Current State of Play: Analysis of the Global Apparel Industry

The past year and a half has witnessed an accelerated shift in consumer behavior to purchase more online due to the pandemic, empty malls and the continued trend of shoppers working from home. Fashion trends also continue to boost demand for athleisure and more casual clothing, which has also accelerated B2C. Newly-launched brands, with the use of good social media promotions and other marketing, like pop-up stores, have gained growing customer followings.

The biggest obstacle that has occurred in the world supply chain is the dramatic shortage of shipping containers, which has also greatly impacted the price demanded to ship goods; the cost has accelerated from the pre- pandemic price of $1,200 to over $15,000 per container. This, of course, impacts the selling prices; plus the shortage is impacting supply chain and delivery deadline dates and will continue to do so.

As retailers are trying to adjust to the many changes in consumers’ buying habits, it will also be very important for manufacturers to stay on top of their delivery dates. Big-box stores are quick to cancel late orders even if they are in transit, and particularly if their own inventory is sitting in warehouses. This impact of container shortages on offshore manufacturers will need to be addressed transparently to keep all communications open with buyers.

Additionally, it has always been important to control inventory build-up. Dead stock equals revenue loss, but it is even more important to pay attention to controlling inventory to survive and thrive in these fast-changing times!

I can’t stress enough the need for all businesses to be proactive and transparent in all business dealings. All types of businesses are trying to adjust to and survive in these fast-changing business demands.

Then we have the continued, complex demand for sustainability, which incorporates so much that it is hard to document. The clothing and textile industry is one of the largest polluters in the world, second only to the oil industry. Millennial and Gen-Z consumers are aware of the environmental impact of apparel, and are demanding changes, such as the use of sustainable and eco-friendly materials, sustainable and circular production, support of climate positive projects and social justice for all workers.

Brands That Are Ahead of the Game

Some brands have already begun to use recycled and eco-friendly materials, like low-impact biodegradable fibers, and aim to reduce carbon footprints, water and textile usage, as well as the elimination of coal-fired power sources. H&M’s Conscious Collection is made with organic cotton or recycled polyester, and the brand claims to use 57% recycled or sustainably sourced fibers with a goal to reach 100% by 2030. Earth Polo, a Ralph Lauren brand, aims to save 170 million plastic bottles from landfills by 2025. Large players, such as & Other Stories, Patagonia, R.E.I. and French luxury department store Galeries Lafayette have entered the fashion resale market. Additionally, many brands have joined the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Roadmap to Zero Program, and signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

Build A Sustainable Brand

Clearly define why and how your brand is sustainable, produce authentic marketing strategies and educate partners, business customers and end consumers about the positive impacts of your sustainable brand. Join platform organizations that support sustainability, such as Fashion for Good, ZDHC and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Social Responsibility Drives Buyers

Social fairness and transparency are increasingly important sourcing criteria for U.S. buyers and fashion influencers. Buyers and consumers want to know more about how, where and by whom their clothes are produced, as well as what fashion brands do to address social and environmental issues. A number of different initiatives rate apparel companies according to their transparency practices, like Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index.

Apparel Manufacturer Reactions

More U.S. consumers support brands that are transparent about their practices and the practices of their partners along the supply chain. For example, H&M publishes details of origin of its garments, such as suppliers, factories and materials. Supporting communities and non-profits has become one of the more compelling branding/marketing strategies for businesses.

Ordering Smaller, More Often

Another change that must be recognized by manufacturers is the demand by retailers to order smaller quantities more often. Rather than projecting big orders, retailers are playing it safer all around, moving away from ordering five times a year to around eight times. Retailers are looking for manufacturers who can ship faster and on time to reach customers’ demands. New manufacturers looking to sell to retailers should be aware that, although all manufacturers want big unit orders, stores would rather play it safe on potential new suppliers and test their efficiency, quality and delivery time; manufacturers should recognize this new shift and adjust prices accordingly.

Frances Harder
Fashion for Profit Consulting

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