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The Spirit of Collaboration in Supply Chains Will Change the Future of the Fashion Industry

18/09/2015 11:47 BST | Updated 17/09/2016 10:12 BST

This blog is part of a month-long focus around sustainable fashion across HuffPost UK Style and Lifestyle. Here we aim to champion some of the emerging names in fashion and shine a light on the truth about the impact our appetite for fast fashion has around the world.

Historically, supply chains have been viewed as simply "providers" of materials, products and services where demands were made and delivered upon without a more detailed understanding of the supply chain. Globalisation and increased competition have led many companies to lose sight of their supply chains and their suppliers. In turn, this has led to a power hierarchy throughout the supply chain where everyone is trying to make their own margin.

Inevitably this type of paradigm leads to the externalisation of social and environmental considerations. In my view, modern supply chains need to be built on trust, which comes through developing relationships that engender mutual understanding and shared responsibility. In fact, if a company truly takes quality and sustainability in terms of social and environmental considerations seriously then the only option is to build personal relationships with one's suppliers. And although building resilient, sustainable and robust supply chains is often complex and requires the input and "buy-in" of many players across the supply chain, the benefits far outweigh the efforts of doing so.

This dynamic can deliver immediate business value in terms of the supplier being more focused on quality, timely delivery, meeting budgets, etcetera. However, the real challenge is to take these relationships beyond basic business terms and into a real collaborative spirit focused on improving the supply chain and integrating social and environmental sustainability, which will also generate business value and returns for a long time into the future.

Companies need suppliers to engage with them in order to create transparency together on best practices across the supply chain, but beyond this we can also develop innovative solutions. And if we work closely together there are tremendous possibilities for new technologies and new, more sustainable sourcing opportunities.

As a case in point, at Kering our CEO and Chairman, François-Henri Pinault, decided to implement an Environmental Profit and Loss Account (E P&L) across our brands and the resulting Group E P&L revealed that around 75% of our environmental impacts are related to raw material production and processing. Consequently we are focusing on leveraging efficiency in processing and setting up programmes to source sustainable raw materials. To do so, requires the engagement and trust of suppliers who are willing to open up their own network and work closely with us to figure out how to integrate new more sustainable sources

- everything from testing a material's quality through to the complexity of logistics and basic availability of sustainable alternatives.

That said, on a wider industry level it is not as simple as it seems. To invest in a new technology or create a fibre or a fabric at a supplier's own expense is a significant risk if demand from their customers is not forthcoming. Thus, suppliers need partners as much as companies need them to collaborate. In fact, it is often the suppliers dealing with the challenges day to day who see what needs to be improved but do not have the resources to implement the necessary changes, nor have the certainty to know whether their investments will pay off.

Consequently, for our industry to become more sustainable as a whole the traditional paradigm of purchasing finished products, fabrics or yarns must be converted into a new approach where companies work with, and partner with suppliers. Whether it be to ensure the integration of innovative sustainable raw materials, animal welfare or the highest standards of working conditions, as well as traceability, controls and contracts, we need to have personal relationships with our suppliers. In my view, lasting leadership will come from companies that define success as building robust and collaborative supply chains built on trust, long term commitment and a real understanding of the hurdles and solutions that need to be put into practice.

HuffPost UK Lifestyle is running a special series around Sustainable Fashion for the month of September. Livia Firth is creative director of Eco-Age and founder of The Green Carpet Challenge, and will be guest editing on 18 September. If you'd like to blog or get involved, please email us.