Blog: Leonie BarrieFirst look at 2018

Leonie Barrie | 8 January 2018

2018 is set to be a year in which disruptive trends that have been on the horizon start to become the norm for the apparel industry and its supply chain, according to first feedback from a panel of executives consulted by just-style.

This includes more orders in smaller quantities and shorter lead times, the pressures of e-commerce and fast fashion, digitalisation of the value chain, slow sales and rising costs. But facing up to these challenges also presents opportunities for retailers, brands and their suppliers to rethink their business models and find new ways to become relevant.

How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2018, and what strategies can help apparel firms and their suppliers to stay ahead? Executives say the days of "chasing the cheapest needle" are over, and point out that the need for speed is instead changing the way products are sourced and manufactured.

A balanced and diversified sourcing portfolio remains key to enabling retailers to react faster to trends, commit less up-front and navigate political uncertainty. But China's dominant role seems set to stay.

And a sea-change in attitudes on everything from sexual harassment to healthy eating may also have ramifications for the global garment industry. The sector is undergoing a truly generational change: Do we really want to fight pick a fight with our consumers as well?

2018 also kicked off with the launch of a new interactive online map that claims to be the only tool in the world to openly link leading multinational apparel brands to their suppliers' environmental performance.

The database and map provide real-time data and historical trends in air pollution emissions and wastewater discharge for nearly 15,000 major industrial facilities in China – and access to environmental supervision records for over half a million more.

Newly-listed Hong Kong-based apparel manufacturing giant Crystal Group is to expand its worker empowerment programme to facilities in Bangladesh and Cambodia – and says it expects all of its wholly-owned factories will have adopted the Higg Index Facility Environmental Module (FEM) 3.0 to measure environmental performance in 2018.

And Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) has unveiled its latest sustainable offering: a global activewear collection in which garments are all made with the "predominant use" of recycled polyester and elastane.

At Danish apparel company Bestseller, the latest actions include joining an initiative to change the way fashion is produced, marketed and consumed. The company has also released its first publicly available supplier factory list, including the names and addresses of its Tier 1 apparel, footwear and accessories manufacturers.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar Government has set out plans to increase the country's minimum wage rate by 33% across all regions – a move the garment sector suggests could put pressure on its business owners. The rise is expected to take effect from the beginning of March.

And an investigation by the European Union (EU) financial watchdog has highlighted concerns about how Chinese clothing and footwear exporters may be exploiting loopholes in EU customs and VAT controls to evade paying proper amounts of these taxes.

US importer Dear John Denim has also explained how it has planned for the Chinese new year factory closures to ensure that spring season merchandise is produced, paid for and shipped prior to the shutdown.

For The Gambia and Swaziland the year began with their restoration to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which enables certain products from some sub-Saharan African countries to enter the United States duty-free.

And first indications of Christmas trading suggests December proved more positive for the handful of US apparel retailers still reporting their monthly comparable sales figures, as strong job growth coupled with modest wage gains look to finally be driving better improved retail sales.

Separately, both Macy’s and JC Penney posted holiday sales growth, although difficulties remain for Macy’s as it revealed plans to shutter 11 stores in early 2018 and narrowed its full-year sales guidance.

In the UK, shares in Debenhams fell by more than 15% as the retailer warned it expects to miss full-year profit forecasts after a disappointing Christmas. But Next upped its full-year expectations on the back of a better than expected Christmas sales performance.

In other news, Marks & Spencer has sold its retail business in Hong Kong and Macau; Primark has hired a former Zara product boss as head of its womenswear division; and Quiksilver owner Boardriders is to acquire Australian surfwear firm Billabong International.

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