If we rewind back to January 2023, global fashion brands were still raving about the potential of the metaverse and there were high hopes for fashion supply chains to return ‘back to normal’ when China finally reopened its borders and bid farewell to Covid lockdowns for good.

These are both great examples of how much can change within 12 months in the fast-paced world of the fashion supply chain, but also why it’s crucial for fashion executives to admit when a new direction is needed.

The jury is still out on whether the metaverse will go mainstream anytime soon but it certainly faded away from the spotlight as the year progressed.

Instead, the fashion sector conceded that AI was the ‘hot’ technology of 2023. This is not surprising given it can be used to streamline the entire fashion value chain – as opposed to just giving end consumers a new ‘virtual’ toy to play with.

As for how far we’ve come since China reopened its doors – well it certainly helped to iron out the remaining supply chain kinks from Covid, but on a political level the US-China relationship in particular is as fraught as ever.

Although Covid is now officially behind us, ongoing tensions with China have demonstrated why fashion supply chain executives are right to keep going with a diversified supply chain that is not entirely reliant on any one sourcing country.

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By GlobalData

Only last week, the US House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party announced almost 150 bipartisan recommendations for the US to “reset its economic relationship” with China.

The members went as far as to say they’d spent a year investigating what they described as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s “decades-long campaign of economic and technological warfare”.

When Just Style quizzed the US apparel sector about these “recommendations” the consensus was one of major concern about how it could impact the wider sector moving forward.

Not to mention the fact a US election is on the cards for November 2024, with both Biden and Trump making their disgruntlement with China very clear while in office.

So, fashion sourcing executives are also right to be concerned about what increased tensions between the US and China could mean for the global fashion supply chain as we enter 2024.

Despite transparency remaining a key buzzword throughout 2023 and legislation picking up the pace with the EU’s rules for new corporate sustainability due diligence finally being agreed, although not yet enforced, the issue of forced labour remains.

A Better Cotton member was added to the US forced labour blacklist recently and in Canada investigations into forced labour accusations against fashion brand Guess are ongoing.

One positive end to 2023 is a new agreement being made at COP28, which could see real progress in the war against climate change in 2024.

Notably, this decision was made by global policymakers as opposed to those working within the industries that can make a real difference, such as fashion.

What did the fashion sector learn in 2023?

So what has the last 12 months taught us, if anything? For a start, Covid’s impact on the fashion supply chain is finally over.

But, the world outside of our fashion supply chain bubble is back to moving at full-speed and, overall, it’s not in the right direction.

We still have an ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, a new conflict in Palestine thrown into the mix, natural disasters aplenty as well as the cost of living crisis raising inflation, energy bills and material costs across the board.

The world might be back to normal and intent on destroying itself in all senses of the word, but there is no going back for the fashion sector after 2023.

Now is the time to take a second to slow down and apply intelligent technology such as AI to ensure anything that is designed and manufactured will definitely be sold and worn many times over before being recycled – the time for waste is well and truly over.

Top stories on Just Style last week

US apparel sector issues caution over new US-China relationship proposal

The US apparel sector has warned bipartisan recommendations for the US to reset its economic relationship with China could signal a new “economic Cold War” and lead to higher costs for both fashion companies and consumers.

EU agrees rules for corporate sustainability due diligence directive

The EU has agreed a new set of rules that will require EU and non-EU textile and apparel companies to safeguard human rights and the environment within their policies and risk management systems or risk financial penalties.

Better Cotton member on US forced labour blacklist risks suspension

Cotton sustainability programme Better Cotton has confirmed one of three new companies added to the US Department of Homeland Security’s Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) entity list is a Better Cotton member and it now has 30 days to engage with the relevant authorities or risks membership suspension.

Fashion sector welcomes COP28 agreement but looks to business for ‘real progress’ on climate change

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) ended with the announcement of a new agreement described as “the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era”, as leading apparel sector bodies react to the new deal.

Bangladesh ‘proud’ of wage rise, ‘unbeatable’ global sustainable fashion status

As COP28 draws to a close Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK, Ireland and Liberia Saida Muna Tasneem told a delegation at the UK’s House of Lords Bangladesh’s fashion manufacturing industry is “unbeatable” in terms of ESG and it is time to spread this message to global consumers.

How to improve US apparel production, export strategies in 2024

A new study suggests US policymakers should consider supporting small and medium sized US textile and apparel manufacturers, strengthening US fabric production and supporting exports from outside the Western Hemisphere to improve US apparel manufacturer and export strategies.

Shein explores UK public listing after filing for US IPO

Fast fashion retailer Shein is reportedly considering a public listing in the UK, despite already filing documents for an initial public offering (IPO) in the US for 2024.