When it comes to fashion, sustainability and digital transformation go hand-in-hand

April 20, 2021

A sustainable fashion industry. Consumers want it, and our planet needs it. But how do brands balance the environmental and ethical demands of a movement so often referred to as ‘slow fashion,’ with consumers’ ever-increasing expectations for speed, personalization, and convenience? Not to mention the intense financial pressures of recovery from the health crisis? Although it might seem counterintuitive, a mainstream sustainable business model can happen. It just requires digital transformation.

Sustainable fashion for all 

‘Sustainable fashion’ seeks to alleviate any negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts across fashion and luxury’s full life-cycle--from an item’s design and manufacture to its marketing and eventual disposal. When compared with more typical industry practices, however, sustainable approaches--such as sourcing organic and/or vegan materials, and ensuring that producers have fair wages and working conditions--can drive up costs. This often results in price points out of reach for value and mid-market consumers--not a realistic model for industry-wide adoption, nor one in sync with ‘sustainable’ ideals.

End-to-end digital transformation, however, dramatically increases automation, agility, and efficiency across the value chain--freeing resources to invest in environmentally conscious and socially just business practices, without reducing margins. We’ve seen the gains that digitization of marketing and customer acquisition/retention have brought to the front end of the industry. To make our industry sustainable, however, we need to bring these data-driven transparencies and efficiencies to the back and middle as well. For example, new technologies allow for the simplification and streamlining of design communication--significantly reducing steps, back and forth, and potential for error without compromising creativity. Digital showrooming significantly boosts speed and reduces costs--especially if brands rely on rich 3D imagery to convey fabrication and take pre-orders prior to manufacturing. Use of data-driven insight to manage and predict inventory needs--aligning them much more accurately with consumer demand--drives full price sell through and shores up an area of significant profit drain. As so many other industries have seen, digital transformation of fashion and luxury will not cut out the human contribution, but elevate it.  

Telling your sustainable story

Consumers have made their preference for sustainability clear. Many brands with conscious business models, however--especially smaller and mid-sized companies--struggle to get this across; many report not only their consumers having no idea, but their salespeople lacking understanding as well.  

Digital transformation helps here as well. Virtual showrooming gives brands control, enabling them to standardize and optimize their wholesale storytelling with one set of media assets.  It also allows for clearer and more engaging communication through immersive assets like video and high quality photography, and enables clearer and targeted meetings with retail partners--so brands can clearly relay their sustainability stories to the retailers who represent them, and give those partners the tools they need to pass them on to consumers.

The more we digitally transform our industry, the more sustainable it becomes 

Digital transformation not only frees resources to pave the way for sustainable practices--digital business methods reduce carbon footprints and limit impact in their own right. For example, digital file sharing in the design and planning stages lessens or even eliminates sampling--and with it fabric waste and shipping emissions. When companies use data driven-insights and just-in-time production to better align inventory with consumer demand, they cut down footprint on both ends of the life-cycle--producing only what they need, and decreasing the need to dispose of excess. And digital wholesaling takes away the need for extensive air travel, sampling, paper linesheets, collateral production, etc.--further cutting down on negative effects. Throughout the value chain, the smarter and more streamlined processes become, the greater the opportunities for energy and resource conservation.

Transform from end-to-end, but do it piece by piece

To realize the positive impact on sustainability--and to experience value in general--companies can’t ‘gold-plate’ digital processes on top of existing inefficiencies. Because insight and efficiencies depend on the free and transparent flow of data between stages and functions, end-to-end digital transformation will be most effective in achieving success. Brands in stages of this process might consider taking a section of their business to digitize end to end--relying on sprints, building MVPs, gathering learnings, and gaining results--and then expanding these proven processes to the rest of their businesses. In order to enable a gradual roll-out and to allow for the necessary data flow between functions, brands should build and maintain their solutions with an open tech stack throughout.

The JOOR digital platform supports sustainable business practices and enables end-to-end digital transformation across the wholesale lifecycle. JOOR automates and streamlines every aspect of the wholesale process, while providing easy-access data-rich intelligence to predict and manage inventory.  Its open configuration allows it to connect with unlimited retail partners, and to function seamlessly with other tech solutions up and down the value chain.

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