Blog: Leonie BarrieShaking up the supply chain

Leonie Barrie | 22 June 2015

Ongoing efforts to reverse a slump in sales at its namesake brand are to see US clothing retailer Gap Inc shutter 175 of its namesake stores in the US and axe 250 head office jobs.

Amid the changes, a new approach to product development – dubbed ‘Product 3.0’ – underpinned by a responsive and seamless supply chain, has emerged at the heart of plans to speed decision-making and improve consistency at the struggling brand.

When it comes to sourcing, US apparel firms are expressing a stronger interest in buying more from countries such as Vietnam, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia over the next two years, a new study has found. And most are concerned about rising costs as their greatest challenge in 2015.

But apparel brands, retailers and manufacturers with supply chains and operations in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand and India are also operating in countries rated as ‘extreme risk’ in a new global corruption ranking.

The need for transparency and traceability in the clothing supply chain is a common lament, but achieving it is often seen as an insurmountable challenge. A recent sourcing conference attempted to outline the issues in accessing supplier data and the best ways of communicating it along the supply chain.

And European sustainable fashion consultancy Made-By is planning to roll out its new Mode Tracker tool this autumn, to help fashion brands and retailers track progress in all areas of sustainability across their businesses, products and supply chains. The plan is one of a number of milestones outlined in the group’s latest annual report.

Outdoor wear specialist Patagonia has implemented a new set of standards for migrant workers across its supply chain, which it hopes will eradicate human trafficking and forced labour in the countries it sources from.

But Wal-Mart has been accused of failing to take responsibility for serious labour violations and abuse of workers in its garment supply chain in Asia.

Efforts to move forward on key pieces of US trade legislation have intensified, with the week ending with a change in tactics from US lawmakers that has led to renewed hope that a fast-track trade procedure may be approved earlier than anticipated.

Should the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) be renewed for ten years as expected, there would be unprecedented opportunities for the sub-Saharan Africa textile and apparel sector, according to an expert speaker at this year’s Source Africa textile, apparel and footwear trade event.

While momentum on the German-led Partnership for Sustainable Textiles to bring about "social, ecological and economic improvements all along the textile supply chain" seems to be turning the initiative into a supersized version of the Accord.

And a robust and rising dollar is giving US consumers more buying power, especially for products made overseas - but the impact is weighing on US brands and retailers with large overseas operations.

And in other news, Greenpeace has challenged outdoor brands and retailers to eliminate PFCs from their products; Cambodia will next month begin discussions on garment worker wages for 2016; and around 900 workers at a Fast Retailing supplier in China have taken part in a nine-day strike.

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