The U.S. throws away up to 11.3 million tons of textile waste each year— that’s around 2,150 pieces each second. Sustainable brands are attempting to alter our pace of consumption before it’s too late. Consumers have an appetite for low priced, on trend apparel, but slow fashion is changing the way we think about what it means to wear a cutting-edge look. Whether slow fashion will also change consumer expectations around production windows, shipping timelines, and customer service, however, remains to be seen.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, what is “slow fashion?” Slow fashion can be defined as favoring classic styles and long lasting fabrics over quickly produced, trend focused apparel. For slow fashion consumers, the product is no more important than the production process behind it. Slow fashion is produced with minimal packaging, as well as minimal carbon production and hazardous chemical use.
Our pace of consumption has increased dramatically in recent years. Last year alone, the fashion industry created between 8-10% of global carbon dioxide output and 20% of global plastic production. McKinsey found that, for every five new garments produced each year, three garments are thrown away. So, why aren’t we all buying from brands with ethical supply chains and small batch production schedules? The answer is complex, so let’s delve in.
Not everyone can afford slow fashion brands
The stark modern landscape of inflation and unemployment means that many consumers –– particularly young consumers –– can’t afford to shop in a way that reflects their values. This might explain why, despite being gung-ho on sustainability, a whopping 72% of college students still made a fast-fashion purchase last year. Slow fashion purchases are the goal, but the economic landscape is directly at odds with consumers’ ethical purchasing ethos.
But fast fashion comes with its own economic conundrum. Only 2% of garment workers around the world actually make a livable wage and most work 60+ hours a week in unthinkable conditions. Fast fashion retailers are being challenged to create eco conscious lines, like H&M’s waterless denim offerings; slow fashion retailers face the challenge of bringing products to market quickly enough to reflect trends and maximize ROI. The longer a product sits on shelves, the less relevant it is to the trends that incentivize consumers to purchase.
How can slow fashion retailers balance ethical production with the need to bring products to market quickly? There are a few potential answers to this question. Many slow fashion retailers are focused on ethical sourcing and production. While others still seek their answer in technology.
Secondhand apparel VS recycled materials
Let’s take a look at two of the most popular production and acquisition strategies for slow fashion brands. The first is selling secondhand apparel. The resale market is growing at 3x the pace of the fashion industry as a whole. And brands with their resale stores increased by 275% last year alone, from 8 in 2020 to 30 in 2021. With that said, not everyone feels that secondhand apparel is as sustainable as it’s cracked up to be. Only a fraction of the clothing that’s donated is of a good enough quality to be resold. Detractors argue that the negative environmental impact of shipping and packaging makes secondhand clothing less sustainable than it appears.
Recycled materials have also been growing in popularity among the slow fashion sect. Forbes reports that existing fabric recycling technologies could drive up to 80% of the circularity in the fashion industry by 2025. But there are many, the author of the piece included, who feel that this percentage is beyond optimistic. Case in point: the same report goes on to state that less than .05% of fibers used in fashions around the world were from recycled materials in 2020.
The best slow fashion brands understand that manufacturing slow clothes requires a high level of research, as well as relationship building with forward-thinking recycled textile brands. But what about the issue of time to market? How can slow fashion brands reduce the cost barriers to purchase for prospective customers? How can slow clothes become less “slow” and more trend responsive?
Slow fashion retailers gain a competitive advantage
Slow fashion brands have historically been seen as untrendy and a little hippy dippy, but in the past decade, all of that has changed. Nearly every leading fashion retailer has come out with a product line made from recycled materials, or introduced a resale component to their existing strategy. The future is green. From Adidas’ recycled plastic sneakers to Saks Off 5th’s partnership with Rent the Runway, brands have had to become strategic about introducing circularity in a way that resonates with their unique customer base.
But slow clothes don’t have to be quite as slow. Surefront’s product lifecycle management solution can help suppliers and retailers gain complete supply chain visibility. Surefront supports sustainability tracking in 2 ways:
- Production partners, facilities, and factories: Surefront’s retail PLM can be used to track whether vendors and factories are up to date with certifications, whether vendors and factories meet additional sustainability and ethics criteria, and to set up a factory onboarding questionnaire. Use Surefront’s PLM to track and communicate about any branch of your supply chain –– It’s highly configurable and evolves with industry regulations!
- Individual testing and certification of products or production materials: Use Surefront to track whether items meet specific sustainability and testing criteria –– such as SEC requirements, LEED certification data, etc. Produce customized reports on findings and facilitate the testing process by setting up stages within new product workflows. With complete visibility, you can ensure factories send materials to specific testers and that the products being manufactured meet sustainability criteria. You can also assign, track, annotate and share sustainability testing data.
But that’s not all. By reducing repetitive administrative tasks, Surefront can help reduce the length of retailers’ product development cycle by 40%. But that’s not all. Surefront’s fashion PLM can also help increase revenue per employee (RPE) by 150%. Slow fashion retailers can use that extra time and money to create more trend sensitive, affordable offerings –– reducing barriers to purchase for prospective customers.
Faster and more affordable slow fashion isn’t a pipe dream. Through the strategic use of Surefront’s cutting edge product lifecycle management software, slow clothes can be almost as relevant and cheap as their fast fashion counterparts. So prospective customers can finally afford to make purchases they can feel good about. Slow clothes have never been such a sexy proposition.
Ready to experience the difference of a retail PLM that allows you to interface with external suppliers? Surefront’s product lifecycle management solution was built by a retailer to service the retail industry’s unique needs. It’s time we got better acquainted. Book a custom demo with one of our product lifecycle management experts today!
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