Global fashion supply chain- Explained

A supply chain is the network of events, or processes of a product from its first production stage until it reaches the end consumer.

Innovation and Technology
 Min read
June 10, 2022

Have you ever thought, about who made the clothing piece that ended up in your wardrobe? What is the background story of materials used, production and delivery process of these clothes? All your outfits have gone through several stages and a long chain of events before it reaches you. In a competitive, fast-paced industry like apparel, supply chain management is critical. It is the driving force behind a successful fashion season and a brand’s ability to pivot to the latest styles quickly.

What is supply chain?

A supply chain is the network of events, or processes of a product from its first production stage until it reaches the end consumer. A supply chain comprises two primary parties- the brand and its suppliers. The chain of events includes several steps- production, marketing, operations, distribution networks, transportation services, financial issues and customer service, where the producers, retailers, warehouses, vendors, and distribution companies play significant roles.

Here are the main steps of a supply chain:

Sourcing raw materials: This is considered the very beginning of the supply chain. In the first step, the manufacturer sources raw materials like cotton, silk etc, or produces synthetic fabrics such as polyester. Procurement is the acquisition of goods and services at the best possible price, in the right quantity and at the right time.  

Production of materials: The factories then turn the sourced raw materials into fabrics and later garments. This stage is concerned with scheduling of production activities, testing of products, packing and release. Currently, the biggest apparel factories are in China, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

The distribution network:  The next step in the supply chain is the delivery of garments or global shipping of garments so that the items end up on the stores’ shelves and finally in our closets. The delivery stage encompasses all the steps from processing customer inquiries to selecting distribution strategies and transportation options.

What are common challenges in the apparel supply chain?

As the demand for fast fashion continues to grow rapidly, the delivery process of new products to markets across the globe remains a challenging and complex process for fashion brands. Research shows that inadequate communication, stemming from poor collaboration and data visibility, is one of the major issues faced by companies across all industry sectors. Poor communication, no timely discussion along with confusion over leads to discrepancies amongst business leaders and confusion over the general workflow and information transfer are some of the few challenges faced by the fashion industry.
Due to these pressing concerns, brands are turning to innovative methods in hopes of improving the 7C- Communication, collaboration, coordination, cost, centralization of data, compliance, and change management. Even though the economy has bounced back very quickly from 2020-2022, 49% of fashion executives signal that supply chain disruptions will be the top issue for 2022.  

Why supply chain is a crucial aspect of the apparel industry?

A well-managed fashion supply chain is critical to the success of any fashion trade, especially in the apparel industry where fast fashion has taken over.  With ever-shifting trends and micro-seasons numbering in the double digits, a well-managed supply chain has become a critical aspect of this industry. Earlier brands churned out seasonal collections but with global demand for fast fashion products, brands are creating new designs and collections every few weeks. The fashion industry is constantly planning for the next season, getting new styles into production and perfecting them before the current pieces fall out of favor.

As fast fashion gained popularity, several issues that revolve around the fashion industry’s supply chain came to the fore. Fast fashion assures affordable garments but it is usually made up of synthetic fibres and polyester- these synthetic products are toxic to the environment and not biodegradable.  Usually, the lifespan of these clothes does not last long. The fashion industry is currently responsible for 4-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions every year, as per a Mckinsey report. And fast fashion is making the situation even worse.

Issues that revolve around fast-fashion supply chains also include major labour issues and violations. The industry, often, overwork, underpays and put its employees in horrible work conditions. As these violations were revealed by global media houses, consumers began demanding more transparency in the supply chain.

With the increased demand for 100% supply chain visibility, fashion brands are now finding ways to monitor and manage their complex supplier networks.

A few global fast fashion conglomerates have already started working on the integration of sustainable practices within the fashion supply chain. The supply chain has been receiving increased attention due to global competition and stricter regulations. The concept of Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM) ensures that eco-friendly practices have been adopted by many global fashion brands.

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