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Today’s consumers are more informed, conscientious, and demanding than ever. With ready access to information, they are keen to learn about the origins of their apparel, the methods used in their production, and their societal and environmental impacts.

While consumer data shows a preference for sustainable products—79% of consumers, according to a 2020 CapGemini report, are changing their buying habits to favor eco-friendlier products—the reality in the fashion industry’s digital product testing reveals a preference for lower prices over sustainability during purchase decisions. Yet, amid a cost-of-living crisis, Generation Z is choosing sustainability over price, which has led to a decline for some fast fashion brands. Moreover, the increase in severe weather events globally is making more consumers aware of these issues.

This shift in awareness is prompting brands to enhance visibility and traceability in their operations, ensuring products are ethically produced and sourced and that claims of sustainability are verifiable.

Sustainability

The demand for sustainable practices in fashion has intensified. The environmental cost of fast fashion has been criticized, prompting a shift towards more sustainable practices. Conversely, luxury brands like Burberry have faced backlash for destroying unsold stock.

Expectations are growing for brands to track the origins of their materials, monitor manufacturing, and ensure ethical labor practices. Such traceability aids in measuring a brand’s environmental impact and fosters responsible decision-making.

Regulatory Compliance

Legislation is a strong catalyst towards enhanced transparency and traceability. Laws like the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and France’s Duty of Vigilance mandate greater transparency, requiring brands to audit their supply chains for abuses and environmental damage, and to publicly disclose their findings.

Upcoming laws like the EU’s Ecodesign regulations, which include the Digital Product Passport and a ban on destroying unsold goods, will demand higher transparency from fashion firms. These laws are aimed at ensuring visibility across all stages of the supply chain.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act exemplifies laws targeting brands that lack supply chain transparency. This lack of visibility could lead to severe repercussions for brands found non-compliant.

Competitive Advantage

In the competitive world of fashion, transparency is not just ethical but strategic. Transparent brands are likely to earn greater consumer trust, loyalty, and reputation, which can differentiate them in the market. Transparency also helps identify inefficiencies in supply chains, improving operational performance.

Supply Chain Stability Amid Geographic Instability

Geopolitical and climate-related disruptions highlight the need for resilient supply chains. Transparent supply chains enable better risk management, helping brands cope with geographic instability.

Fashion companies like Mango are adapting their supply chains for greater agility, emphasizing transparency in their operations, which has been key to their rapid advancements in supply chain transparency.

Steps to More Sustainable Fashion

To improve visibility and traceability, fashion brands should focus on comprehensive supply chain mapping, partnering with technology providers and certifying bodies, engaging suppliers in transparent practices, and communicating openly with all stakeholders.

Investing in sustainable innovation and fostering a culture of accountability are also crucial for addressing environmental impacts and promoting industry-wide change.

Brands should foster an internal culture that values accountability at all levels, emphasising setting measurable goals, tracking progress, and taking responsibility for any shortcomings.

Challenges Ahead

The fashion industry’s drivers for visibility and traceability are compelling and multifaceted. By acknowledging and responding to these drivers, fashion brands can improve their practices, enhance their reputation, and contribute positively to a more sustainable and ethical industry. Further, transparency and traceability will also support the evolution of design and materials used to manage the growing pressure and future compliance for circularity product design.

In a world where consumers value authenticity, transparency is not just preferred but expected, shaping the future of the fashion industry.

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