IAF participated in the Quality Garment Network Days organized by the world market leader in ironing and pressing machines, Veit, in Southern Germany. Matthijs Crietee held a keynote address titled, ‘The global garment system, a travelling circus still, or becoming a more ‘normal’ industry’.
In the address the IAF explained its vision on improvement for the global fashion industry. ‘Improvement is necessary’, Crietee pointed out, ‘because parts of the industry have gotten caught in a low price spiral whereby continuous pricing down has distorted the consumer’s sense of value of clothing. This is also affecting more upmarket brands, even though they themselves mark down less. The common response to continuous price pressure in consumer markets is making things worse. The industry’s custom of moving production to locations of cheaper labour costs in reaction to rising production costs is also hitting brick walls. Industrial accidents in Bangladesh are further tarnishing the image of the industry.’
Although the beginning was gloomy, the rest of the address was marked by the positive tone that characterizes IAF’s vison for the industry. We are seeing a shift away from ‘moving production’ to ‘improving production’. And this shift will help maneuver the industry out of the trap.
Firstly, because labour costs account actually for only such a small part of the value of most clothing articles, reducing price through productivity improvements in factory and in supply chain productivity is much more effective than relying on just wage decreases
Secondly, we see now many opportunities to add value to garments that did hardly exist a few years ago. Functionality of fashion is back in fashion. As Ed Gribbin, President of Alvanon said at the IAF Convention in Medellín, ‘design [in fashion] is not only about how it looks, but also now about how it works’. Wearable tech is being tried out now by sportswear companies, but increasingly also by fashion companies. Also, craftsmanship and especially the kind connected to particular regions and connected to a bigger ‘story’ has become more popular, offering opportunities to load more value onto a garment.
To conclude, parts of the fashion industry are between a rock and a hard place, but at the same time, escape routes are opening up. The IAF gave some practical recommendations in Germany for collective actions from the industry to help to reach these escape routes to improvement.
First of all, Crietee told the audience, the IAF believes strongly in the power of education. To work with a longer term horizon when making arrangements with suppliers requires knowledge; a different kind of knowledge than is often available at both buyers and suppliers. Being the guest of Veit, a strong and committed supplier, Crietee highlighted the important role that suppliers to the industry are playing in educating their clients. More coordination and focus is certainly possible here. And secondly, the industry needs to stop its pre occupation with sourcing statistics and wage statistics. We must look more at indicators showing investments in the supply chain, such as for instance figures on returns on investments of PLM. IAF is working on both the education and the statistics.
Interested companies are invited to react to Crietee@iafnet.com.