Current Problems in the Fashion Industry & Ways to Solve Them
There is no question that the global pandemic has exponentially increased problems for the fashion industry. An industry that depends heavily on complex supply chains, transportation for material and product delivery, and multi-country involvement.
Fashion industry problems have taken no prisoners, diversifying fast fashion problems created by larger companies and threatening the livelihood of smaller enterprises and independent fashion.
COVID wreaked the most havoc on those with fewer resources, of course, and the problems in the fashion industry weighed heavier on the smaller contenders who also happen to be the most socially conscious practitioners of the triple bottom line (TBL) approach in pursuit of the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability.
But it is not all bad news. The big names have been challenged and the smaller independent enterprises have pulled up their bootstraps, benefiting from their innovation and adaptiveness with new technologies and values in the struggle for a more just fashion industry when it comes to supply chains, consuming, and even disposing of threads.
Fashion industry problems: Re-evaluating values
The United Nations Development Programme said that “while the coronavirus has respected no national borders, it will continue to discriminate against the most vulnerable.” So problems in finding favorable costs without compromising sustainability on the supply chain in the global market are without question the most difficult for smaller contenders applying the TBL approach to their business. And while large fast-fashion retailers such as Gap Inc. (San Francisco, CA, USA), H&M (Stockholm, Sweden), Fast Retailing (Yamaguchi, Japan), and Inditex (Arteixo, Spain) are able to dominate global supply chains and the consumer market they make very little effort to change their ways as some of the most notorious human rights abusers in the business. Case in point is the fast fashion exploitation of the Uyghur people in China at that hand of Inditex’s Zara in China.
And this long-running problem and dynamic is needing to be reckoned with more than ever with the re-evaluation of values. Consumers are doing it, and that is where the solution to this fashion problem just may lay. Unfortunately, the big names don’t necessarily have to reckon with their astronomical carbon footprint, their untraceable supply chains that inevitably attribute to unjust wages, working conditions, and ethically sourced materials. But the Generation Z and Millenials, both as creatives and consumers blossoming in the industry see the TBL approach as a non-negotiable.
These new designers and consumers are making decisions that focus on values in addition to the value of fashion.
Perhaps a problem for big fashion but an overall solution to fashion industry problems.
Supply chain: Considering alternatives
The complexity of the global supply chain has mostly exacerbated problems in the fashion industry, taking advantage of low wages in developing countries, unrestricted labor laws, and cheaper fabric costs across borders. It is clearly a fast fashion problem, and fortunately, during the global pandemic, more of the completely disparaging statistics were even more apparent. But since places like China were closed for exportation, we saw a forced result affecting supply chains, fashion, and apparel companies. Therefore companies and small businesses began to adjust and look to become less dependent on the traditional supply chains, especially those based in China.
In 2021, companies continue to be coerced to seek supplier and assembly alternatives, giving the more innovative and forward-thinking small businesses some space. Yes, finding new avenues towards exploitation are not null, but there are companies that are considering other options due to along the lines of the triple bottom approach as the fashion industry problems are directly aligned to ethical, environmental, and geopolitical matters.
However, in all cases, cost efficiencies and margin squeeze must be weighed. A majority of the world’s supply of fabrics and raw materials comes from China, however, the further strain on the fashion industry is sure to continue. But overall, the global pandemic revealed an anachronistic supply chain, diversified yes, but still a way to old-fashioned, giving way to technology and the rapid digitization of the supply chain- giving us glimpses of a more sustainable fashion industry on the horizon.
The Tri-fold Fashion Problems: Producing, Consuming, and Disposing
The supply chain will always need to be reconsidered, and consumers always evolve and change, but what do we do when it comes to disposing of clothes out of fashion, or surplus, or second-hand clothes? As we have seen in the face of fashion problems, there are great solutions. During the pandemic, second-hand fashion grew immensely and continued to do so. But its disposal is still a major fashion industry problem. Many threads are thrown out and mixed, therefore not recyclable, or are even contain plastics.
However, raising the bar for the buyer experience has required becoming more sustainable. Fashion problems live and breathe inside a hypercompetitive market, so fashion companies must be creative and innovative to offer the goods and buying experiences consumers demand- adapting to the new norms created by the pandemic. Each day the direct-to-consumer model is growing, so there is no question fashion companies must build solid and effective online shopping experience for their retail business, an area that smaller designers and businesses tend to be savvier.
Transportation, Delivery, & Returns
But alas, another fashion industry problem, delivery, and returns and their speeds and accuracy have become a megalithic obstacle for achieving a seamless experience. Like never before, social media and influencers have exploded in popularity during the pandemic in an already growing market. So even more so, they will need to be creatively integrated into a fashion company’s daily inner workings in order to connect and engage consumers, building community as well as loyalty to brands. Trying to stay as digital as possible has been another benefit to the problem of delivery and returns.
In this sense, fashion enterprises, both big and small will continue to seek out individuals who are taking to task fashion industry problems in an integral way or even become the game-changers themselves; with a triple bottom line approach, with innovation, and flexibility in the face of an ever-changing supply chain with paramount delivery and return challenges.
Issues in fashion industry and potential solutions: Encouraging examples
A fascinating and hopeful example is Priya Ahluwalia’s new collections and collaborations with Microsoft. Creating high-end upcycling fashion that also seeks to source fabrics not only from second-hand fabrics from places like London, India, and Nigeria, she also engages individuals, customers, and non-customers, from inside their own closets.
When approached by Microsoft to participate in their virtual fashion show, Ahluwalia raised the bet and made a potentially more impactful proposal as she said, “I just felt that if I had the chance to collaborate with a tech giant, I wanted to develop something that would actually solve a business issue,” Which birthed the beta application Circulate, where users can upload their second-hand clothes to be reviewed by Ahluwalia and her team to consider them for their use in upcoming collections.
It is with fashion innovators and designers like this, who engage the consumers directly and fairly, with digital tools that will most effectively confront fast fashion problems that continue to adapt and transform in order to keep up with the new norms that the fashion industry is experiencing. It is up to them and consumers to continue to engage these problems with the innate leverage they have within the market, to properly face the problems with creativity, vision, and the opportunities given to them, whether as a designer or consumer.