The context and challenges of sustainability in the AFA industry.

Sustainability in the AFA Industry - a FIND AI Blog Post

The context and challenges of sustainability in the AFA industry.

Ayushi Raj
Posted by Ayushi Raj
September 16th, 2020 in Sustainability

The apparel retail industry continues to undergo a number of major transformations. One such change is the rise of fast fashion. This business model comes with a heavy cost as firms compromise on sustainability by offering lower quality, inexpensive high turn products that consumers wear for a short time only to buy another new garment. Today fashion companies are looking for ways to develop a competitive advantage with innovative and sustainable business ideas to avoid actions that harm the planet. 

The AFA (Apparel-Footwear-Accessory) business is a resource-intensive industry where opportunities to reduce environmental impacts and to innovate business models abound. Most of us have been part of fast fashion without understanding the long-term impact it could have. However, consumers who did not have much knowledge initially, are now more likely to base their purchase decision based on a company’s position on sustainability (Clutch.co). They have become more cognizant of their purchases and purchase patterns. Fashion retailers have realised that sustainability is a trend that is here to stay for long and that future consumers are going to be very demanding. Retailers are increasingly recognizing sustainability as a significant opportunity for their businesses to grow, compete and innovate. Therefore, more companies are working to integrate specific, comprehensive sustainability practices into their business strategies for internal operations & external relationships.

Due to the increasing demand for sustainable products and transparent supply chains the decision of fashion retailers to “go green” can arise for many reasons. Trends such as circular economy and sustainable business are emerging, but there is still a gap between what needs to be done and what is put into practice. Currently there are a lot of gaps or challenges for the industry on their path to sustainability such as cost of sustainable raw material versus non-sustainable raw materials, consumer apathy, company’s internal planning and strategy and issues in supply chain to name a few. Further, another challenge is that although sustainability has become an omnipresent word in recent years, there is no standard in terms of what identifies as a sustainable product or process. Since there is no enforcement of sustainability in a holistic manner, it is up to each retailer to market their own initiatives. With no one pointing out any unwarranted marketing claims, customers can become skeptical and potentially be left “holding the bag”. Despite the existence of several firms that can grade firm’s sustainability, there are few, if any, doing it holistically. 

“Sustainability should not be treated as competitive advantage, rather it should be a value system for the organizations that is supported all across the industry”

Therefore, to better understand which gaps actually exist and how important they are or aren’t, we reached out to Sustainability leaders. We felt it is important to conduct a survey to understand the urgency and need for a standard sustainability metrics or scoring system which can be trusted and used not just by retailers, but also the policy makers and most definitely consumers. A score that can be trusted by consumers and which can be used throughout the industry. By working together and bringing the best of our collective capabilities and sharing information we can move forward very strongly in the right direction.

The survey questions are based around sustainability in retail and how the companies are trying to incorporate sustainability in their business process and the challenges they face while doing so. The ultimate goal is to understand if there is a need for a standard industry wide sustainability score and whether industry leaders would like to come together to achieve that. I will be sharing more details and results of the survey in the next article.

This research was done in collaboration with FIND AI, a predictive AI and machine Learning company for retail planning.​ I would like to thank the entire team of FIND AI for supporting my research project. 

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