Pay attention to the new sustainability initiatives announced by global fashion brands in any given week, and a theme emerges: a majority of them focus on swapping out conventional textiles for more sustainable ones. A few high-profile new initiatives have expanded the focus to include recycling and circularity. Each of these initiatives is a step in the right direction. But few of them have any impact on a massive, under-discussed issue which is one of the industry’s biggest sustainability challenges: overproduction.
At least 20% of the 100 billion+ garments that are produced every year are never sold. That means that tens of billions of garments every year are produced and then go straight to a landfill, an incinerator, or a developing market economy for disposal. Making garments out of better textiles doesn’t help to solve this problem. The global textile recycling industry is already buckling under the weight of too many clothes.
It’s understandable that brands have focused first on the lowest-hanging fruit of swapping in new textiles. Now it’s time to take the next step and add overproduction to the list of issues to tackle. The UN estimates that global emissions will need to be cut by 50 percent by 2030 to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees celsius, and the fashion industry’s current efforts simply don’t go far enough.
The good news is that there are immediate, actionable steps brands can take to address overproduction and reduce waste. Here’s our blueprint:
Part of the problem of overproduction stems from having an insufficient understanding of who your customers are and what they want. Addressing this starts with developing a laser focus on understanding your customers and your potential customers. Who are they? How old are they? Where do they live? What do their values, shopping behaviours, and preferences look like?
Once you’ve started to develop a deeper understanding of your customers and who they are, the next step is to open a dialogue with them. You don’t need to guess what they want to buy and hope they’ll buy it at full price; instead, invite them into your design and assortment planning processes. Not only does this help you produce the right assortment to increase your sellthrough at full price; it also creates customers who are more loyal and engaged with your brand. Gather data at the SKU level on which styles customers are most interested in.
Deploy the data you’ve collected from customers to sharpen your assortment planning process: double down on winning SKUs, eliminate unpopular SKUs, and develop an assortment that speaks to your customers.
Brands should care about reducing waste because consumers care. But beyond that, reducing waste is better for the bottom line. It means better sellthrough at full price and more efficient deployment of working capital. It means reducing the amount of dead inventory that ends up on your balance sheet. And it means being ahead of the curve when it comes to making your brand more sustainable - something consumers will be happy to get behind.