2018 will bring intensification of the pressures on sourcing but the solution lies in closer partnerships, says Buzz Carter, event director at London manufacturing and sourcing event Fashion SVP
The changes in how consumers are buying are having a knock-on effect on sourcing. The traditional buying cycle seems to be gasping its last breaths and fast fashion, instant consumer data and “see now, buy now” collections are making exceptional demands. Sourcing departments are having to adapt rapidly so they can respond almost instantaneously. Margins have never been under so much pressure, and the weakness of the pound and uncertainty of Brexit adds to the strain. Added to all this is the continuing intense scrutiny of ethics, forcing brands to find ways to square the circle between commercial demands and practices most right-minded people expect to be adopted.
From my perspective, UK sourcing appears to be performing remarkably well, as a result of more-agile supply chain management, restructuring of buying teams and more flexibility from modernising manufacturers. Excellent new technical and high-performance fabrics are widening choices and inspiring designers, as are innovations in sustainable and recycled fabrics. Smart sourcing heads are also taking advantage of fresh impetus and enthusiasm in the near-shore region, where investment by factories, speed of delivery and an essential understanding of UK design and culture, including high ethical standards, are all on the up.
Having said that, in contrast to the digital and data-driven scene in the UK, much apparel manufacturing remains quite “analogue” in nature, and both sides need to truly understand the other more and bridge the gaps.
Manufacturers ask us daily about the impact of Brexit. All predictions are merely opinions, but what we do know is that the sudden fall in sterling in 2016, although a boost for exporting brands, caused substantial difficulties for others. Many producers who suffered large losses now demand orders to be fixed in euros or dollars, which has rebounded back on brands, resulting in inexorably rising costs. This also applies to those UK manufacturers importing fabrics or yarns.
Next year will undoubtedly bring an intensification of these pressures. Some argue that the era of extreme fast fashion is over, that price is not the only king, and design, fit, longevity of garments and in-built ethical values are just as important to consumers. Clearly a balance must be found, because brands and consumers alike cannott have improbably cheap garments on the one hand and high-quality or ethically-sourced product on the other.
The current value of sterling puts pressure on ethical and sustainable sourcing, and some brands might be tempted to cut corners to preserve margins and market share. Morality aside, it would be a reckless brand who played Russian roulette with the negative publicity that can accompany unethical sourcing practices. Further efforts in selecting the right supply base are needed, as is the pruning of inefficient and unethical practices.
One answer lies in brands and manufacturers working more closely together, in an atmosphere of partnership and mutual respect. Our brilliant UK brands have something to teach their suppliers in terms of design and product development, but also plenty to learn about the entire manufacturing process, producers’ problems and the technical limitations of fabrics, particularly with the rise of trends such as athleisure.
This will greatly benefit both sides. Good manufacturers are willing to listen, adapt and make large investments if necessary, but they also need the brands to invest time and energy towards getting the best out of the relationships.
Brexit and the future might remain frustratingly unpredictable, but the opportunity to improve dialogue and understanding can be started straight away. Energy spent here will be repaid many times over.
The next edition of Fashion SVP will take place on 16-17 January 2018 at London’s Olympia