By Jill Mazur, October 20, 2016
The Future of Fashion
When I think about the future of fashion, three things come to mind: making materials do more, bringing the supply chain closer to the consumer, and enforcing social compliance for factories and suppliers. Much can and will be said about what fashion will look like in the years to come, but for now, let’s just focus on materials, product development and production.
Materials have come a long way in the last 50 years. We have wind proof, water proof, breathable, UPF, bug resistant and odor resistant materials. We have reflective materials and bullet proof materials, but still, materials can and will do more. With the advent of wearable technology, smart fibers can be embedded into our clothes, shoes and accessories to help us with a variety of scenarios. Providing warmth when it’s cold; providing cooling when it hot; connecting our vital signs and conditions to monitors; perhaps even creating a degree of stealth or “invisibility.” Even self-cleaning clothes are on the horizon.
As technology advances, so do our options to make materials work for us. What about creating environmentally friendly materials to replace leathers, synthetic leathers (polyurethane), wools and cotton? Let’s jump on the bandwagon of recycling plastics and scrap materials and turning them into fibers, footbeds and outsoles. How about non-toxic, non-water based material dyes and pigments which produce beautiful, long-lasting colors? It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of when. We need to re-think renewable, recyclable fibers and materials. Our goal should not just be to sell more product, but to re-make, re-use or re-cycle existing product and provide the consumer with an outlet to trade old product for new. A few forward thinking manufacturers and retailers are already providing this service and generating life-long loyalty along with it.
We all talk about “speed-to-market;” getting products produced and shipped as quickly as possible for the lowest cost. Short of high speed cargo ships and supersonic transport planes from Asia, how can we increase “speed-to-market?” The simplified answer is produce goods closer to where the consumers are located. If the consumers are in Asia, that solves a lot of issues for some manufacturers; the rest may not be so fortunate. So how about investing in infrastructure in the Americas? I hear a lot of complaints about not having the same skill sets or machinery in the Americas as can be found in Asia. That may be true, but it’s time for some of the larger companies to invest in machinery and training in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and yes, the USA to produce the same quality products at competitive prices. Politicians talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. We can make this happen if we make the investment in training, technology, machinery and infrastructure.
Smaller manufacturers don’t have the funds or resources to invest in factories and training, but they can still reach out to suppliers and factories in the Western Hemisphere to look for new sourcing opportunities closer to home. It certainly makes for easier sampling and better quality control when the factory is a short flight or a long drive away from the office. Which brings me to my last thought.
In this day and age, social compliance for factories and suppliers is a must have, not a “nice to have.” Protecting workers rights and fair wages is our duty as manufacturers and retailers, no matter where the factories are located. Tragedies likes the ones at Rana Plaza (Bangladesh), Tazreen Factory (Bangladesh) or Baldia Town (Pakistan) will continue to happen until we have transparency into our supply chain. Child labor violations are ongoing and won’t stop until we work together to make sure our raw material and finished goods supplier comply with health, safety and labor laws.
With factories and suppliers located nearer to our offices and warehouses we have the ability to keep a closer watch on what actually happens in these workplaces. Social compliance audits and factory inspections should be ongoing and random. Telegraphing a “factory inspection visit” allows everyone to clean up and put their best foot forward. In the end, it doesn’t do anyone any good, most of all the factory workers. What does that mean for manufacturers and consumers? Be prepared to pay more for products. But know that your products are being made sweat-shop free and feel better about the products you sell.
I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t see into the future. But what I can see is a path toward a bright and vibrant prospect for the fashion industry. One in which we are responsible global citizens. One in which we reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our toxic pollution from chemicals and dyes, recycle existing products to make new ones and provide a level of stewardship for factories and suppliers. The future of fashion is in our hands.
Jill Mazur is a Fashion Business, Inc. and independent business consultant to the apparel and footwear industries, based in Los Angeles, California.