What is the Fashion Supply Chain?

What is the Fashion Supply Chain?

By | Maggie Herrera

Ordering our favorite clothes and brands online seems simple enough, right? There has always been a labor-intensive system behind the production and distribution of your Urban Outfitters dress or Nike leggings. This has been strained through the surge of e-commerce during the pandemic.

One might wonder, as an avid online shopper and fashion-lover: what exactly is the fashion supply chain? Why is it so important?

Source: Hypebae.com
Urban Outfitters’ 2017 campaign with Champion, titled "What Do You Champion?"

FashInnovation’s Cindy Chen defines the fashion supply chain as a multi-stage production process that includes: 

  • Growing resources and raw materials to create fibers
  • Fibers are harvested for weaving/knitting
  • Fibers are woven or knitted into fabric
  • Fabric is dyed and cut
  • Garments are crafted after dyeing and cutting
  • Garments are sent to retail stores where consumers can purchase them
Source: Acteevism.com
The Acteevism blog provides visuals that make understanding the fashion supply chain easy.

This process is done internationally, among several locations. A single garment may travel to multiple facilities through its production process, from knitting or weaving at one location, to dyeing and cutting at another, then preparation for packing and shipping to its retail destination at a third. The supply chain requires considerable energy to ship, resources to construct, and labor to produce, resulting in a global supply chain that bares a heavy toll on the environment and society.

“The textile industry is estimated to use 378 billion liters of water annually, using up to 200 liters of water to process, dye, and finish each kilo of textiles.”

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Source: World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Cotton, one of many natural resources used in the fashion supply chain, is known to have drastic environmental effects when grown and prepared for garment production.

The immense work that goes into the fashion supply chain has a costly effect on the environment! Slow fashion entrepreneur Ania Zoltowski explains for Good on You, “The global clothing supply chain involves millions of people as well as tons of water, chemicals, crops, and oil.” This produces significant losses for the environment, along with harmful byproducts that effect the animals and resources we consume.

Another issue to consider with many brands’ fashion supply chains is their ethical structure and transparency: where are these products coming from and how are they made? Are the many workers making the clothes I order in safe working conditions? Are they being paid enough? 

Source: Business of Fashion
H&M and ZARA are also famous brands that have questionable structures to their supply chain, especially surrounding their treatment of garment workers and conditions of the workplace

With transparency from brands growing in demand, there are many cases where mistreatment of garment workers is revealed to highlight the unsafe working conditions and unlivable wages these workers endure. This highlights the conversation on how to ethically consume fashion and to advocate for both workers and environmental rights to ensure a healthier and more just future for the fashion industry.

Want to take the first step towards a more ethical closet? Download United By Zero’s free chrome extension to learn more about the clothes you purchase, and where to get more ethically and environmentally-sound alternatives to build up a conscious closet!

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