Written by Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of Supplycompass. Supplycompass is a sourcing platform that enables brands and manufacturers to find each other and work better together. Through the Supplycompass platform, brands get matched with a manufacturer, receive cost estimates, create tech packs, request samples and manage production all from one dashboard. Supplycompass is harnessing the power of tech to bring greater trust, transparency and collaboration to global supply chains.
During a recent visit to some of our Indian manufacturing partners, we took the chance get their verdict on the vast opportunities, and worthwhile challenges, of integrating more sustainable materials, practices and processes into fashion and interiors supply chains.
Below are 6 top tips from our manufacturers for brands to consider when rethinking their sustainable strategy within their supply chain.
1. Sustainability is a BIG DEAL in sourcing in 2019
According to our manufacturing partners sustainability, once a niche approach, has become a big focus with nearly every business they work with. Consumers are demanding change and brands are increasingly reacting with action. There was a resounding feeling from our partners that sustainability is the sourcing theme of 2019.
"New brands are coming to us with a 100% focus on sustainability. The big players who haven't caught up are afraid of being left behind and are now making moves towards rethinking their approach. This is not a fad. This is everywhere," said one manufacturer.
Supplycompass Partner : The production line in a jersey factory [taken by Supplycompass 2018]
2. Focus on raw materials and production processes
“One of the biggest challenges for us as manufacturers is to show that sustainability is a very broad word.” That’s what one of our partners, who has been running a factory in India since 2002 explained to us. “Likewise, the biggest challenge for brands is really understanding the supply chain.” They said that the two key areas the can make an impact with brands is raw materials and processes.
1. Raw Materials
“By raw material, I mean the alternate fibres that we use.” Typically, cotton and polyester constitute more than 90% of textile materials. Their organic and recycled versions have a better environmental impact than virgin fibres as they use less water, pesticides and fertilizers.
"Choosing raw materials is the foundation of any sustainable product," said a manager at another partner.
2. Production Processes
Surprisingly, the production process can cause the greatest environmental burden. Some of our partners have waste water treatment plants to avoid harming the environment with the treatment of polymers. Reducing the number of colours used when dying fabric also helps reduce water usage. Cutting-edge technologies such a laser printing can also have positive impacts on the environmental footprint of production. “With laser printing you don’t use any water, because you’re not using dyes or chemicals,” one partner explained. Many of our partners also endeavour to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible by limiting any travel involved in production.
"Think about how things are made and the processes used. Choose those that have less environmental impact," they suggested.
Supplycompass Partner : Turning factory floor waste into paper and packaging [taken by Supplycompass 2019]
3. The textile supply chain is complex, take the time to understand it
While there is a drive towards sustainable sourcing, some partners felt there is often an apprehension from companies when approaching and building a sustainable supply chain. One partner told us, "I cannot tell you how many big clients I deal with who need help understanding sustainability. Before, they just wanted to make a product. Today, they see a big opportunity but can be slow to adapt."
The complexity of the textile supply chain was, according to our partners, not always fully understood by brands. When brands sought to improve their practices, they expected textiles to be simple like commodities. The complexity they found in the textile production was often a surprise. Patience, flexibility and understanding is key with the shift towards sustainability.
'In the food sector ... we talk about organic and free trade cocoa, coffee, tea. It’s much simpler because the supply chain is not so complex. As soon as we talk about something like cotton, it’s very complex.' The textile supply chain goes several production steps from the sewing in factories, back to dye houses, weaving mills, yarn spinning mills and fibre producers.
Supplycompass Partner : Organic cotton knitting machine [taken by Supplycompass 2019]
4. Design your product around local or available materials
"The biggest challenge we face is minimum orders quantities. When Supplycompass approaches us for a brand, we first understand the brand’s requirement in terms of volume. Then we select the suppliers on the basis of this requirement. So, if we have smaller brands we go to smaller suppliers." - Supplycompass partner.
The pre-planning that goes into the production process was a challenge all of our partners cited. They must make sure suppliers aren’t too far apart, so as to keep their carbon footprint down - this also improves efficiency and reduces wastage.
Supplycompass Partner : Testing dye pantone shades [taken by Supplycompass 2019]
5. 'Sustainable' starts at the design stage
"Responsible production requires responsible design," one partner counselled. There needs to be a cross-departmental understanding of the supply chain: “Designers, instead of just looking at form, pattern or colours, should be trained to understand the supply chain and understand more about fabrics and wastage so they can integrate sustainability into their design.”
Supplycompass Partner : Pattern plotting machine, designing out waste [taken by Supplycompass 2018]
6. Sustainability is better for business
“The biggest misconception is the belief that more responsible and sustainable production is more expensive, but really sustainability means improving efficiencies and therefore reducing wastage,” one of our partners explained to us. “Our factory actually makes our smaller bits of wastage into shoelaces and ask brands to use them in later collections.” Material is the crux of a sustainable product, and often this material can be regenerated and recycled for further use, without compromising on technical quality of the end product. “The bigger bits of wastage” one partner told us, “we send to an NGO to use them to make sanitary towels for rural women here in India, most of the women that work for us buy them at a discounted rate.”
The ability to ask brands to do this, for this supply partner, is one of the benefits of working with Supplycompass. “Very often it feels like there’s a big distance between the brand and the supplier, but with Supplycompass that distance is made shorter. They act as the mediator, the translator, the teacher almost as well. They make that distance that was a problem before shorter, so positive initiatives like these are made possible.”
At Supplycompass we harness the power of tech to bring greater trust, transparency and collaboration to global fashion supply chains, helping brands make their supply chains leaner, faster, more flexible and more responsible.