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Fashion forward: three trends reshaping supply chains

Max Alexander, VP, Strategic Accounts

How ecommerce, product returns and sustainability are impacting the industry and the supply chain

It’s been a tough 18 months for the fashion industry. Also an exhilarating 18 months. Covid‑19 created a need for change at a pace that pushed the limits of a sector already accustomed to rapid change. The pandemic accelerated consumers’ adoption of ecommerce, highlighting the need for sophisticated product return systems and raising the profile of sustainability goals.

The seasonal nature of fashion has always meant supply chains require a degree of flexibility. But in this context, supply chain agility and innovation have been critical to helping the industry adapt and excel.

The rise and even further rise of ecommerce

To meet its growth goals, the fashion industry is increasingly turning to 3PLs for support, especially in warehousing. They need multi‑channel facilities that are capable of efficiently handling retail, wholesale or e-commerce and of quickly adjusting capacity to adapt to ebbs and flows in demand. Technology plays a critical role in this, and we’re increasing efficiency within the supply chain by making greater use of warehouse automation, with tools such as enhanced Pick towers, more conveyors, goods-to-person robots and multi-sortation units.

Automation makes short work of returns

A consequence of rapid growth in ecommerce is the need to manage commensurate growth in returns processing. Consumers who are accustomed to easy product purchases online have also become accustomed to easy product returns, and this means returning products directly rather than through a physical store. This means we need to deal with a higher volume of returns at a greater frequency.

GXO is helping fashion industry customers manage returns cost‑effectively by providing dedicated reverse logistics sites that use automation to process a wide variety of loose cartons and packages within aggressive time constraints.

At a site customized for returns, a conveyor will sort incoming products to a bench where they’ll be received by our team. We speed up processing by applying technology such as fixed cameras, which scan labels automatically rather than having to use hand‑scanners. We also use UV lights above and below the benches. These lights help employees quickly assess the quality of a return. The same conveyors then move graded products along to sortation and remove other material for recycling.

Raising sustainability through recycling

Our customers are increasingly turning to us for help in meeting their sustainability goals. We can play a particularly critical role in their success because it’s embedded into our own DNA.

In the fashion industry, sourcing textiles and recycling them are highly visible issues, especially for fast-fashion retailers. At most of our sites, using automated sortation technology, we’re able to recycle about 90% of the product packaging that comes in. And we’re supporting our own carbon reduction targets while improving our customers’ sustainability by using solar panels to generate electricity, recycling rainwater and installing LED lighting.

Much like our customers in the fashion industry, we’re constantly streamlining our processes and innovating. Technology is supporting the speeding up of all the warehouse processes, reducing our environmental impact and improving the sustainability of the supply chain for our customers. In turn, it allows us to have a higher volume throughput while balancing the safety and well‑being of our employees. That’s a BIG win for us all.

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