Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 11 seconds

Consumers want eco-friendly fashion. Brands want sustainable businesses. So how does the fashion industry get there? The short answer is with a little help from the supply chain.

A lot of changes have to happen—and some companies in the fashion industry are already making them. Brands are investing in high-tech materials, using recycled and upcycled fibers and sourcing natural materials that are raised and produced responsibly.

As businesses continuously adapt their models to consumer behaviors, a smart supply chain partner can help its fashion customers identify where they can lower their carbon footprint. Here are some examples of approaches they might take.

  1. Applying tech to tune up transportation

For many businesses, the transportation component of their supply chain accounts for a significant piece of their CO2 footprint. The impact of shipping goods to warehouses, stores, consumers—not to mention the returns adds up. 

Technology and innovation must play a key role for supply chain businesses to help their retail partners reduce emissions. Why is it so important? Investing and harnessing technology ensures loads are optimized and trucks don’t travel half empty.

For instance, a sophisticated digital marketplace that matches supply and demand in real time across the transportation ecosystem can lower a fashion retailer’s carbon footprint in a flash. The ultimate goal is to unify and automate the fragmented freight marketplace, making it more environmentally friendly by slashing empty miles, which lowers emissions and fuel waste.

  1. Turning returns into an environmental boon

Skyrocketing online apparel sales equal a higher volume of returns. But rather than ratcheting up a fashion brand’s environmental footprint, returns can be an avenue for supply chain partners to offer the right services to retailers. This can range from expertly ironing, repairing or reboxing a returned item, to recycling it into new fabric.

Using technology to track orders and inventory throughout the supply chain can help identify when a product has been returned by a customer, and when another customer has ordered the same item. Using that insight, the product can be routed to a return center closest to the customer who just placed the order, rather than send it to sit inside a distant warehouse. The item can then be quickly prepared for reshipment, limiting its travel distance, and therefore, fuel emissions.      

  1. Analyzing operations to pool and save resources

Luxury fashion groups often have different warehouses and transportation operations for the many different brands within their portfolio. Sometimes they need help from their supply chain partner to sort out commonalities among these different brands so they can share infrastructures and resources. For instance, setting up shared transportation for two sister brands can avoid the problem of two half-empty trucks going to the same location. The result is lower costs, better capacity use and more environmentally friendly operations.

In a world where consumers have access to a vast array of products via various media platforms globally, the supply chain has to adapt to support today’s shopping experience and consumers’ expectations of sustainability.  

However, the infrastructure and networks aren’t infinite and everyone needs to use them. We all need to embrace collaboration to support these demands, invest in technology to bring new approaches to life and create a dynamic supply chain that limits the impact on our planet’s resources and makes the links as sustainable as possible.

It’s our role – as supply chain providers and fashion industry – to add our weight to speed up the transition to sustainable fashion. 


Richard Cawston leads the supply chain business of XPO Logistics in Europe.

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 October 2019
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