Apparel Waste

50 million tons of apparel waste are discarded annually.

Whose problem is this to solve?

I am writing about this question for the fashion industry from the perspective on an independent consultant and writer for this blog, not from the perspective of a brand, a garment factory, or a fabric mill. 

It seems like the players are looking at each other to solve this problem.  Brands look to factories and suppliers to address the issue of waste, but those vendors can only address it with general green solutions: recycled fabric, water savings, energy savings, and the use of biodegreadable raw materials.

These actions address the issues of carbon, water, and energy and their efforts toward cleaner processes can only be a positive thing for the environment.   Some of it addresses the issue of how to dispose of waste responsibly.  But the doesn’t address the issue of waste creation.

Apparel industry waste is not entirely due to manufacturing and sourcing processes.  Brands are responsible for placing orders, and they have been ordering too much.  There’s no doubt that in the global apparel world, supply far exceeds demand.  Why do brands do this, and what prevents them from ordering less?

Brands that heavily rely on wholesale manufacture apparel to fill orders placed by stores.  Brick and mortar and department stores floors change their products at least once a month to remain compelling to their regular customers.  They also need to have in stock every style, color and size that their customers may potentially want.  As a result, there is way too much product at the stores.  Unsold products get heavily discounted, and sometimes discarded.

During COVID19 store closures, this cycle came to a halt. For months, department stores were sitting on product, not ordering more. Many stores closed down. And when new orders finally started coming in, they were cautious and conservative.

If this trend continues, we may end up with less apparel waste.  The problem has not been solved, but our industry is now in a position to have better control over it.  Let’s own it.