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Tackling the Impact of Fast Fashion to the Supply Chain Head-On

Tackling the Impact of Fast Fashion to the Supply Chain Head-On

  • Joe Farrell

Consumers are increasingly expecting fast, affordable and on-trend, seasonal apparel at the click of a button – putting increased pressure on online retailers to deliver in ever-shortening time frames. This ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon continues to cause a significant shift within the fashion industry.

With the rise of social commerce, it has never been easier for consumers to obtain the latest celebrity or catwalk styles. A survey reported in The Standard, found the average consumer is buying twice as many clothes each year compared to just a decade ago. This upward trend not only indicates that consumers are buying fashion items more often, but that they are also discarding clothing just as quickly.

With more consumers than ever adopting a ‘throw-away’ fashion mentality, online brands have no choice but to keep up with a surge of orders within the delivery chain. This puts increased pressure on retailers to keep up with these increasing demands whilst being environmentally conscious. So, what are the key considerations for brands looking to strike the right balance?

1. Packaging sustainability:

Fast and throw-away fashion trends are causing a rise in the number of packages being delivered and returned. Retailers must therefore consider the potential impact that this has on the environment. Sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging should subsequently be a top eCommerce initiative. Two important ways to ensure packaging is as responsible are:

  • New packaging solutions such as air-tight flexible packaging can reduce the retailers environmental by eliminates the need for an outer box. Solutions such as these have seen waste reductions of 80% or more, whilst reducing storage space requirements at the distribution centre by 90%. Right size packaging is another effective solution – by reducing air and void fill, retailers can vastly reduce waste whilst minimizing shipping costs, creating a much sturdier packaging that greatly reduces damaged returns.
  • Distributed packaging models can also improve sustainability within the delivery process by eliminating a number of packaging steps in the supply chain. The raw product is sent directly from the manufacturer in bulk to the fulfillment centre, and then repackaged into its inner carton before being put away. This allows brands to reduce waste, but also save money from the initial shipping to the fulfillment centre, ensuring the product arrives with the customer in the best condition possible.

2. Delivering at speed:

With as many as six in ten (64%) online shoppers saying they would stop using an online retailer after a maximum of three bad experiences – it is imperative retailers ensure that orders are processed quickly, correctly and delivered on time. Here are two considerations for delivering at speed:

  • In order to meet basic consumer expectations, retailers must ensure products reach customers within a two-day delivery cycle. But this delivery window will continue to narrow as the fast fashion trend continues to grow – leaving no room for error. To compete in today’s increasingly fast-paced and ‘disposable’ fashion retail landscape, the entire fulfillment process must therefore work like clockwork.
  • Cloud-based order fulfillment picking solutions can also add value to quick delivery. Flexible order picking solutions can be easily integrated within existing systems and can help increase distribution efficiency, by not only speeding up the picking process, but increasing picking accuracy.

3. Meeting customer demands:

Online retailers which adopt flexible and automated technologies across the supply chain – from the initial order, to picking, packing and shipping – will be best placed to keep up with growing customer demands. Those who don’t risk become ‘disposable’ themselves. Two key considerations for coping with the pressure are:

  • More man-hours are required to process an increase in orders, and this can put extra pressure on the workforce. For brands that have limited facilities and staffing, partnering with distribution providers is a cost-efficient way of keeping up with the latest customer delivery expectations in a flexible way. For example, these retailers can quickly scale up at peak or promotional periods without the additional long-term burden of increasing in-house capacity.
  • Alternatively, the use of robotics and automation to cover routine and repetitive tasks is becoming increasingly popular and effective. These robotic processes have the potential to go beyond picking and packaging within a warehouse – they can handle and simplify returns processing and even automate cycle counting for inventory accuracy.
    With a poll revealing earlier this year that Britons would spend £2.7bn on more than 50m summer outfits that would be worn just once, it’s clear that retailers cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand and hope that ‘fast fashion’ goes away. By carefully considering packaging sustainability, delivery speeds and supply chain capacity however, brands can tackle the impact of fast fashion head-on and keep up with consumer expectations.

Joe Farrell

As former Vice President of International Operations, Joe managed PFS' locations across the UK and Europe. Joe was with PFS since its inception, retiring after 35 years of hard work and playing a major role in driving the success and growth of our business internationally. Joe retired in 2023 and is enjoying spending time with his children and grandchildren.

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