How technology can power sustainable manufacturing

An overwhelming number of innovative digital solutions have appeared in recent years to help brands sell more effectively – saving them time and money. There are excellent turnkey solutions for ecommerce; marketing at scale has been democratised through social, and fulfillment is easier than ever. However, whilst innovation has been rapid for the consumer facing elements of a business, global production supply chains are stuck in the dark ages.

The majority of fashion supply chains remain inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable. Design to delivery lead times are 36 weeks, only 50% of products are delivered on time – with the right documentation and without defects – and only 5% of brands can trace their supply chain back to source. The production process is failing brands. In addition, consumers are demanding sustainability from the brands they buy from, yet brands are failing to deliver – only 1% of products are labelled as sustainable.

The core reason for this is that the supply chains are offline, fragmented and inefficient; communication happens through email and design development through Excel. The majority of tools used are unfit for purpose. Problems continually stem from ineffective communication, supply chain transparency, poor processes and a lack of collaboration between partners. The whole system is in need of an overhaul.

Rewiring how we work with digital

With the ever increasing amount of greenwashing that is occurring, it is important to really understand what makes a supply chain sustainable. It must work for the people, the planet and the economy. Building sustainable supply chains isn’t just about working with well-certified manufacturers and sustainably sourced materials, it’s equally about reducing waste throughout the design to delivery process and, with this, instilling better buying practices.

Gus Bartholomew, co-founder, SupplyCompass

The building blocks of sustainability are transparency and efficiency and both of these start with the digitalisation of data. Brands need to remove the information silos that currently exist within the supply chain and bring everyone onto a single source of truth platform. By doing this, all parties can make dramatic time, cost and quality savings.

A strategic re-thinking of supply chains has been overdue for some time, but recent events have made this an immediate necessity. Information needs to be centralised, teams need to be able to work collaboratively in digital workspaces, lead times need to be reduced and efficiencies found throughout the process. To do this effectively production teams can turn to product development and production management platforms to help them digitalise their supply chains. These cloud-based platforms are the new way for brands to produce better, together – making sustainable sourcing easy and cost effective for brands and every player in the supply chain.

Harmony between brands and factories

Standardisation of practices and improving communication and collaboration is fundamental for brands to get their product to market faster. Mistakes and delays are still commonplace in production, often due to discrepancies in how each brand and manufacturer works. Brands develop their own unique style of tech pack and their own order processes, making it hard for manufacturers to adapt to these different ways of working. Standardisation across all players within a network is important to drive efficiency.

This starts at the very beginning of the design process. Bringing manufacturers into the fold as early as possible to comment on technical viability and suggest materials and technical details can save hours in the sampling process. Real-time collaboration with your manufacturer on mood boards is a great place to start.

Wider visibility of the supply chain

Knowing each party involved in your supply chain is critical for transparency and ensuring you are being compliant as a brand. Having up-to-date and accurate information on suppliers’ capabilities, certifications and production capacity can be a very time-consuming task. However, by digitalising this process and having reminders on what actions are needed, and when, will not only help you maintain a good supply chain but will also help with planning for the future.

Removing costly mistakes

With greater visibility and interconnectivity between players, tasks can happen concurrently in full view of all, in turn helping avoid delays and speed up lead times. When all parties are working from the same source of information and collaborating in real time, with all actions recorded, it becomes far easier to ensure things are not missed and the presented information is correctly understood.

The digitally sustainable future

SMEs need a responsive tech solution that enables this – one that provides an efficient use of resources and materials, an efficient use of supply chains and time, and efficient manufacturing processes that reduce waste. Without technology, sustainability is hard to implement, measure and improve upon. At the same time the robust, flexible business models that the industry needs, can only be serviced with technology such as digital supply networks, easy access to accurate data and heightened workflow collaboration.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact of COVID-19, which highlights, with renewed importance, the need for digitalisation and better sustainability across the industry. Yet many businesses may not be able to scale up their teams to pre-pandemic size, so will need to upskill staff and use technology to drive efficiencies across the value chain. They will also need to gather more supply chain data, to better anticipate, manage and mitigate risk should a situation like this occur again.

Ultimately, the key to achieving sustainable sourcing at scale is digitalisation. And right now, it’s digitalise or die.


Gus Bartholomew

Co-founder, SupplyCompass


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