Consumer textile waste may be the larger problem, but the pre-consumer supply chain has its own wasteful practices built in to the way garments are designed and produced.
amille Diane Tagle spent the first decade of her career designing for brands across the fashion spectrum, from the highest luxury to mass market. The amount of waste her operations alone generated was enough to make her question her career choice.
“I loved designing. Designing was fun, but I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I was adding to the problem,” Tagle, now cofounder of nonprofit fashion waste management organization Fabscrap, told Supply Chain Dive from inside the Fabscrap Shop — a store she and former New York City sanitation worker Jessica Schreiber opened last month in Chelsea. The shop is the result of three years of work building a secondary market for the waste generated by fashion design offices across Manhattan's five boroughs.
A 2017 white paper from Reverse Resources estimated one-quarter of fashion manufacturers’ purchased materials are wasted every year. Furthermore, the authors conclude this type of waste is “systematically underreported.”
To get a sense of the real size of the problem, Reverse Resources conducted more than 100 interviews at all levels of the supply chain and in seven factories in China and Bangladesh. At least 25% of purchased materials went to waste, with some factories wasting nearly half of the materials brought in.
Waste is a constant presence at all levels of the fashion industry — from design to production to delivery to consumption. In design and production, which are within the purview of fashion companies’ operations, fabric, trim and other materials necessary to design and finish garments are discarded at a level that would seem untenable for other industries.
Pre-consumer textile waste pales in comparison to the waste that comes after clothes are sold. Still, the raw materials waste that never reaches consumers takes on a different hue since the immense raw yardage discarded or incinerated is, for the most part, perfectly useable — it’s just in the wrong place or the wrong specifications to productively reenter the chain.
A designer dilemma 设计师的困境
A common recommendation from supply chain analysts, and a common inclusion in sustainability commitments published by brands, is designer retraining as a method of reducing waste. But according to Tagle, minimum orders from suppliers, plus the pace of work at most design shops, produce a strong counterargument to that recommendation.
“The demands on designers and the timeline that they’re forced to work within doesn’t leave that much leeway. Unless you actually truly care about making that change, it’s very easy to put blinders on and just go to the next collection,” said Tagle.
Designers, Tagle explained, are somewhat at the mercy of fabric mill minimum orders in the design process. Fabric samples (running 6’ x 6’ or 12’ by 12’) are enough to make choices, but to create full-sized sample garments, designers need more fabric and minimums often run from 10 to 50 yards. Tagle said to cut one sample or even a few duplicates likely requires no more than 10 yards. So if a style does not go into production, most of the time the rest of the fabric is simply waste.
Making use of that waste has to be engrained in the culture of a design office to change behavior, explained Sarah Willersdorf, partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group. Incentives and rewards built into the company culture and compensation system may help in turning good intentions into actual process changes. “Having the right targets and those targets integrated into how people are compensated and how they’re rewarded is also a big factor,” she told Supply Chain Dive.
Seeking a mature aftermarket 寻求成熟的售后市场
A massive part of the problem that leads fabric and trim to the landfill or the incinerator, is the lack of a mature, professional secondary market for these materials. Waste streams in other industries have such markets. For example, most supply chains generate used cardboard, which can be a lucrative market in parts of the world where processing infrastructure exists. Spent barley from beer-making does not go to the landfill; it is sold on a secondary market for animal feed and, more recently, human consumption.
Wasteful operations should never be justified by the value placed on certain waste products, but a healthy secondary market is essential to incentivize responsible management of these materials.
Existing aftermarkets for unfinished textiles, said Willersdorf, are not “professionalized,” and, according to Reverse Resources, incentivize inaccurate reporting of wastage up the chain from factory to brand.
In the major garment-producing countries, informal and convoluted aftermarkets, where textiles change hands many times, make tracking waste extremely difficult and inaccurate, drive up the price of these goods and keep the textiles from being used in the most productive way while devaluing transparent reselling practices, the white paper explained.
In other words, there is a massive mismatch between the size of the wastage and the opportunities to redirect it productively. But there are a few organizations working to develop such markets with models targeting fashion