Generally speaking 30% of the clothes produced is never sold. Yet another 30% only leaves the shops with discount. Fashion brands I talk to, big and small, are all aware of this issue. All of them are dealing with sample stocks, unsold batches and returned clothes that were first bought through the web-shop. Add the 15% rest material that stays in the factory after the pattern pieces are cut out of the fabrics plus the in-between-stock that stays behind in the factories due to mistakes in the production and you start to understand why fashion is the second biggest environmentally polluting industry (after the oil-industry) in the world.
Photo by Sympany
Overproduction seems to be accepted as an entrepreneurial risk for which solutions are rarely researched and applied. It’s a shame in my opinion because there is a way to prevent overproduction by applying a smarter design process, having a clearer communication between fashion brands and factories and choosing for a business model that makes reuse profitable. All these initiatives, however, are only applied on a small scale. I wonder why?
Fashion and Sustainability
When we think of sustainability and fashion, the first topics that come to mind are, reduction of water and energy use, payment of living wages, clean production processes, reduction of CO2 emission, use of environmentally friendly materials and recycling. Choosing for sustainable practices is furthermore considered as an extra financial investment.
Photo by Ecologic Republic
But why is prevention of overproduction not one of the sustainability goals of fashion brands today? Imagine a brand sharing in their sustainability rapport that last year they ended up with 40% overproduction and that it’s their goal to reduce this percentage by half within the upcoming X years.
After all, preventing overproduction helps to achieve sustainability goals mentioned above and save financial investments.
Solutions for overproduction
One of the solutions that I promote in order to prevent overproduction is a dialogue between fashion brands and their clients. Through a dialogue fashion brands can learn to know their target audience and understand their desires and frustrations in regards to the offered clothes. A dialogue helps to not only see what got sold and what not, but also to understand why a certain design is successful and another one isn’t.
‘Find your perfect fit’ by Woolworth is an example of a valuable interaction with the consumers. Consumers were invited to be scanned with a special 3D scanner after which they received a print with the advised confection sizes for them. The collected data were furthermore used to improve the sizing of clothes.
Taking measures by a 3D body scanner at Sandton City in Johannesburg in part of a campaign by Woolworths. Image by Alon Skuy (Source).
An other solution, this time to prevent the in-between-stock that stays behind in the factories due to production mistakes, is developing clearer sewing descriptions. Software such as Clo3D can help to visualize the designs more realistically. This already helps to predict how the design would look when it’s sewn out of textiles, which in turn will shorten the sampling process and save resources. Furthermore Clo3D can help to export elaborate visuals from different angles which can be included in the sewing description of the designs. The more elaborate and specific the visuals are, the less chance for confusion and different interpretations by the production workers in the factories.
Image by CLO3D
I suggest a switch from the existing business model that promotes sale to another business model that promotes reuse. This second option will result in high quality clothes being affordable to a large group of consumers and a higher profit margin for the fashion brand.
Appreciation for clothes declines when they are offered with discount for no reason after a couple of weeks or months hanging in the shop. Consumers wait until sale before buying a garment and feel a sense of success for only paying half the price without wondering for too long how the discount is possible. Buying clothes for cheap also results in people taking less care of the clothes they own.
“If the dress is worn out after a few washes, then I can simply through it away and buy a new one. The price is arbitrary anyway.”
This is one of the answers I’ve heard during my research on the relationship people have with clothes (Clothes Relationships). No wonder that per year approximately 135 million kilo’s of textiles are burned along with our domestic waste in the Netherlands alone.
The business model that I suggest exists out of:
- Producing only what is expected to sell based on thorough research and a dialogue with the target audience.
- Selling new clothes for the full price.
- Start selling second hand clothes with discount.
- Offering consumers the option of borrowing clothes through an internal clothing library.
This business model can help fashion brands to make up to 70% more profit than now. Part of the extra profit can be invested towards an ongoing dialogue with the consumers and internal innovation and another part of the extra profit can be invested in fair wages for the workers and cleaner production processes.
Although there are many initiatives for preventing overproduction, the issue first needs to be accepted as the result of mistakes made during design and production. Only then the problem can be measured, understood and solved by implementing the best suiting solutions.
What are your thoughts on overproduction? I would love to read them below in the comments section and I secretly hope that this article will help to start a brainstorm around the topic.
Let’s take bigger steps towards good fashion.