The findings from Material Exchange’s annual 2023 Digital Sourcing and Sustainability report is based on survey responses from 28 apparel industry professionals including fashion brands (68%), suppliers (21%) and other (11%). Those who took part were from Canada, United States, Brazil, United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, India, Pakistan, and China.

The report found there was an increase in the number of brands asking for sustainable material options in 2023 (86%) from 2022 (52%). It also found suppliers were able to fulfil sustainable material requests more often in 2023 (72% of the time) compared to 57% of the time in 2022.

Key findings from Material Exchange’s report

  • 81% of survey respondents feel digitisation is important. The top three reasons were: increased speed to market (60%); reduction of resource waste and transportation impacts from over-sampling (55%); and lower cost from purchasing and shipping physical material samples (50%).
  • Over 50% of respondents feel that digitising tier 2 of the supply chain is either important or extremely important. According to the report, this was also true for respondents in the 2021 and 2022 surveys. However, there is a decrease in the belief that digitising tier 2 materials is “extremely important” which has been attributed to post-Covid industry habits such as in-person sourcing, traveling, and trade shows.
  • More than half or 61% of respondents rated sustainability as extremely important to their business.
  • 89% of respondents believe there’s a connection between sustainability and supply chain digitisation.
  • 60% feel transparency and traceability along the supply chain is important, which the report noted is evident to the increase in legislation around the globe surrounding supply chain disclosures and transparency.
  • Almost 86% of those surveyed preferred showing materials physically over digitally, signifying importance of attributes such as hand feel, which are more difficult to portray digitally.
  • Approximately 57% suppliers have a digital material library. In the survey, supplier participants shared their main barriers to creating a digital library are lack of technology, know-how, and human resources.
  • For 57.14% suppliers, the main selling differentials were a tie between price; innovative materials and processes; and sustainability.

The report also noted that most suppliers have deadstock they would like to sell rather than contribute to the $92m tons of textile waste produced every year.

Darren Glenister, chief executive officer of Materials Exchange believes digitalisation and sustainability in fashion are “more important than ever” in supporting fashion’s development in the coming year and beyond.

He said: “Here at Material Exchange, our mission is to transform material sourcing by making it more efficient, transparent, and sustainable. By publishing this report, we’re contributing directly to that goal by measuring where the industry stands today and presenting data which can indicate where it’s going. As we’ve done in our previous Digital Sourcing and Sustainability Reports, the questions focus in on digitalisation and sustainability in fashion. It’s a fantastic resource for fashion and a true barometer in analysing where the industry has been and helping to gage where it’s headed.”

A survey conducted by financial services company Stifel Finance Corp, earlier this month (January) showed a third (32%) of US consumers give high priority to sustainability when making purchasing decisions, compared to other factors like good value (68%) and low price (57%).

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