Behind all the glitz and glamour, fashion brands still have a business to run. It’s clear that in 2023 the back-office and supply chain is in the spotlight when it comes to delivering new and improved customer experiences and meeting expectations around sustainability and product provenance.

In 2022, Fashion Revolution published a fashion transparency index that states: “without transparency, achieving a sustainable, accountable, and fair fashion industry will be impossible.” So maybe now is a good time for fashion brands to take a cue from the food industry?

For many years, the food sector has been obligated to comply to stringent regulations to trace data in each step of the value chain—from farm to fork. If fashion brands were to embark on a similar path, it would require tracing multiple steps from cotton to closet and wool to wardrobe. But how can this be achieved? Would it require tracing each individual product or stock keeping unit (SKU) and disclose this information using a unique product identifier, such as QR code?

Clearly the industry is evolving fast, with global leaders in the Zero Waste movement Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), emphasising that: “Endless supply chains blur responsibility and make transparency harder.” In addition, concepts like product passports and digital IDs are not far away. Could RFID or Electronic Product Code (EPC) be the answer?

If you are ready to establish a transparent fashion value chain, there are three things to consider:

1. Data
It’s all about data. In order to achieve complete transparency, it is necessary to get access to data from every step of the production supply chain—from tier 1 (finished product supplier) to tier 4 (raw material supplier). However, unless you have direct control over your production, you may only have easy access to your primary supplier and not the multiple layers of sub suppliers.

2. Collaboration
To collect all the necessary data, establishing strong collaboration with the different parties across the extended supply chain (from tier 1 down to tier 4) becomes imperative. Using a common collaboration platform will help facilitate the process of data sharing, ensuring efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Technology
Smart, modern technology can help manage data and “fill” potential gaps where data is missing — e.g., by leveraging historical data to validate and complete current data.

Benefits of managing data, collaboration, and technology

  • You can tell the brand story and offer a better product experience by providing greater transparency on product provenance to your end consumers.
  • You secure being compliant with statutory and regulatory requirements around worker rights, chemicals, organics, etc.
  • You are ready to embark on new initiatives such as product passport, which can be used to prove the authenticity of your goods.

Fashion companies need to get ready for value chain transparency. An important foundation for meeting these requirements is a smart, modern, cloud-based enterprise application platform equipped with technology for collaboration and a data fabric for capturing and working with data from the extended value chain. Ultimately, the solution should be designed specifically for apparel, footwear, and fashion businesses.

Jarrod Kinchington is vice president and managing director at Infor ANZ.