The challenge is now, and the fashion system cannot fail to meet it head-on. Leaving behind any traditional production, business and marketing logic. And understanding that producing less but better (with all this also entails in commercial and distribution terms) requires strategies and investments to manage change. And ensure survival
In cooperation with Altavia
Traditional fashion production models have long been incompatible with preserving our planet. The complexity of the economic and political situation makes it more urgent for brands to rethink their business models. The aim: is to make them more agile and more robust in the face of adversity that is now less and less predictable. For example, inflation has a severe and direct impact on both production costs and customers’ purchasing power. But while fashion system professionals are looking to the future with growing concern, change can turn into an opportunity for those who know how to grasp it. And fashion, as is often the case, anticipates societal trends.
Covid has been a great accelerator of change processes, and in the near future, the industrial process in many sectors of the economy will have to transform and evolve according to the logic of ‘produce less and produce better‘. Research and product development seem to be the new market challenges on which to direct future investments.
The problems related to a disruptive paradigm shift in the fashion world are those characteristics of any mature market. The sector has not yet internalised the digitisation of value delivery processes. In fact, it turns its attention towards episodic exploits more attributable to communication initiatives as an end in themselves rather than real changes in approach. In addition, there is a need for strong growth in its ability to strategically plan and manage the implementation of enabling technologies too often acquired without a fundamental link to a strategic business vision. Moreover, in the face of continuous innovation in collections, we are talking about companies with a tendentially traditional organisational model.
We are talking about a production system that is often incapable of managing economies of scale and does not have standardisation of processes as its core competence. The loss of marginality has been compensated for by resorting to cheaper labour through production decentralisation. A logic that today is unsustainable both because of rising costs and the high pollution production that such global logistics entails.
Reducing production requires two well-known arguments on which it is high time to break off. Namely: increasing unit margins and getting out of a mentality that sees profit only in production. Today’s focus must be on the differentiating elements that characterise the customer experience and the customer-brand relationship. In this, overcoming the commercial proposal linked to seasonal constructs is indispensable. Resistance to change is to be avoided with great determination.
Customer expectations are expressed in constant dialogue through the countless digital touchpoints. The seasonal approach is an umbilical vision of the fashion industry. People are no longer interested in the narrative based on alternating summer and winter collections. They are interested in whether the brand is listening and in dialogue. In summary: brands need to listen, analyse and design a lot more and only start producing when required.
The quality of a value proposition necessarily depends on planning and design skills. Moving away from a purely quantitative approach linked to the volumes produced requires a strong will to manage complexity and change the way of approaching work. Knowledge, research and adaptability become the key competencies that must guide an industrial production increasingly linked to technologies.
The ‘cradle to cradle’ approach should be well known by now, but it is always useful to remember the need to make garments that are designed from the outset in such a way that each element can be reintegrated into the production cycle. For example: until now, it has been complicated to recycle garments because many have a mixed composition, and there is no cheap or sustainable technology to separate the components. As a result, only 1% of consumed clothes are recycled, and over 80% end up in landfills.
The search for new materials must go hand in hand with a reduction in raw material consumption. Who can still invest in producing a T-shirt that burns about 2,700 litres of water?
We know, however, that the downsizing of production and the change of its traditional mechanisms represent a considerable cost for companies. They will have to adopt all the necessary strategies to make the new production sustainable also from a financial point of view by exploring all the possibilities connected with the opening of new channels.
The distribution must be optimised and reorganised into a network of regional distribution centres serving both physical outlets and online purchasing platforms. All without the link between stock and point of sale that we are used to. If the cost may seem excessive, consider that the effort required of fashion for a transformation will soon no longer be just a matter of opportunity. It will be a question of survival.