The analysis conducted in this series demonstrates the changing nature of the relationship between the fashion industry and the environment, a transformation reflected in the shifting political ecology landscape. Though a little slow to react, fashion has started to make tentative steps towards sustainability. It will be a very long time before any supply chain is perfect but the more positive stories that can be told about improvements in this area, the more excited, involved and forgiving customers and shareholders will be.
“Each part of a living system has its own self-interest, but also works within the interest of the larger whole that contains it. In a mature system, every level expresses its self-interest, so that negotiations are constantly happening towards co-operation.” Elisabet Sahtouris (Touber, 2006)
The myriad of issues that fashion companies must contend with when trying to improve means that there is no one way of managing a shift in paradigm. It is an iterative process; one that requires companies to work together to establish industry standards and share tools to move the industry forward. True fast fashion companies such as Topshop, New Look and Primark, where prices are extremely low, will find it hard to flourish as the prices of raw materials rises. The lack of government action in curbing the conduct of these companies is also a factor. Legislation if well designed can actually lead to innovation, job creation and the development of a “green economy” (Porter & Linde, 1995).
Regarding the hypothesis, the paper demonstrates that a journey has started for the industry. This change in the fashion industry closely reflects the changes that occurred in the food industry over the last 25 years – a change that is still occurring as can be see with the growth of the organic food industry, increasing interest of locally sourced food and the burgeoning slow food movement. Supermarkets are now voluntarily removing trans-fats, salt, and actively sourcing produce more responsibly due to customer demand. Fashion is moving in the same direction so in companies where CSR strategies are integrated faster, competitive advantage can be gained. When conducted in the right way, the strategies can open new areas of business, can reinvigorate employees and most importantly can help a company better look after the resources that help it to be profitable as it has done with the food industry (Gond, Akremi, & Jacques Igalens, 2010). These strategies can also make a difference throughout the supply chain, from paying living wages to factories being accountable for the environmental problems they create. More than that, it’s about actively seeking to make a positive impact on the world, to re-establish the notion of quality – the quality of our lives, of what we buy and consume the quality of our as well as the quality of the conditions and lives of those working, for our benefit, thousands of miles away (Benedikt & Oden, 2011).
Modern technology has enabled ordinary citizens to gain insight to the supply chain and their demands are changing accordingly. The same technology allows companies to communicate better and act in a more transparent manner with the use of RFID or QR codes. Just as you would not go to war today on horseback with sabre in hand, neither is it prudent for a company to believe that its only raison d’être is to maximize shareholder value – people expect more!
Fashion has a unique place in industry as it creates and follows trends almost purely from an emotive and aesthetic point of view. Fashion can be political, rebellious and at times scandalous but it is also an industry, one sensitive to resource prices but also with the ability to innovate and reinvent itself. To remain competitive today, fashion companies need to be aware of their limitations – economic, resource or otherwise – using these as a launch pad for innovation, reputation enhancement and better long term financial performance.