“Sustainability can have several interpretations, depending on who you ask.” That might be the biggest challenge brands face when trying to become sustainable, according to Paul Magel, president of the applications and technology outsourcing division at Computer Generated Solutions: They don’t know how or where to start.
Pressure to hasten the sustainability process stems from an uptick in consumer demand for greener, cleaner products: In the CGS 2019 U.S. Consumer Sustainability report that surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. individuals, aged 18 and older, to gauge how sustainability impacts buying preferences, two-thirds of respondents said they consider sustainability when making a purchase and will pay a premium for sustainable products. Its survey also found that while shoppers are most likely to return to a brand for the product’s quality, the second-highest reason for loyalty is due to a brand or product’s sustainable/ethical business practices; following in third and fourth place is brand name and brand mission, respectively.
Here, Magel talks to WWD about fashion brands’ ability to streamline businesses through sustainability solutions.
WWD: Which CGS services/BlueCherry solutions are tailored for the sustainable fashion space and how are they differentiated in the market?
Paul Magel: While supply chain visibility is critical for all brands, it is mandatory for sustainable fashion companies. BlueCherry is a platform that allows for full supply chain visibility from sourcing and production to showroom. That end-to-end supply chain management provides complete transparency into the life of a garment. Within BlueCherry, there are quality control checks. For example, these occur during production with our Shop Floor Control application, and for production runs and arriving shipments. As a result, brands are able to reduce the total amount of defective products and reduce waste.
Also, with our vendor portal, brands can keep track of their global partners in real-time, to better manage the production process with overseas manufacturers, manage quotes and production schedules. This portal allows companies to manage suppliers that are compliant with their sustainability initiatives.
WWD: What are the most basic problems that sustainability services and solutions should be solving or addressing for the fashion industry?
P.M.: Sustainability can have several interpretations, depending on who you ask. It can mean anything from ethical sourcing of materials and treatment of labor to the development and breakdown of the product long after its use. For apparel brands, the most basic problem that sustainability services and solutions face is solving the reduction of the negative impact on the environment, including reduced water use, waste management, greenhouse gas emissions, fair social and labor practices, and chemical and energy use.
Fashion companies with sustainability as a core objective of their business need technology solutions and best business practices to address negative effects on the environment. Many brands will work with different stakeholders in their supply chain from raw materials sourcing to production. A few areas that fashion brands may consider in their sustainability efforts include: Adopting tools to help manage suppliers across the world, ensuring they are working with factories that are compliant with their sustainability initiatives; modernizing factories to use new technologies that reduce the amount of water used in the production and finishing process; using recycled material in the production of their garments; adopting collection and recycling processes as part of their recycling program, and evaluating logistics to reduce or eliminate, for example, gas emissions by using renewable energy or decreasing reliance on heavy duty trucks for transportation of products.
WWD: In what ways do CGS services/BlueCherry Solutions help brands streamline their supply chains and speed up product to market?
P.M.: The BlueCherry suite is a fully integrated end-to-end platform that automates supply chain processes and speed to market. From the factory floor with our shop floor control solution to design, sourcing, omnichannel order management processes and eCommerce solutions, BlueCherry increases supply chain visibility, speed and flexibility by removing siloed systems and business processes with a unified platform.
WWD: Would you describe the most common problems fashion brands face when trying to become more sustainable?
P.M.: What I see as the biggest challenge is how to be sustainable, yet remain profitable. More companies today are moving with the trends, but they must be aware of their budgets and tight margins. Sustainable products can be more costly to make, but brands still need to keep the costs down.
In our recent survey, we found that consumers were willing to pay more for sustainable products, but it is not an unlimited amount of funds that they will spend. Specifically, a vast majority (70 percent of respondents) said that sustainability was important, while 47 percent said they would be willing to pay more for a sustainable product. Not surprisingly, we found that more than half of Gen Z buyers, who were the most aware of environmental effects of their purchasing decisions, would be willing to spend upwards of 100 percent more. While it’s becoming much more popular, brands will be doing a balancing act in the near term to ensure customer satisfaction while keeping their eye on the bottom line.
WWD: Are there any gaps or opportunities in terms of what brands need for achieving sustainability, and what technology can CGS/BlueCherry supply?
P.M.: Technology is continually evolving and helping to improve efficiency and transparency in the supply chain. As I noted earlier, to reduce the negative impact on the environment, all areas — water usage, waste management, labor practices — should be visible in the supply chain. Today, tech makes it easier than ever before. For example, to ensure your third-party vendors in the supply chain are adhering to sustainable methods, they can be tracked through blockchain if all of your partners are players on the chain. While blockchain could eventually be helpful in tracking every step in the apparel manufacturing process, it hasn’t reached sufficient widespread acceptance.
WWD: What’s next for CGS/BlueCherry?
P.M.: At our recent user conference, we shared details on how we are opening our BlueCherry platform via APIs to authorized users in the supply chain. This allows brands using BlueCherry to access data and use it to gather intelligence and make insights. The importance of continuous improvements to the platform, including APIs, benefits our customers by allowing for more third-party vendors to integrate with BlueCherry to better improve supply chain visibility.
In addition to opening up the architecture, BlueCherry will continue to expand its forecasting and planning solution, helping brands better meet production with consumer demand. This will help brands maximize sales, and reduce waste and overproduction on items that do not sell or have little demand. Also, by incorporating artificial intelligence (AI), brands can leverage machine learning and get more predictive analytics.
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