High-end brands are taking ownership of their supply chains to meet consumer demands
Supply chains are a big part of what makes luxury brands stand out from their peers. From curating materials to packaging items, each link in the chain must be perfect in order to imbue luxury products with an air of sophistication and mystique. However, in the fashion world supply chains can also be problematic.
Labor issues, including modern slavery and child trafficking, have plagued some fashion supply chains. Shraysi Tandon’s 2018 documentary Invisible Hands exposed the forced labor that takes place in the supply chains of some of the most well-known companies in the world. In many cases the exploitation takes place so far down the supply chain that the companies are unaware.
Additionally, sustainability is a big concern in the fashion supply chain with toxic chemicals used in dyes and pesticides, and the water and land used to produce leather, cotton, and other textiles. At a time when younger people are paying more attention to corporate social responsibility and 66 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for products from responsible companies, luxury brands are reassessing their supply chains.
Recently, some luxury brands have started reducing the risk of unknowingly teaming up with questionable suppliers by purchasing their supply chain. Doing so allows the brand to be entirely responsible for every step of production, ensuring that there will be fair labor practices, increased sustainability, and timely delivery.
Victoria Beckham’s eponymous brand brought its seamstresses and pattern cutters in-house in an effort to be more transparent and promote fair labor practices. The move also opened opportunities for employees in those positions to gain knowledge of the company and move into other positions in the future.
Prada and Chanel have made similar moves, purchasing a tannery and silk producer, respectively. Such purchases contribute to corporate social responsibility, but also help the companies retain the skills that are so much a part of what make their luxury brands sought after rather than leaving the skills in a remote area where they might not be passed on to future employees.
In some cases, even just being transparent about suppliers can make a difference. In 2012, designer Eileen Fisher began listing all the factories and fabrics that are involved in making its luxury products as well as sharing future innovations it planned. Ultimately, this led to a new line of clothes, Remade, which is manufactured from old clothing that has been donated to the company rather than thrown away. What began as the luxury brand’s namesake founder’s decision to commit to sustainability led to a new source of revenue.
Despite the success of notable luxury brands that have made alterations to their supply chain, there is still some resistance to change in the sector. To help promote transparency in the supply chains of its more than 500 members, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) developed Fashion Initiative, a nine-month program that promotes sustainability and efficiency throughout the supply chain by connecting brands and suppliers for education, networking events, and pooling of resources.
CFDA hopes that by fostering relationships between brands and manufacturers there will be better communication and a better understanding and sharing of data. This, in turn, will create a more efficient and sustainable supply chain that adjusts the production cycle according to consumer habits.
A Path Forward
As consumers continue to expect instant gratification from the products they order, even from luxury brands, makers of high-end products are feeling the need to increase efficiency. At the same time, companies are being pressured to display corporate responsibility by committing to sustainability and fair trade.
As many luxury brands have already shown, these two seemingly disparate sets of consumer demands do not have to present a conflict. Proper management of supply chains and taking greater ownership in the process can allow exclusive brands to thrive.