A Mindset Shift In China For The Future Of Fashion And Its Supply Chain Shock

Yanie Durocher; founder of POMPOM Creative focused on lifestyle brands for China’s marketplace for PR/Social/Content. IG @YanieYanson

After Covid-19, we’re coming to a final setback in how we’re thinking of producing, using and disposing of apparel. Fashion is one of the key contributors to global pollution and waste, where it has now come to a dead end. According to Business Insider, “the fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined,” and “in total, up to 85% of textiles go into landfills each year. That’s enough to fill the Sydney harbor annually.”

And China, where our agency and most of our clients are located, is currently one of the main areas for textile producers in the world.

Although we’re generally set by trends that define societal cultural standpoints of the moment, we also need to rethink how slow fashion can be deeply inserted within the fashion ecosystem, mostly starting from the production itself — and not just recyclable materials.

Usually, when you work with traditional textile factories, there are several key steps in order to make the production possible according to production requirements — from large minimum quantity orders to the labor-intensive steps eventually leading to waste.

I’ve always thought about how just-in-time (JIT) inventory could be created to replace massive orders. What this means is that products are made based on demand to create sales. Currently, the general retail market does the opposite, where brands create a general forecast of quantities needed, and what doesn’t sell gets burnt or thrown away after discounted periods. Although the possibility of JIT still seems quite far on a larger scale, Covid-19 has created a catalyst for digital activation, awareness and the need for sustainability.

So what is the lead cause of this problem? What do consumers actually want and need? And how can brands and marketers bring these issues to light? I think these are some questions the industry, the government and consumers still haven’t faced and need to ask on a deeper level.

Living in Shanghai for over nine years and doing public relations and social media for fashion and lifestyle brands in China, my agency has a strong responsibility to help this sustainability wave land in the consciousness of the masses and not just leave it to a niche audience.

Although implementing this on a global level is harder said than done, I believe we are on our way to a more sustainable direction for the future. E-PR agencies (agencies that focus on a mix of social media and traditional public relations) should increase B2B marketing in order to amplify this output on a greater level, then create diverse touchpoints and channels for both B2B and B2C.

As a starting point, what we’ve decided to do is focus on brands that insert authentic sustainability within their brand and values. This is really important. We also create a more B2B2C focus for them in China, as the topic of sustainability is still less evolved than in western markets (but growing rapidly). An example of this would be matching a specifically targeted community toward a crossover with a manufacturer and a brand, creating a three-way focus (B2B2C) in order to increase the word of mouth and credibility of the story narrative. This can be done through events such as Fashion Week, governmental institutions, and brands and manufacturers working together during a large media conference to raise this issue and create a workshop/action plan together creating future initiatives.

Creating a sustainable community in parallel to market entry both through a CRM-focused strategy and community building is what our partner and planning director has created for some big brands in the China market. Reaching out to the grassroots community and building up a sustainable lifestyle awareness through strong earned media and stories is fundamental for a fruitful campaign kickoff in China.

There are some fashion brands in this market already making changes — from small designers aiming to create more eco-friendly products to larger initiatives, like Santoni’s Materials Experience Center (MEC), which, through its seamless technology, rethinks and reengineers the way materials and fabrics are created, so there’s less waste involved.

We’re also seeing this movement on a more macro-level, where China has been implementing sustainable development zones through its BRI program (Belt and Road initiative), using different zones as A/B testing areas. For example, according to the World Economic Forum, as China’s tech hub, Shenzhen will test technologies such as “sewage treatment, waste utilization, ecological restoration, and artificial intelligence to solve issues from resource management to pollution.”

This being said, I do foresee a positive future for our current heavy-waste fashion industry. However, a mindset shift needs to be considered on all levels, starting with brands, consumers, production and how we treat our raw materials/supplies.

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