Environmental concerns have never been more in the forefront of consumers’ minds. We are more conscious than ever about monitoring and minimising our impact on the world. This, despite the dependence on fast fashion, driven by stagnant real earnings and higher living costs here in the West. Almost everyone would prefer to consume products where the environmental impact is reduced.
Mass production is beset with horrific levels of waste. Excess inventory and materials strain not just the pockets of the manufacturers, but the natural landscape too. After all, where does all this unsellable excess end up?
The high street offers what appears to be an abundance of choice. Walk into a high street fashion store and choose from hundreds of garments to meet a variety of tastes. The vast majority of these have been created in high-intensity factories in developing nations, where workers run through thousands of items a day.
The cotton used to produce many of these garments is non-organic, and the impact on the natural habitat in and around the plantations is catastrophic. Rarely mentioned is also the impact upon the farmers themselves, whose use of strong pesticides has had terrible effects on their health. The water supply is tainted, further endangering both human and animal life. What’s more, the quality of the cotton is often poor, and farmers struggle to stay alive on the proceeds.
Plastics used to make other products, such as shoes, accessories, and costume jewellery, produce fumes and run-off which further taints air and water. And at the end of the whole thing, there is no guarantee that the products offered are what the consumer wants.
Fashion waste ends up at textile refuse plants, where workers struggle to keep up with the daily influx of more and more waste. Thousand of tonnes of excess product end up in landfill, buried out of sight, and completely ignored by both consumers and the companies that have created the waste in the first place. It’s a more dire situation than many realise.
So what can we do to stem the rivers of waste?
We need a new model of manufacturing. One where waste is minimised or obliterated, one where workers are not overexerted or underpaid, and where customer value is maximised beyond any current levels.
This is one of the reasons that we are so passionate about mass customisation. We see a movement to this new production process as instrumental to overthrowing the damaging and inefficient status quo.
One of the key sources of waste, as we’ve mentioned above, is overproduction. Product is pushed through the production line and stockpiled as inventory for distribution. Required volume is predicted, but never exact. Desirable products are predicted, but never exact. Excess builds up in the warehouse, costing the business money, and then it is waste.
With mass customisation, however, and entirely different approach is required.
The consumer uses 3D rendering software implemented on the brand website to specify precisely the product they desire. The purchase is fed through and produced to order, to the exact customer requirements. The care and attention leads to a higher quality product, the order can be fulfilled quicker, and - crucially - no wastage or excess stock builds up in the inventory. The inventory is comprised of materials, which are replenished when numbers hit specific levels.
The production model here is called flow manufacturing, of which the mass customisation element is an optional - but extremely beneficial - part. To remove mass production processes from all current systems is not something that can be done quickly. It’s obvious that such a disruption to operations will take a lot of time and planning to implement. However, given the wastage and associated environmental impact of mass production, it is a disruption that is long overdue.
It is also one that is inevitable, necessary, and important.
If the cost reduction benefits, environmental benefits, and the process streamlining benefits are not enough, there’s more. Studies and cultural observations clearly demonstrate that more personal, customisable products are in increasingly high demand with consumers. As we have explored in our excellent article ‘Express Yourself: Mass Customisation and Individuality’, the digital era has brought with it an emphasis on self-identity and expression of unprecedented weight.
Marketers will vouch for the fact that their strategies are focusing more and more upon the need to meet individual consumer needs, to conduct deeper demographic research and data analysis. There is no ignoring the fact that the individual spirit is strong in modern consumers, and business must keep up.
A strong emphasis on individuality is compounded by a similarly strong emphasis on environmental issues and living a wholesome, sustainable life. By combining the two in your manufacturing and product offering, you increase consumer value exponentially.
The times, they are a’changing, and there is no looking back. Consciousness, conscience, and creativity are what will see companies through these changes. Future-proofing and innovating are more crucial now than ever, as we seek to create a better world, not just for consumers, but for those who will inherit our world.