Having worked with many international organizations and businesses, I believe I have an ideal overview of the best ways to connect and work successfully with U.S. buyers. A few organizations that effectively support their country’s apparel and textile manufacturers are PomPeru, ProColombia, and Hong Trade Development. All of these companies take a booth at MAGIC twice a year to highlight their country’s offerings. They also assist with connecting buyers to manufacturers and often sponsor industry mixers at their own shows, inviting buyers and suppliers. However, there are other countries who want to connect with U.S. buyers and often fail to build good business practices. Often, this is due to not following through with specifications surrounding the orders placed by any U.S. buyer. This lack of business commitment will often ruin future business offerings with U.S. companies.
It is also important to acknowledge that global consumer behavior has undoubtedly shifted over the past few years, as the virus has made people shelter in their homes, which caused heavy travel restrictions, as well as the global closure of stores and businesses. However, as digital consumption continues its dominance and growth in 2022, companies must develop more engaging and social experiences to encourage consumers to connect. At the same time, the industry will need to increasingly focus on ensuring that their digital channels add measurable value to their bottom-line offerings.
Additionally, as shoppers become more conscious of worker welfare issues and the human impact of factory closures, company leaders must uphold the highest ethical business practices and overhaul business models that are exploitative of people and the planet. With garment workers, sales assistants and other lower-paid workers operating at the sharp end of the crisis, consumers have become more aware of the plight of vulnerable employees in the fashion value chain. As momentum for change builds alongside campaigns to end exploitation, consumers will expect companies to offer more dignity, security, transparency and justice to workers throughout the global industry.This demand includes all aspects of the fashion value chain, from the fields where textile fibers are grown, or where synthetic fibers are produced to the stores that stock final products. Two-thirds of consumers indicate they would stop or significantly reduce their spending with brands who mistreat their employees or suppliers. Customers want immediacy, transparency and authenticity.
In this disrupted environment, it will be critical for any business owner to re-evaluate their business offerings. They must develop novel strategies for their assortments or product mix, and focus on the profitability, value, simplicity, adaptability of products and downsized collections, rather than discounting in volumes. They also should create and implement an authentic omnichannel perspective. The pandemic will continue to put supply chains under pressure and executives should be prepared for further shocks in 2023 due to inflation. Brands are making the long-overdue shift to a demand-focused model to operate in this changing environment.
While there is little doubt that the year ahead will be an arduous one for many fashion industry players, it will also be a year of opportunity for more nimble manufacturers. On the brighter side, the future for companies that are already in the digital channels will bring continuing opportunities in both the value and luxury segments. In this highly competitive global market, it will be critical for survival to evaluate where their business is now and plan swiftly and carefully their next moves. Smart fashion companies are already developing new ways to compete and adjust to the new demands, which may include implementing more sustainable options and adjusting to the market demand for smaller quantities and speed to market more often. There is also a demand for domestic production; new high-tech factories are being built in many U.S. states.
The pandemic has compounded the demand for all things digital, which in turn has enabled innovation, efficiency and new ways for businesses to scale up. Digital is seen by a third of executives as a silver lining that presents the biggest opportunity in 2022. The shift is permanent, and will continue to create opportunities to build slicker, smarter operating models and differentiated customer demand for more personalized clothing to each customer. Amazon has recently launched a body scanning system as a method to provide clearer sizing options and enable customers to see their body type in a particular style. This method has been used by manufacturers for a few years to create virtual samples for buyers to review and change per their needs prior to buying. These new product development tactics save time in developing new samples or producing too many samples that often end up as waste. Companies need to reduce complexity and find ways to increase full-price sell-through to reduce inventory levels by taking a demand-focused approach to their assortment strategy, while boosting flexible in-season reactivity for both new products and replenishment. As entirely new skills need to be developed for the overall survival of the industry, fashion companies will either develop in-house training or acquire them by recruiting new trained workers. Equally, the crisis has sped up the demand to move to more sustainable and responsible ways of working in all areas of the value chain. As the number of fashion players responding towards this need continues to grow, it will prove to be a long-term benefit to companies, workers, customers and the planet. Making the long-overdue shift to a demand-focused model in this fluid changing environment is important. This will mean the U.S. sector will have to invest in technology and more updated infrastructure. More than three in five consumers stated environmental impact is an important factor in making purchasing decisions. There is also a realization for zero-inventory concepts as brands are trying hard to not hold stock that ages and ends up in landfill!
Bottom Line: For any international companies looking to sell to the U.S., there is one very simple bit of valuable advice. Americans overall are easy to work with (I am a Brit), if and only if you and/or the manufacturers do precisely what has been agreed to deliver to the U.S. buyer.