The Fashion Supply ChainThe phrase “supply chain” refers to the back end of any business that sells goods. In earlier days, the fashion supply chain was relatively simple. One example of this was mentioned in Vogue’s article “The Clothing Insurrection: It’s Time to Take On the Fashion Supply Chain.” That example being that a farmer shears his sheep for wool; a village weaver makes it into fabric; the tailor buys the fabric and sews a garment for a local gentleman. Nowadays, this process, as you can probably guess, is not so simple. Goods are now be shipped by air or cargo ships to warehouses all over the world and then back out again in order to get them into the hands of a single shopper or retailer. This whirlwind supply chain is all happening with a single goal in mind: customer satisfaction.
The impacts of the fashion supply chain are high on humans, animals and the environment. Here are some examples:
- People make our clothes. When the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in the Bangladesh capital last year more than 1000 garment workers were killed, twice as many were injured and 800 children were orphaned. Sadly, Rana Plaza is not the only example of wide-scale factory deaths, nor the only example of social inequality along the value chain. Negative social impacts occur at every stage, from the farmers who grow the cotton, to those who stitch the logos. For making a $100 pair of trainers, the factory worker will receive just 50 cents.
- The need for fabrics like cashmere to be available at a reasonably price, has led to the vast overbreeding of goats which has thrown off delicate ecosystems which need a constant amount of vegetation.
- Cotton, which is commonly referred to as “the fabric of our lives” is picked from farms all over the world and shipped back and forth over seas to be processed and dyed into colored fabric. Many cotton fabrics are treated with hazardous chemicals to improve their feel and are then packaged into plastic which end up in land fills, not to mention the shipping processes and factories put out a very high carbon load.
It is important for us, as consumers, to be mindful when buying clothing and thinking about who may be negatively affected by our purchases of cheap clothing as well as what goes in to the process of getting this clothing within our reach. It is also up to large clothing companies to make the necessary changes to their supply chains in order to reduce negative impacts on people, animals, recourses and the environment.