Sourcing Trends of U.S. Fashion Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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The following questions are proposed by students in FASH455 (Spring 2017) based on the 2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study. Please feel free to join the online discussion (please mention the question # in your comment).

#1 With many bricks and mortar stores closing and profits decreasing in many of these stores, why do you think that 92% of respondents are optimistic or somewhat optimistic about the fashion industry over the next five years? Do you believe that there is a technological advance or a change in organizational structure that is coming in the future that is keeping them hopeful?

#2 U.S. fashion companies today have a very diversified sourcing base. For example, overall 52% of respondents report sourcing from more than ten different countries. However, it seems quite challenging to ensure all the factories they are sourcing from are up to the company’s standards. Do you think with increased pressure to become more sustainable as well as have ethical working conditions across their supply chain, U.S. fashion companies will source from fewer countries in the future?

#3 According to the survey, controlling sourcing and production cost remains one of the top business challenges for U.S. fashion companies. Does it imply that it is unrealistic to expect companies to make commitments to sustainability and social responsibility at the sacrifice of their profit?

#4 U.S. apparel imports from Vietnam has been growing rapidly in recent years. Why do you think Vietnam has been able to expand as a garment exporter so quickly, outperforming most of its Asian competitors?

#5 As optimism continues to create new demand for human talent, more specifically for fashion designers, buyers and merchandisers, sourcing specialists, and social compliance specialists how can the fashion department at the University of Delaware further prepare us to excel at these positions? Any specific suggestions?

#6 What other sourcing and trade topics do you think the benchmarking study could include?

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

9 thoughts on “Sourcing Trends of U.S. Fashion Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455”

  1. #3 According to the survey, controlling sourcing and production cost remains one of the top business challenges for US fashion companies, I think this implies that companies are forced to make a choice to either be sustainable and dedicated to social and environmental issues or maintain low costs and therefore, low pricing to their customers. Although companies such as Patagonia are adamant about educating their customers about how they are maintaining sustainable business practices, more companies should follow in their footsteps to educate their target market on the issues at hand, which could be used as marketing campaigns and therefore reduce the risks of losing profits if they outreach to the public from a philanthropic stand point. Overall, companies do no want to cut their profits, even if they do not condone the conditions in which their products are being manufactured, such as the tragic Rana Plaza collapse.

    1. I am very glad you mentioned Patagonia! Indeed, it is a very interesting company to study. Patagonia has launched quite a few sustainability initiatives since its foundation, such as Common Threads, Worn Wear and the Don’t buy this jacket campaign. However, interestingly enough, sales of the company increased by approximately 30% in the nine months following the “don’t buy this jacket” campaign. And I agree with Rick in his guest lecture yesterday that more and more apparel companies start to “do the right thing.” At the end of the day, it is still people that run the company.

  2. The fashion department at the University of Delaware needs to create more courses for merchandisers and designers that are actually applicable to what a buyer will do what a merchandiser will do etc. I feel that we take some courses that in all honesty aren’t necessary in my degree. I think it would be smart to see what FIT’s curriculum is for merchandisers and designers and adapt it to Delaware’s environment. A couple of my friends who have gone to FIT for a semester rave about their experience because the courses they take are so real and so applicable.

    I believe that FASH420, FASH330, FASH455 and a handful of the business courses within the merchandiser major of the fashion department have been the most effective so far. Being so close to graduation I wish courses like the the ones mentioned above were implemented earlier on in the curriculum.

  3. #1 With many bricks and mortar stores closing and profits decreasing in many of these stores, why do you think that 92% of respondents are optimistic or somewhat optimistic about the fashion industry over the next five years? Do you believe that there is a technological advance or a change in organizational structure that is coming in the future that is keeping them hopeful?

    I think that respondents are optimistic about the fashion industry because even though brick and mortar stores are closing down, new technologies are being created that will keep consumers in physical retail stores. There are the creations of many in-store technologies that will continue to attract consumers in store as well as drive in more people that have started to shop in brick and mortar stores less and less. For example, Nordstrom offer customers the ability to order on line and pick up in store. This still allows the customer to shop online, but then they have to visit a physical store to get their product which will get them to walk around the store while they are there and maybe make more purchases. I do believe that there is a technological advance in the future that is keeping respondents hopeful. Advancements in technology will make it so that in-store experiences will be more interactive and hands on. I have seen examples of a mirror that will take pictures of customers as they are trying on clothes and it will save the pictures so that customers can scroll through the pictures from a device in store or from their phones. This allows customers to view themselves from all angles, save time from trying the same thing on multiple times, and compare outfits to one another to see which one they liked the best. More technologies like this example will come into play and drive more consumers to return to shopping in brick and mortar stores..

  4. #3
    I believe that it implies companies need to find a happy medium. It is certainly not realistic for companies to completely alter their way of sourcing, production, manufacturing and selling methods, BUT it is realistic to expect them to keep up with changing times, as they must also do with trends. It is no secret that the act of being and becoming more sustainable is at the forefront of the industry’s concerns, but it has to happen one step at a time. A brand cannot be expected to sacrifice their profit to full fledge practice social responsibility, but making small changes to at least show the initiative is a significant aspect to this. As Gail stated when she spoke to our class last week, it is better to make small, critical changes than one big one all at once that is almost impossible to maintain.

  5. #1

    I think retailers are optimistic, first and foremost, because if they were pessimistic about their future retailers would have no chance at success. Attitude towards challenges is vitally important not only in personal hurdles but in business challenges as well. Optimistic people are often more successful because they aim higher and therefore achieve greater things, I believe the same applies to businesses.
    With the closing of so many retail stores, companies are able to have more revenue to reallocate from brick and mortar expenses to research and development to make their omnichannel initiatives more engaging and create the ultimate online customer experience. Even luxury stores like Louis Vuitton, who traditionally do not dabble as heavily in e-commerce as mass market brands, are now reaching out into more omnichannel retailing to create more fluidity in sales. So yes, I do believe that companies do have new restructuring and technology that allows them to be confident for the future. However, I also believe that to be pessimistic is to accept defeat, and in asking respondents if they are optimistic is almost like asking people if they are giving up or persevering through this new retail terrain. Therefore, I don’t believe that the 92% of respondents saying that they were optimistic gives an accurate idea of the future of these respondent’s respective companies, since no business likes to accept defeat.

  6. #1 I believe that 92% of respondents are hopeful and optimistic about the fashion industry over the next five years because you need to have a positive outlook in order to succeed and try to look to the future for better days. Although many brick and mortar stores are closing, many stores have become more technologically advanced and are bringing more and more people into physical stores which is important because technology is the future. These types of technology are allowing consumers to pick up items in store after they ordered them online, or avoid checkout lines all together with a virtual charge to your account through wifi in the stores. All technology is advancing in order to give consumers a more futuristic and efficient way to shop.

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