Resume 37th IAF World Fashion Convention

IAF successfully held its 37th World Fashion Convention in Dhaka from Saturday November 12th up to Wednesday November 16th. It brought together close to 300 delegates from 15 countries and was organized together with the Bangladeshi apparel industry associations BGMEA and BKMEA. The IAF Convention was held intertwined with the BGMEA’s Made in Bangladesh Week allowing garment industry delegates to attend a week full of events.

The IAF’s World Fashion Convention started with the traditional golf tournament sponsored by IAF’s partner American & Efird. The conference was sponsored by IAF’s partners Veit, Dubai Global Connect and The Industry we Want and by BGMEA partners/members

United by the convention’s theme of ‘Transforming the Industry Together’, speakers discussed methods of supply chain collaboration, climate action and financing, EU sustainability legislation, education and technology and raw material trends.

In his opening speech, IAF President Cem Altan explained the convention’s theme and said that “The major challenges of our industry today can only realistically be met when there is true collaboration between buyers and the manufacturers.” However, he continued to say that this collaboration is still far from being the norm. “Instead of collaboration, we often see that necessary investments are pushed up into the supply chain and that flexibility is created by letting supply chains act as crumbling zones, catching the blows of uncertain demand”.

Dirk Vanthyghem, Director General of Euratex explained the barrage of sustainability legislation that is being prepared by the EU and that will have major effects on the apparel production community. The panel on Climate and Financing led by Lisa Ramershoven of GIZ showed that there are national and international initiatives to help finance climate action by manufacturers. Reducing energy use is crucial and requires a big push by all parties including manufacturers, brands and retailers, national governments, and international organisations. The Apparel Impact Institute (Aii) is a global initiative in which philanthropic institutes and also retailers and brands such as Target, Puma and Levi Strauss participate and which works to scale proven impact initiatives and attract global funding for these efforts. Christopher Veit, CEO of Veit GmbH took another approach and showed how much unlocked energy savings there still are in many factories. There still is a lot of low hanging fruit for reductions of energy use that have gained value tremendously because of the current high costs of energy.

The panel on supply chain collaboration zoomed in on the unique collaboration of 13 industry associations from 10 countries on the improvement of purchasing practices that is STTI. But it also showcased a presentation by John Thorbeck highlighting that manufacturers hold the key to a more effective industry with less money lost on discounts, lost sales and unsold clothing. The key according to Thorbeck is shared risk, shared profit; stepping away from models fixated on price but rather focusing on improving financial performance by reducing (fashion) risk. This requires investments by manufacturers, perhaps therefore higher upfront costs for their clients, but ultimately better margins in the end. Because as he says “you can’t spend money on sustainability that is locked up in inventory’, the IAF keeps making the point that the fixation on cost only stands in the way of all progress on sustainability.

Ram Sareen, owner of Tukatech shared with us the importance of knowledge in factories. As did Christopher Veit he shared with the audience that there are still important gains to be made, in this case by focusing on the basics of production efficiency. However, this does require continuous attention and education.

Finally, the conference also included a section on raw materials. Garment manufacturers play a pivotal role in bringing more sustainable fabric options, including recycled materials into the market. A dive into some major textile developments is needed in any garment conference. Julian Hügl of McKinsey explained the business models behind the growing recycling business. Florian Heubrandner of Lenzing showed us how much the global fibre demand is still growing in the coming years and how cotton continues to lose market share. Petri Alava, co-founder and CEO of Inifinited Fibre showed us how his company’s fibre made from a chemical recycling process could provide a breakthrough in the growth of the use of recycled materials.

The conference was followed by the gala dinner, which saw a major group of Bangladeshi manufacturers and international guests network against a unique Dhaka garden setting. BGMEA and BKMEA presented IAF with a spectacular laser show to celebrate IAF’s 50th birthday. Alongside BGMEA President Faruque Hassan, IAF President Cem Altan spoke at the inauguration of the Made in Bangladesh Week by Bangladesh’ Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In his speech addressing the Prime Minister, Cem Altan highlighted the collaboration of IAF and its Bangladesh members, stating that: “The strong and eloquent voice of BGMEA and BKMEA combined with the worldwide reach of IAF has in the past two years created a strong global apparel manufacturing voice. Delegates to the IAF Convention then were able to attend the Made in Bangladesh Week activities which included the Dhaka Apparel Summit, the Dhaka Apparel Expo and the Bangladesh Denim Expo. Moreover, BGMEA and BKMEA had arranged an excellent program of factory visits. All in all, it was a knowledge and networking packed week worthy of the 2nd largest apparel exporting nation in the world