In times of crisis, supply chains are put to the test, revealing weaknesses that may have been overlooked during normal operations. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for knowledge and trust in supply chain relationships to ensure their survival. This is particularly important in the fashion industry, where economic, environmental and social sustainability practices often clash with one another.
To address this issue, the research centre Fashion’s Responsible Supply Chain Hub (FReSCH) is an action-research project that explores the tensions and unintended consequences of sustainability practices in the fashion industry. FReSCH, which the European Commission awarded with the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie award, takes a top-down and bottom-up perspective to investigate how to provide a just transition to a low-carbon circular fashion industry.
One of FReSCH's recent papers, Chrysalis of Crisis: Covid-19 as a Catalyst for Awakening Power and Justice in a Luxury Fashion Supply Chain, showcases a scientific study on the impact of Covid-19 on relationships in a luxury fashion supply chain. The study reveals how actors in a fashion supply chain can cope when crisis hits, providing a roadmap for managing future catastrophic events such as climate change or natural disasters.
“Fashion brands need to realise that they depend on their suppliers’ knowledge and technical skills. The fashion industry characterised by complex and fragmented supply chains cannot survive future crises if it fails to integrate the people working across all these tiers into these conversations,” said Dr. Hakan Karaosman from Cardiff University, who leads the FReSCH project along with Professor Donna Marshall from University College Dublin.
During the Covid-19 crisis, many fashion brands used exploitative practices, leaving their lower-tier suppliers financially exposed and pushing some to bankruptcy. FReSCH's research shows that such self-interested tactics are counterproductive, as exploitation leads to resentment and can ultimately harm the entire supply chain, including consumers.
Many fashion brands have changed their supply chain model from one based on trust and innovation to one based on mistrust and punishment. They are missing the motherlode of innovative ideas that lie with suppliers and their workers. It is short-sighted and can only lead to failure. Brands need to realise the expertise and power inherent in lower-tiers of their supply chains and work with them to ensure everyone can thrive, - Professor Donna Marshall said.
To avoid situations where suppliers use individual and collective action to punish these behaviours, fashion brands must prioritise close relationships with their suppliers, providing financial and emotional support, acknowledging their expertise, and rewarding their efforts. By doing so, brands can ensure the economic prosperity of the entire supply chain and build trust that will be critical in times of crisis.
This project was funded under EXCELLENT SCIENCE Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions .