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Brands and Vendors Must Break Down the Walls of Communication to Forge a More Ethical, Agile and Profitable Fashion Supply Chain

by Stuart McCready-Stocks

June 8, 2023 Method Time Cost Optimisation, Supply Chain Solutions, Sustainability
4 Mins Read

A fully connected, cloud-based supply chain will ultimately be the only way forward to eradicate the outdated and unsustainable working practices that have plagued the fashion industry for so long.


Like other industries, the fashion industry has had a lot to contend with over the past few years with the impact of Covid, political instability and rising material costs and energy prices. Unlike other industries, however, the fashion industry is also facing the huge challenge of mitigating a seriously bad rap for unsustainable practices, poor working conditions and simply trying to paper over these cracks with ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’  greenwashing messages.

Today’s demanding consumer is certainly more switched on about having the wool pulled over their eyes and both brands and manufacturers are starting to wake up to the realisation that they really are going to have to do something to create a more sustainable and ethical supply chain if they want to continue to truly put the consumer at the heart of everything.

It has also become increasingly more evident that the fashion supply chain is not going to be able to easily address these challenges constructively without increased collaboration, transparency and communication between fashion brands and their manufacturing partners.

Similar to many other industries, the goals, responsibilities, culture and working practices between brands and vendors are often very different. However, given the huge necessity to mend its reputation quickly in terms of its sustainability and CSR credentials, there is no other industry that would benefit from better information sharing, more streamlined communication channels and increased industry standardisation, than the global fashion supply chain.


Speaking the same language breaks down barriers

It is painfully apparent that communication breakdowns between brands and vendors continue to present a significant challenge to the fashion industry today. Inaccurate or incomplete information can lead to errors in sourcing, costing and production resulting in delays, cost overruns and unsatisfied customers. Brands also increasingly need to know if their vendors are using sustainable materials, are conducting fair working practices and can deliver products on time and on budget.

The industry has certainly experienced a radical overhaul in recent years thanks to a fast-paced global agenda to digitise manufacturing processes as quickly as possible.  Many fashion manufacturers have now fully understood that in order to survive negative, unforeseen world events, they must digitise their processes as much as possible to mitigate risk and remain agile, sustainable and profitable. Although fashion manufacturers are all at different stages of their digital transformation journey, brands have, nonetheless, been quick to reward those more technologically advanced vendors with their business.

Unfortunately, apart from a small handful of tech-savvy global brand leaders, most fashion brands continue to remain digitally siloed from their vendors which makes it difficult to not only ensure they are sourcing responsibly, but also able to realistically assess a whole range of vendor differentiators in the bid to secure the right product, at the right price and in the right time frame. Vendor A might offer the most competitive price, for example, Vendor B-  the fastest delivery time; but if Vendor C provides better sustainable and ethical working practices for not much price and delivery difference than the other two, then maybe, for this particular product, this could be the right partner for them.

Equally, if more manufactures are open to becoming more transparent about their cost to make prices, manufacturing processes and sustainability and CSR policies, they could find themselves very much in demand with brands quick to bump them up their preferred supplier lists.

In a twist to the traditional brand/supplier power dynamics, a few manufacturers that have already digitally standardised their method, time and cost processes to benefit from optimised capacity planning, more effective line balancing, increased productivity and enhanced on-time delivery performance in the bid to give brands a fair and just price,  are increasingly refusing to work with particular brands that are not willing to factor in fair wages or sustainable working practices into cost negotiations from the start.

If both brands and vendors introduced a ubiquitous, standardised language for establishing accurate benchmarks around production methods, production times and costs, then both concerns would significantly benefit from a more transparent, connected and profitable way of doing business, whilst also ensuring – as well as evidencing – sustainability and fair working practices that are now a must have for both regulators and more informed consumers alike.


Wake up and smell the cumulonimbus!

The use of a common language and benchmarking standards would not only support accurate manufacturing cost prediction, fact-based negotiations and a more efficient garment manufacturing process across the whole global fashion supply chain, it would also help brands and vendors to collaborate more effectively to ensure a meaningful, long term strategy can be found to save the planet and protect communities.

To facilitate this effectively across the whole value chain however, there is little doubt that a cloud-first strategy needs to be prioritised so that brands and vendors can share data, communicate in real-time and work seamlessly on projects together – from any place, anytime and anywhere.

A cloud-based solution not only improves the accuracy and speed of costing/sourcing processes, it also improves communication and transparency between brands and vendors, reduces costs, enhances agility and enables both partners to make informed decisions – in real-time – together.

Being able to take advantage of the most current, cutting-edge technological advancements without having to invest in expensive infrastructure, or wait patiently for costly upgrades, also gives stakeholders a competitive edge and enables smaller vendors to play ball.

A fully connected, cloud-based supply chain will ultimately be the only way forward to eradicate the outdated and unsustainable working practices that have plagued the fashion industry for so long. I suspect the costing/sourcing component in a fashion product’s lifecycle will undoubtedly prove to play a crucial role in delivering a more transparent, traceable and sustainable industry. Indeed, if more technology companies could also collaborate more proactively alongside a more synergised brand and vendor coalition, then this will undoubtedly ensure that no-one is left out of the game. As Helen Keller nicely puts it –  “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

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About the Author
Stuart McCready-Stocks
Global Commercial Director - Brands, Coats Digital

Stuart is the Global Commercial Director of Brands at Coats Digital – a global technology business transforming the fashion supply chain. He leads partnerships with brands for digital transformation and advocates for the much-needed sustainability and transparency factors intertwined across the fashion supply chain.

TAGS: fashion supply chain, GSDCost, Sustainability

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