Guest Post by Lindsay Trombley
Never in the history of the planet has clothing been so cheap and so plentiful. On average, we’re buying five times as much clothing per person as we did thirty years ago. At the same time, average household spend on clothing has plummeted. So how is it that while other consumer prices have risen, clothing prices have dropped so sharply?
The problem of overproduction in fashion
Over the past three decades, the global fashion supply chain has become ever more diffuse and opaque. As the supply chain has globalized, fashion brands’ ability to take advantage of cheap labor in developing markets has translated into a precipitous drop in clothing prices. Overseas garment factories are incentivized to keep their production lines operating as close to 100% utilization as possible, so they offer fashion brands extreme bulk discounts for booking large order quantity production runs. While it’s very expensive on a per-unit basis to produce 100 units of a single style, the per-unit price to produce 10,000 units is shockingly cheap.
Most brands typically overproduce by 30-40%, and of the more than 100 billion new garments produced every year, 20% are never sold at all.
In practical terms, this means it’s cheaper for fashion brands to overproduce—knowing they won’t sell through everything—than it is for them to produce smaller runs in quantities they know they can sell. Most brands typically overproduce by 30-40%, and of the more than 100 billion new garments produced every year, 20% are never sold at all.
Meanwhile, the fashion industry produces about 10% of global carbon emissions globally—more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Given the volume of overproduction and waste, it’s clear that tackling these issues would make a huge impact in helping the industry reduce its carbon footprint.
Consumer behavior is changing in response to climate change
Consumer awareness about the climate impact of our various consumption habits is on the rise, and so is willingness to change individual behavior. Consumers say they’re reducing their plastic consumption and eating less meat. In a recent study conducted by the company, Wovn (of which the author is a founder), 99% of consumers said that it was at least somewhat important to them that their fashion choices be sustainable, and over half of them said they’re buying fewer clothes as a result.
Consumer awareness about the climate impact of our various consumption habits is on the rise, and so is willingness to change individual behavior.
The fashion industry is already in for a reckoning over COVID-19. Clothing spending has dropped sharply, and a wave of high-profile bankruptcies has ripped through the industry. If the industry doesn’t address its overproduction issues and adapt to changing consumer views on sustainability, many more brands are likely to fail.