From farm to fashion: What fashion brands can learn from the food industry

A fashionable lady in large sunglasses walking with hands full of shopping bags | Farm to fashion

Behind all the glitz and glamor, 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 with 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)? It would need to disclose this information using a unique product identifier, such as a QR code.

Clearly the industry is evolving fast, with initiatives like Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) emphasizing this growth: “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?

Farm to fashion: when establishing 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’ll have the ability to tell the brand story and offer a better product experience by providing greater transparency on product provenance to your end consumers. You will also be compliant with statutory and regulatory requirements around worker rights, chemicals, organics, etc. After all this, you are now ready to embark on new initiatives, such as product passports, 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.