The disconcerting image of landfills resembling towering piles of discarded clothing indicates the global fashion industry is grappling with substantial hurdles on its path to greater environmental consciousness. Whether ascribed to the ramifications of fast fashion or the sway of social media-driven ‘retail therapy’, where clothing becomes a form of self-prescribed comfort, the undeniable truth is that overconsumption and overproduction are intricately linked. This cycle demands an immediate disruption, as dissatisfaction mounts globally with the perceived lack of strides by the fashion industry in realizing its environmental objectives.
OC&C, a worldwide strategic consulting firm specializing in retail and various industries, has collaborated with trend forecasting firm WGSN to release a report addressing this critical issue. The report proposes harnessing technology to alleviate the overproduction of ready-made garments can yield increased efficiency, reduce waste, and guide the industry toward more environmentally sustainable practices.
As per Mairi Fairley of the OC&C the significant pressure faced by fashion brands, contending with escalating complexities in business models, surging cost inflation, and the imperative to operate in a more sustainable manner. The report underscores the pressing need for the fashion industry to embrace technological solutions as a decisive step towards objectively transitioning to greener practices.
Adopt AI-driven technology for green goals
The OC&C study suggests that a practical initial step is to transition the planning cycle and purchasing process to be more responsive to demand. This shift not only allows for substantial margin gains but also facilitates a reduction in unnecessary waste and CO2 emissions. The report's primary findings present compelling reasons for the fashion industry to consider.
The study highlights, brands typically anticipate fashion trends before placing orders. Aligning imports with these ‘hot’ items can potentially boost profit margins by 1 to 3 per cent. Moreover, closely monitoring orders based on predicted or current trends can result in a production reduction of 5 to 15 per cent. Streamlining production in this manner can lead to a 3 per cent decrease in carbon emissions.
AI-driven technology emerges as a valuable tool to assist brands in making informed purchase decisions. By leveraging AI to develop purchase models capable of predicting consumer buying trends, brands can utilize data from online and in-store sales to enable efficient inventory management. Another recommendation is aimed at reducing carbon footprint and optimizing logistics costs, emphasizes the creation of supply chains that are geographically close to a brand's primary markets.
Limited time left for net positivity
The fashion sector is under a ticking clock, with only seven years remaining until 2030—the deadline for meeting the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Fashion Summit, held in Boston in September 2023, unveiled ‘The Fashion CEO Agenda of 2023’, a succinct report aimed at guiding the establishment and implementation of leadership strategies. These strategies are designed to propel the fashion sector towards a net positive impact, ensuring that it contributes more to society, the environment, and the global economy than it extracts. The report emphasizes the urgency for industry leaders and affiliated organizations in the fashion industry to act promptly and earnestly in achieving the UN's sustainability goals by 2030.
In an industry grappling with the complexities of overconsumption, a focused approach on technology-predicted streamlined production holds the promise of not only enhancing operational efficiencies and profit margins but also contributing to the gradual absorption of discarded clothing through fashion's embrace of circularity.