are Three Ways Brands Can Create Big Change
Fewer, Better Things
The Pandemic has forced the entire fashion industry to slow down, and inspired designers like Giorgio Armani to call for a different approach to fast fashion - fewer seasons & shows, and more focus on value and artisanship.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the tagline “Fewer, Better Things” from Cuyana, a brand built behind the belief of creating timeless, high quality products. You won’t find the trendiest items stripped fresh off the runway; instead, the site is filled with versatile pieces you can style for different occasions and wear during multiple seasons. Quality and versatility also incentivizes customers to wear the same piece more often than fast-fashion styles. ADAY launched an Outfit Repeater Challenge for followers to wear one of their functional uniforms for 10 days straight. Small steps, like buying fewer pieces you can do more in, add up to have a big impact.
At ALLY, we want people to get the maximum use from our brand. We spent the first two years perfecting - the timeless pointed-toe pump and making it comfortable and accessible for women. Every pair of our shoes is handcrafted with premium lambskin leather, combined with a technical stretchy lining, and padded with our patent-pending ergonomic insole. It’s an investment piece intended to last, and an essential pair that you will want to take everywhere with you.
Small Batch, Quick Turnaround
In addition to churning out new designs too frequently, another issue causing excess inventory (hence waste) is the miss-forecasting. It may not seem to create a huge problem if upstream demand forecast is off by 5%, but the difference is amplified every step of the way from retailer, to distributor, and finally down to the manufacturer - also known as the Bullwhip Effect. In comparison, DTC brands are in a much better position to minimize the effect of multi-layer inventory buffers. But the question remains - how do we minimize forecast misses?
Brands such as Cuyana and NYC-based Petite Studio are committed to smaller, smarter production runs, creating small batches of only what is needed.With smaller production numbers, brands will have the ability to make changes quickly, helping them gauge the consumer response. According to their website, in 2019 Cuyana sold through 90% of the products that were made, which is very high for the industry where it is common to have sell-through rates of just 60-70%. Petite Studio also repurposes raw material whenever they can, creating scrunchies, scarves, and other accessories from fabric scraps that would otherwise be discarded.
At ALLY, we take this approach one step further, by implementing a made-to-order process for most of our styles. We built a flexible supply chain with an on-demand, 2-week turnaround. We also offer an optional fitting process that allows customers to try on samples for fit before we start production. With this approach, we are able to offer the best fit (5X more sizes than a traditional brand), while reducing waste in the production process.
Tech-enabled Fit Finder
The last culprit of inventory waste is returns, an issue more front and center today due to the boom of online shopping. Returns puts higher uncertainty for inventory planning, and many returned packages often end up in landfill. Study shows that sizing issues is the top reason shoppers return online orders.
The good news is that, with the rise of online shopping, brands can also collect and utilize data to improve fit and reduce return. ALLY’s proprietary online fit-finder uses an algorithm designed by Dr. Clarke and powered with big data, to recommend the best fit for different foot types. Tech startup True Fit organized the largest platform of apparel and footwear data through its partnerships with thousands of top brands, the world’s leading retailers, and millions of consumers. When a consumer is looking to try a new style / brand, the rich connected data and machine learning create intelligent predictions of the best fit in style and size.
Lastly, the rise of AR technology also allows brands to create the best virtual fitting experience. In 2019, Nike introduced Nike Fit, a new scanning solution to recommend shoe sizes based on a simple smart-phone scan of your feet.
While fast fashion has dominated the fashion scene over the past 20+ years, the trail of waste due to overproduction can no longer be ignored. With a slower-paced fashion calendar, fewer purchases of versatile pieces, and smaller, but faster turnaround production, we can create a healthier and more sustainable fashion ecosystem for many generations to come.