The fashion and apparel industry’s production process contributes and 20 percent of the world’s wastewater. Unfortunately, millions of dollars of this merchandise are bound for the incinerator, or landfill sites if they don’t get sold.
Though not true of all segments within the industry, this is the status quo in the $2.5-trillion fashion and apparel industry.
But a new trend is pushing fashion brands and retailers to change their approach to production and soucing: the trend toward on-demand customized products. This growing trend could create a more efficient production process that reduces the fashion industry’s carbon footprint and surplus wastage.
Miscalculating demand for merchandise
Because guesswork is always involved when a fashion brand or a franchised clothing shop business predicts future consumer demand, product surplus has always been a thing to reckon with in retail. And disposal is tricky for luxury brands that can’t donate them to charity because of serious implications on brand equity.
For instance, in 2018, the luxury brand Burberry of surplus inventory that were all in good condition. Disposing of unsold merchandise is a common practice by reputable brands to protect brand name equity.
Fashion on-demand and mass customization
Customers, more than ever, are influencing the fashion market with the help of social media and data science. They are telling brands what they want when they want it. And they want it fast.
Social media and sophisticated tools for data collection and analytics make listening to customers much easier. This allows brands to use critical information in their sales and product planning.
This conversation took consumer influence a notch higher. Where brands and stores used to push products to customers, you’ll now see customers telling stores what they want — from product color, style, theme, and specific fit — and the stores are supplying these pre-ordered or self-designed items on-demand. The result is higher satisfaction and zero waste.
In 2012, Nike launched NIKEiD, now Nike by You, an advanced tool that allows customers to pre-order self-designed sports shoes. This is one of the first successful attempts at mass customization. Other shoe brands, like Adidas, Vans, and Converse, have followed suit.
In 2017, for a fully-automated system for creating and on-demand, custom apparel. Several apparel manufacturers are diving into mass fashion customization, many of which are startups, but there are also big brands, like Fast Retailing, Nike, and Amazon.
There are like tailor-fit menswear, which works through a “traveling tailor program,” custom-embroidered or sequined shirts, and customized women’s shoes. More companies are following the trend.
Speed and agility
The challenge, however, is how to create a production model that is efficient and quick enough to produce smaller batches of these on-demand fashion products. It typically takes the fashion industry up to a year to move products from concept to distribution. With today’s impatient market and fast-moving competitors, this is not sustainable.
Because speed is leverage, Adidas has “speed factories” that apply digital design technology to fast-track the creation of prototypes and shoes. These production outfits are projected to create a million pairs of quality running shoes yearly by 2020.
Technology that efficiently creates high customization at a speed to meet market expectations is key.
Of course, not all attempts have succeeded. But companies are trying, even as they see that the market welcomes this trend. With great success, this trend could reduce the fashion industry’s generous contribution to global warming.