State of the Apparel & Fashion Industry

It’s 2023. Let’s start getting serious about sustainability

Over the past several decades, we’ve seen enormous gains in agility for manufacturers and retailers, and greater variety for consumers. But on the flip side, it’s created a lot of waste. Landfills have piled up with t-shirts and leggings, and our carbon footprint has become unnecessarily heavy. Beyond the social harm, brands and supply chain partners are now feeling the financial strain of that waste.

It’s not like we can just put the toothpaste back in the tube, though. Consumers love practically unlimited choice, and retailers have built businesses around ever-changing product assortments. 

So now we can either continue down this path or make changes. Fortunately, sustainability is gaining traction across the apparel industry.

The solution? Efficiency through technology. It will come down to three things: reduction of pre-production waste; better matching of supply and demand; and more efficiency and speed through digitally facilitated collaboration. Let’s explore how each will transform the apparel industry.

Let’s get (un)physical

Physical samples have been a necessary part of the production process, but 3D visualization gives us the ability to cut back. We’ve known this for a long time, but it’s been difficult for our industry to make it happen at scale. This is, however, getting dramatically easier to achieve due to the emergence of platforms focused on this problem.

Most physical samples have a short lifespan. But viewing a particular pattern or texture online in 3D can simplify collaboration and make it easier to winnow down options. With more easily accessible 3D renders, a whole team can provide input simultaneously. We’ll still need physical samples, but they’ll be more of a final proof rather than a test. That means fewer samples—and less waste.

Supply equals demand

Accurately predicting exactly how much of a given product can be sold—optimizing supply and demand—is always the goal. We don’t have crystal balls, but the efficiency that’s previously been channeled towards refreshing store shelves is going to change.

Moving forward, we’ll start seeing companies using technology to produce on demand. But instead of this being driven by educated guesses, one impetus can be preorders. Consumers will commit to purchases, and our technology will enable us to create exactly what they want—and how much—at a reasonable price, in a reasonable timeframe. Goodbye, surplus stock.

Breaking free of chains

The pandemic exposed supply chains’ fragility, sending us searching for more reliable places to find efficiency, like specialized platforms for digitally facilitated collaboration. Other industries have already moved here, and adoption is beginning to take off in fashion, where we desperately need it.

Having a designer in Europe, a buyer in North America, and a production facility in south Asia previously means lots of overnight deliveries. That’s a huge carbon footprint, and a lot of time wasted waiting. But that’s changing. Again, 3D modeling will allow every player to see high-fidelity renders of designs—and provide feedback—in an instant.

Decision-making can be a huge time sink, but with real-time collaboration, we can all benefit from the leaner, more agile production. Combine that with reduced pre-production waste, and we’ll deliver what customers want, with fewer drawbacks.

The future’s so bright

People aren’t going to stop buying new clothes. But the processes that bring clothes to store shelves and consumers’ doorsteps are already changing for the better. Online collaboration—through technologies like Embodee’s Orchids—are driving forward that reality and increasing engagement for suppliers and buyers.

Sustainability is transforming from hot buzzword to a core value of apparel production, and that’s something we can all be proud of. We’re creating a better future, one that takes less of a toll on our environment, streamlines collaboration, and improves our bottom line—without sacrificing what our customers want. We have a seriously bright future ahead of us.