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As cliché as it may be, it seems that today more than ever, the only thing that is certain in the fashion industry is change. That was the overarching sentiment from the recent Sourcing Journal summit held in New York City, which WRAP had the pleasure of attending. The annual event is a chance to hear from some of the top minds in the fashion and sourcing worlds about where the industry is and where it is going, which interestingly enough, seems to be somewhat of a mystery according to these minds. From a compliance perspective, there were two main takeaways from the event about how apparel executives can be better prepared in an uncertain world.
A Lean, Mean, Sourcing Machine
To quote the great Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin’.” The world of fashion sourcing is currently undergoing a series of unprecedented shifts. The ubiquity of traditional supplier nations like China and Bangladesh is increasingly being replaced with interest, and in some cases enthusiasm, for new regions like Africa and renewing regions like Latin America. Companies that succeed in this future fashion world will be those that are lean, agile, and able to pivot quickly to navigate the ever-changing landscape. In his opening remarks, Sourcing Journal founder Edward Hertzman noted that many American fashion companies have failed to evolve for a 21st century business landscape that increasingly values efficiency over hierarchy and results over red tape. While it is never advisable for businesses to take purely uncalculated risks, Hertzman noted that the future fashion environment will also demand that companies be able to take measured, calculated risks into unknown areas in order to grow and progress. This, interestingly, is an environment to which WRAP is very well suited. Some of you may recall an article we published last year in Specialty Fabrics Review magazine titled “Navigating the seas of social compliance” in which we laid out how WRAP certifications can serve as beacons to compliance professionals navigating unfamiliar regions. WRAP’s global reach can truly be an asset in this brave new world because much like a familiar rest stop on an unfamiliar road, our certifications provide the same level of trust and confidence no matter where in the world that facility may be.
From Compliance to Caring
The other major theme to come out of the is that while compliance and certification are indeed important in the responsible manufacturing arena, these means are not sufficient in and of themselves to achieve the ends that compliance professionals desire. During the summit, Esquel Group CEO John Cheh introduced us to the “5 Cs of Competitiveness” which include consolidation, creativity, conservations, cost containment, and caring. Where’s compliance you may ask? According to Cheh, the concept of compliance as we currently know it is now morphing into caring. Those who work in and follow the apparel industry no doubt know that the calls for higher wages and more rights from garment workers have only grown louder and more numerous in recent years, which is inarguably a step in the right direction, but it also means that the pressure for sourcing professionals to keep their buying practices both compliant and cost-effective is greater than ever. For many companies, this means shifting away from an old model that relied on bouncing from factory to factory chasing the lowest price, to a new one that requires both factory and buyer to commit long-term to each other in order to meet the business goals of both entities. Whether you are a large or small company, WRAP’s Certification Program can be an excellent stepping stone to help begin building these relationships. While our primary activity is indeed audit-driven certifications, we view our certificates as a catalyst for engagement with our various production facilities. Standard audit protocols dictate that a closing meeting take place at the conclusion of each audit to review the findings with the facility, and ours are no different. Furthermore, because no WRAP certificate is valid for more than 2 years (with the vast majority of them being valid for 1 year), you might say that continuous engagement is built into our system, and as long as the facility maintains an effort to remain engaged in the process, we will do the same.
One thing that is certain in business (and in life) is that there will be uncertainty sooner or later, and for the apparel world, that time is definitely now. Thankfully, this is not the first period of uncertainty, nor will it be the last. WRAP can serve as your guiding light while navigating the fog of an uncertain world.