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Sustainability And Consumption – Still Colliding

What's happening? Asia’s garment industry is increasingly focusing on adaptability, speed and traceability as "fast fashion" falls from favour. As a result, suppliers are moving factories so they are nearer to infrastructure, materials and markets to reduce turnaround times. Companies are also investing in automation and digitisation technologies that are becoming competitive with the cheap labour that has previously supported the sector.

Why does this matter? "Fast fashion" relies on high-volume, high-frequency consumption, and comes with a significant environmental footprint. This is an area where the 'E' and 'S' of ESG are in conflict – a sustainability-focused approach to ethical consumerism dictates consumers should buy fewer clothes and keep them for longer, but this approach threatens the livelihoods of millions of workers. 

The UN has estimated 56% of manufacturing workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam will lose their jobs due to automation in the next two decades, with women likely to be hit hardest.

Automation in South East Asia is also expected to increase human rights abuses as a diminishing supply of work is likely to foster an increasingly exploitative environment if additional worker protections are not introduced and enforced. This creates an additional supply-chain risk for clothing brands and retailers.

Lateral thought from Curation – The decline in fast fashion is also bad news for shopping malls around the world, which are already in trouble as they struggle to compete with the likes of Amazon and a preference among younger consumers for experiences over possessions.

As mall vacancies grow, we can expect to see these spaces transformed into art galleries, medical centres and event spaces, with car parks potentially becoming farmer's markets, as Washington's Everett Mall has done.

Further reading:

Nick Finegold is Founder & CEO of Curation Corp, an emerging and peripheral risks monitoring service.

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