Last week’s episode was a conversation with co-host Jessie Li about her time with a third-party inspection company. This week’s episode is a continuation of that conversation, but this time focusing on her second stop along the fashion supply chain when she worked in-house for a brand as a Merchandising Manager.
She paints us a picture of the delicate equilibrium merchandisers must strike, caught between designers seeking last minute changes, factories fed-up with those last-minute changes, and the financial pressure to negotiate lower and lower buying prices from factories year on year. Too often, this balancing act results in unsustainable outcomes for all involved.
Jessie contrasts this more typical picture with her own experience, where building relationships founded on trust took priority and resulted in better outcomes for all involved. We explore the enabling conditions for trust, like having the right internal structures within brands and the immense potential of merchandising teams for opening up communication between factories and brands.
We also explore subcontracting. Jessie’s experience working with a factory willing to talk openly about its subcontracting practices is pretty unusual, and a direct consequence of relationship her team built up with the facility. She shares how this led to better outcomes everyone – from quality, to on-time delivery, to social compliance.
We wrap up the conversation with some open ended musings on the fundamental tension between risk and trust. As sustainability advocates and as an industry, how can we shift from a culture obsessed with minimizing risk – whether financial, reputational, or otherwise – to one focused systems that give trust the best chances of success.
Photo Artem Beliaikin
Want to dig deeper ?
Read Maria Hengeveld’s investigation into the dangerously irresponsible practices of ethical factory audits.
Check out Clean Clothes Campaign on bad contracts.
Read the Center for Global Workers’ Rights thoughtful paper on how asymmetrical power dynamics across the fashion supply chain play out in India.
Read McKinsey’s report Fashion’s New Must Have: Sustainable Sourcing at Scale. Skip to page 34 to read about the challenges for turning supplier relationships into strategic partnerships.
Photo Ksenia Chernaya (left), Kim van der Weerd (right)