5 common problems faced by the fashion industry (with solutions!)

Whether you’re a fashion designer or just a lover of all things clothes, there’s no denying that the industry can be a tough one to navigate. Maybe you’re looking to start your own clothing line, or maybe you want to learn more about how the industry works so you can make informed choices as a consumer. Either way, knowing what kind of challenges designers face is a great place to start.

The fashion industry has made a lot of headlines for all the wrong reasons in the last few years – from sweatshops in developing countries to zero-hour contracts. The industry has faced a lot of criticism recently, but this feedback can also work as a catalyst for brands to improve their practices and stay competitive.

While all businesses experience growing pains, the fashion sector may be more susceptible to certain pitfalls in a few key areas. Here is a rundown of the five most common problems that designers and manufacturers face in this highly competitive industry each day.

1. Environmental & social impact of fashion

The fashion industry is second only to the oil industry in terms of how much pollution it contributes. And when you look at the whole supply chain—from raw materials extraction to manufacturing to distribution, as well as disposal—it accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

Fashion is also one of the worst when it comes to human rights abuses and exploiting workers, especially women and children. According to the International Labor Organization, there are ~40 million garment workers worldwide, and 80% of them are women between the ages of 18 and 35. Many of them make less than minimum wage and work insanely long hours.

Further, the advent of fast fashion has made it easier to get excited about clothing and accessories that are trendy, but also cheap. But while the clothes themselves might be inexpensive, the environmental and social cost of fast fashion is anything but.

SOLUTION? A little good news amid all the gloom. Technology is paving the way to a more sustainable future for fashion! Here’s few ways to get started:

  • Use 3D printing to test samples for fit, design and quality before manufacturing physical pieces to cut down on waste.
  • Use alternative sustainable materials that are less harmful for the environment.
  • Make use of analytics and production intelligence to forecast demand and avoid overproduction.
  • Increase transparence into your supply chain by using production software such as PLM and ERP to increase accountability.
  • Encourage customers to share or rent clothing instead of buying and discarding after one or two uses.
  • Collect data about your supply chain and use it to figure out where there’s room for improvement and growth.

Fortunately, there are a number of innovative new technologies that can help solve some of these issues around transparency and factory safety while also reducing the environmental impact of fashion manufacturing.

2. Copycats & product counterfeiting

Product counterfeiting is one of the biggest challenges facing fashion brands today when looking for growth and expansion opportunities in international markets. The counterfeit apparel industry is estimated at $450 billion globally each year and it’s predicted to hit $1 trillion by 2015.

Big fashion brands have a challenge. It’s hard to sell their products when everyone wears knock-offs! Over $450 billion was spent on fake clothing last year, and that’s predicted to skyrocket over the next few years. Meanwhile, smaller brands (especially those selling online) are at risk because they may not have the resources to stop it before it hits their markets. And once a fake product has gone into circulation, it can be very difficult for people to tell whether it’s real or not.

Illicit counterfeiters threaten the economy, and often have customers unknowingly consuming fake products that are unsafe.

SOLUTION? Fighting counterfeiters is a difficult and uphill battle but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Here’s a couple ways to solve this issue:

  • The first is to prevent people from counterfeiting your products in the first place. This is tough but you can take some steps to make it harder for counterfeiters to replicate your brand’s products through design features that are unique or difficult to copy (like watermarks or holograms).
  • You can also trademark important words or designs, which makes it easier to pursue legal action against those who try to copy you. And you can protect your brands by working with trusted manufacturers who won’t share your design with others or fudge on your materials requirements and specs.
  • You can also stop people from buying counterfeit products by encouraging them to buy authentic items—ideally from you! And by “encourage,” I mean through education, incentives, and other tactics designed to get customers excited about buying your products directly.
  • Use technology to your advantage! There are plenty of software programs that can help you detect when someone is using your images or content without permission. Try to report them as soon as you spot them.

Ultimately, don’t wait until someone has ripped off your product before you protect it. Register your designs, trademarks, and patents as soon as they’re ready—so that when they go on sale, they’re protected.

3. Inefficient supply chain & distribution

The fashion supply chain is particularly complex, involving a fragmented network of manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers. A company first has to find the right fabrics and materials for the specific pieces they want to create; then it must identify a manufacturer who can turn those fabrics into garments at a competitive cost. Once manufactured, these garments have to be distributed across the globe for sale in different markets. It can include numerous subcontractors, each with their own specialty, which are typically spread across the globe.

This process involves a lot of capital up front—not only does the brand have to invest funds into making its product line, but it must also stock inventory before it knows how well those items will sell. The lack of visibility into this complex network creates a lot of inefficiencies, and ultimately results in products being delivered to the market late.

SOLUTION? The answer lies in the technology they use to manage their supply chains. Most of these companies use software programs like PLM and ERP which allows them to automate their processes and reduce human labor. This has allowed them to cut costs while increasing productivity.

These tools have grown in sophistication in recent years and offer designers, manufacturers and distributors a wide range of features designed to help them collaborate with their partners from beginning to end.

  • By using a knowledge management platform like WFX PLM, you can centralize all data on suppliers, components, materials, and factories.
  • With all information organized in one place, you can quickly identify the weak links in your supply chain and take action to strengthen them.
  • You can also track important information like delivery dates, order quantities, shipping costs and more to ensure that everything stays on schedule and nothing slips through the cracks.
  • All of this will help you manage inventory more efficiently—which means less waste and higher profits for your business!

As it stands, most companies are stuck in the past, relying on outdated methods of supply chain and distribution that waste time and money. But these methods can be solved with the right technology tools.

4. Adaption to new consumer demands

In fashion, diversity and inclusivity are crucial. When consumers can see themselves reflected in a fashion brand, they’re more likely to identify with that brand and feel like it’s an extension of their own self-expression.

The rise of fast fashion and accessible e-commerce platforms has empowered consumers to demand more from their clothing: they want to be able to choose the exact color and fit of the pieces they buy.

Consumer centricity and customization is mandatory for today’s fashion brands. The fashion industry is waking up to this reality, but many brands are still scratching their heads about how exactly to customize their business models so that they can meet their customers’ demands for diversity and inclusion—and boost their bottom line in the process.

SOLUTION? The answer lies in customization. Here are a few approaches you can try:

  • Mass Customization: This approach begins with a range of options that consumers can choose from, which allows for some level of personalization. Like options for color or design features.
  • Totally Personalized: This approach allows for total customization, where consumers can control every aspect of the product.
  • Co-creation: This means allowing consumers to participate in the design process and co-create. Take the example of Nike ID, where customers get to put their own creative flair into product designs, with do-it-yourself videos teaching people how to hack and customize their own fashion items.
  • Virtual fitting: Getting the sizing right is an underrated personalization feature. Reduce returns and let customers find their best fit with 3D virtual fitting rooms and try-on technologies.

Many upstart fashion companies are able to predict and produce high demand products faster than ever by using AI to manage data about trends and consumer preferences. Don’t get left behind!

5. All buzz & no business from fashion shows

There was a time when fashion weeks, trade shows, and runway shows were the pinnacle of prestige and business in the fashion industry. Brands often truly made their names by presenting at these events, catching the eye of a key magazine editor or buyer who would propel their brand to the next level.

But nowadays, fashion weeks and trade shows might be past their prime. Especially as consumers shift more of their shopping behaviors online and social media takes over as the primary source of brand and product discovery, fashion shows are going down in value.

A show at fashion weeks, from New York to Paris, can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 per season. To top that, organizing a runway or trade show is incredibly time consuming. And when all of this investment doesn’t get you the assured business returns that these events are famous for, you know it’s time for a rethink!

SOLUTION? The answer is simple: it’s time to take your business online. There are plenty of ways for brands, designers and suppliers to find business and buyers without these trade events.

  • Go direct-to-consumer: there’s never been a better time to be own your sales channel and sell directly to your consumers via ecommerce or social media shops.
  • Explore the Metaverse: The Metaverse is the hottest new playground for people on the Internet. Let your shoppers immerse themselves in your brand’s universe by creating virtual spaces on the Metaverse.
  • Build a virtual showroom: While the Metaverse helps brands connect with end customers, a digital or virtual showroom is a platform for fashion businesses (like brands or suppliers) to sell and engage with each other.

The number of fashion shows and trade shows has dropped significantly in the last decade, but the number of fashion brands has increased at nearly the same rate. This means that while they’re still an integral part of the industry’s identity, they have much less impact on business than they once did.

Summary

There you have it. The fashion industry has a lot of problems facing it–problems that are largely of its own making. But there’s also a lot of room for improvement, and brands that focus on solving these problems will be the most successful in this industry.

We hope this post has helped you understand how to successfully navigate the murky waters of fashion. Remember, if you can solve the problems faced by your customers, you will be well on your way to success.

If you’re interested in staying updated on all these issues, or want some help implementing solutions for your business, feel free to sign up for a free consultation with one of our experts!

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About the author

Vishakha Somani

Vishakha Somani

Vishakha Somani is a Fashion Tech Analyst and Communications expert at WFX - World Fashion Exchange. She is a Fashion graduate from Polimi Italy, and has been actively reporting on the fashion industry since 2016. She's an expert in analyzing trends, market shifts and new technologies. Her work spans forecasting and research on the global luxury and retail supply chain, emerging markets, and the circular economy.

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