‘Collaboration, in the context of the supply chain, is still relatively embryonic, emerging in the mid-1990s in the most recognisable form of collaborative planning forecasting and replenishment.’ (Barratt, 2004: 30). In relation to the clothing industry, there are two main forms of collaboration that academics and industry practitioners primarily engage with, namely vertical (including customers and suppliers) and horizontal (including, predominantly, direct and non-direct competitors), with the latter being the focus of this analysis. MacCarthy and Jayarathne (2012: 6) highlight ‘the combination of short product life cycles, high levels of impulse buying, fashion influences in all product categories, increases in product variety and continual in-season refreshment’ as placing significant pressure on suppliers in developing nations. These trends are also the key drivers of unsustainability within the global fashion supply chain. Moreover, they are also the reasons why stakeholder, shareholder and media pressure is increasing on global fashion brands and on major retailers to collaborate to address the resultant environmental issues.
MacCarthy and Jayarathne (2012: 3) highlight that the clothing supply networks are typically buyer driven with major retailers and clothing brands being the most powerful entities irrespective of their degree of ownership over the rest of the network. This reflects the industry trend whereby it is these organisations that are leading the collaborative sustainability initiatives for example, Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Programme, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, CH2M HILL and through new technology such as the online self-assessment standard and benchmarking tool, Higg Index (Ivanova and Wollmuth, 2014). This is, in part, because it is these organisations which are held more to account by consumers and the media in comparison with smaller raw materials and supply chain manufacturers in developing countries.
The clothing and fashion industry is the second largest cause of environmental pollution worldwide, second only to oil (Sweeny, 2015). Therefore, industry-wide collaboration is essential for organisations to work to solve, or mitigate, complex environmental supply chain challenges which cannot be adequately solved working in isolation. Sustainability industry experts Jessica Wollmuth and Velislava Ivanova (2014) identifies six ways in which industry collaboration can improve sustainability, by, for example, not following a prescribed collaboration template and embracing good governance through to being open to informal collaboration. From a marketing perspective, the most useful recommendations from Wollmuth and Ivanova (2014) are to take advantage of external pressure and to recommit to your organisational purpose.
For those responsible for supply chain management for one of the clothing brands or retailers who were supplied by the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh (for example, Benetton, Matalan, Primark or Walmart) where one thousand workers died due to a multitude of unlawful building conditions, a swift strategic review of your supply chain auditing procedures is, obviously, immediately required. It should not take a human or environmental disaster of this magnitude to trigger a focus (or refocus) on sustainability practices. However, from a marketing perspective the external media and consumer pressure this causes should provide the impetus for internal marketing campaigns to drive buy-in to sustainability initiatives across functions globally in addition to potentially joining industry sustainability collaborative groups and working with consumers to re-establish trust with the brand. Closely aligned with using external pressure to drive internal action is ensuring the organisational culture recommits to its organisational purpose to support the brand image if this is closely aligned with sustainability values. Kavartis and Hatch (2013: 82-83) view organisational culture as internal and brand image as external; therefore, brand identity is the bridge between the two. If, for example, an organisations brand image has been damaged through a sustainability disaster, it is partly the role of the brand organisational leader to facilitate, through internal marketing, public relations and sustainability initiatives, the necessary employee engagement to positively renew and influence brand identity and, therefore promote a more positive brand image. For example, this might be evidenced through staff engaging in their own sustainability initiatives, joining industry sustainability collaborations or engaging in internal cultural change programmes.
Working within industry sustainability collaborations does not mean that the significant challenges faced by the fashion industry will be repaired in the short-term; however, from a human resource perspective it provides the necessary approach and potential motivation for some employees who work within an industry which, as the evidence has shown, has a significant negative environmental impact on natural resources, ecology and climate, particularly within developing countries. From a marketing perspective, organisations which choose to engage with other competing organisations enable a number of opportunities to develop internal marketing campaigns to influence culture, brand identity and, ultimately, image, in addition to exploring co-branding opportunities and potentially repositioning the brand to focus on sustainability values. MacCarthy and Jayarathne (2012: 20-21) state that appreciating the sustainability agenda of major retailers will help the manufacturers to reposition themselves in the global supply chain. Moreover, there is potential for brands to strengthen their competitive advantage instead of competing solely on price, quality and responsiveness, for example, some clothing retailers have developed a positive sustainability approach and view it as part of their competitive advantage (Palpacuer et al., 2005: 413; Markley and Davis, 2007: 766-767), for example, Marks and Spencer, Patagonia and Esprit.
Barratt, M (2004) Understanding the meaning of collaboration in the supply chain, Supply Chain Management, 9 (1): 30-42.
Ivanova, V. and Wollmuth, J. (2014) 6 steps for a more sustainable supply chain. Green Biz. Available at: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/01/24/6-steps-more-sustainable-supply-chain; accessed 11 January 2017.
Kavaratzis, M. and Hatch, M. J. (2013) The dynamics of place brands: An identity-based approach to place branding theory, Marketing Theory, 13 (1): 69-86.
MacCarthy, B. L. and Jayarathne, P. G. S. A. (2011) Sustainable collaborative supply networks in the international clothing industry: a comparative analysis of two retailers. The Management of Operations, 23 (4) 252 – 268.
Markley, M. J. and Davis, L. (2007) Exploring future competitive advantage through sustainable supply chains. International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, 37 (9): 763-774.
Palpacuer, F. Gibbon, P. Thomsen, L. (2005) New challenges for developing country suppliers in global clothing supply chains: a comparative European perspective, World Development, 33 (3) 409-430.
Sweeny, G. (2015) It’s the second dirtiest thing in the world – and you’re wearing it: Only big oil pollutes more than big textile. Alternet. Available at: http://www.alternet.org/environment/its-second-dirtiest-thing-world-and-youre-wearing-it; accessed 12 January 2017.