The new geography of eco-responsible sourcing

How and to what extent are environmental and eco-responsibility concerns redefining the global mapping of textile sourcing? This was the question addressed by the conference “How does eco-responsible fashion reshape sourcing strategies?” (Wednesday 12 February, 5-6 pm, Fashion Talks Area, Hall 6), a talk presented by Gildas Minvielle, Director of the IFM’s economic observatory and of the Première Vision – IFM (Institut Français de la Mode) chair, which since 2016 has been conducting high-level research into the economy of creative materials for fashion.

Drawing on data collected by the IFM as part of its annual textile-market report, Minvielle began by noting a slowdown and a declining trend in the pace of world globalisation, which has registered a 2% annual growth rate since 2011, compared with 6% in the period 2002-2018, partly due to a shift in import-export balances in the Asian region. While China remains the world’s leading exporter of textiles and finished garments (+9% in turnover linked to garment exports between 2002 and 2018), it is tending to slightly slow down the global growth of its garment exports, to the benefit of its own domestic market and that of neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, to which it continues to supply the bulk of fibres to be transformed.

In Europe, there has been a trend towards stabilising the volume of textile imports since 2015, and diversifying Asian sourcing countries in favour of countries other than China. Thus, Myanmar moved up from 25th to 9th place in the rankings of the 25 largest suppliers between 2010 and 2019, while countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Pakistan also significantly increased their exports. This undoubtedly reflects a desire on the part of European companies to better manage their stocks and unsold goods, with one of every two purchases in France now bought on sale, reflecting falling consumption in the Euro zone from 2007-2008 onwards. Yet it is also indicative of a growing awareness of the environmental impact of textile waste.

An overview of French sourcing aligns with these trends. The value of imports from China has fallen slightly (from 33% in 2014-2015 to 27% in 2019) while the value of imports from the Asian zone has risen (from 23% in 2014 to 33% in 2019). Imports from Mediterranean countries (16% in 2014 vs. 14% in 2019) and European countries (20% in 2014 vs. 17% in 2019) have remained relatively stable.  Buying plans for 2020 seem to confirm and even magnify these trends: 37% of those interviewed said they would like to decrease their imports from China (49% remain unchanged), while 53% said they intended to switch to Vietnam, and 38% to Bangladesh.

Poised on the fine line between financial strategy and ecological concerns, restrained production and the need to optimise logistics naturally favour local suppliers. For example, by 2020, plans to import from Portugal see a significant increase (52% of those interviewed say they intend to import from this country, with 43% remaining unchanged), plans to import from Romania remain unchanged (63%), while Tunisia and Morocco continue to be key suppliers. Similarly, while long-term sourcing, i.e. sourcing from far-off countries, remains predominant (47% in 2019), medium-term sourcing is on the rise (from 31% to 35% between 2018 and 2019) and short-term sourcing emerges in the 2020 buying preferences for a third of those interviewed (35% stating a desire to increase local sourcing, with 65% remaining unchanged). This is a new indication of the need for brands to build their collections as closely as possible to trends, but also of their growing attention to quality and ethical factors such as traceability, a respect for high environmental and societal standards, and the reduction of textile waste (37% of retailers said they want to decrease their volume of imports in 2019, as compared to 10% in 2017).

While an attention to both environmental and societal issues has emerged as a genuine leitmotif for fashion in the coming decade, the various aspects of these two issues are making uneven progress. For example, 98.3% and 65.5% of those surveyed said they were ready to change the geography of their sourcing preferences in connection with, respectively, the problems of child labour and slavery. Yet wage issues (27.6%) and discrimination (22.4%) still struggle to be taken into account. Likewise, the use of chemicals detrimental to workers’ health and the planet is broadly supported by 87.7% of those surveyed as a reason to exclude a supplier, while optimisation of the supply chain (31.6%) and greenhouse gas emissions (19.3%) still lag in terms of capturing producers’ attention.

This same imbalance can be seen in the actions taken by companies to adopt a sustainable and responsible approach. While the traceability of materials (38%) and the use of sustainable, certified and recycled materials (28%) now play a key role in company strategies, 22% of those surveyed stated that they have not yet taken any specific action in this direction. The call for traceability naturally goes hand in hand with an increased pursuit of transparency – now a stated concern for 80% of producers (compared to 65.2% in 2018) – as well as a renewed interest on the part of French producers in relocating to Europe outside of France (37.7% of those interviewed said that they would consider relocating to Europe by 2020).

In short, the green and virtuous path of fashion has been mapped out, but much remains to be done.

Find the other reports of the Première Vision conferences in our programme section.