Sitting on the precipice of a financial, civil rights, + health crisis in 2020, fashion in the forthcoming year  must decide what COVID means permanently for fashion in western nations + companies struggle with stiff competition as China continues to dominate the industry. In light of recent turmoil in the fashion industry going under; creativity is one avenue start-up companies founded by those leaving previous companies/employment are employing to deal with the pressure to maintain relevance in the United States. Offering diverse ranges of customizable products in the mix, surgeon masks now sold on every street corner [$3 / box] spurs opportunity instead of weakness – variety, a concept fashion embraced with kiddie gloves that got pulled off halfway through when it comes to mask style. Now, all bets are off + everyone’s in on the game.
Indie Source is one company – consolidation built into its infrastructure – dealing with the crisis well by offering a unique in-house service to interested parties looking to develop + sell fashion garments by optimizing its strong network supply chain. Using the opportunity COVID presents amongst the turmoil as a way to grow, Indie Source is stamping out luxury fit face masks in a range of colors and patterns, donating one mask for every mask purchased. Ranging from $15-$26, Indie Source has used its inner networks of streamlined design + manufacturing to represent a trend hitting the globe this past year – a need for sustainable development in an industry of excess.
Given the outbreak of COVID-19, the fashion industry has been struck with an adversary demanding an evolution with the changes bringing to light the restructure of fashion’s global policies. Many companies are struggling to stay in business, with about 25% going under in the recent months.
Enlighten on as to exactly how + what is the explicit impact of COVID-19 on fashion as a whole?
There are short term and long term consequences of COVID. In the short term, we as a primarily US based manufacturer had an extreme advantage to produce essential supplies and keep jobs. It was a phenomenal experience! For almost 2 months it was as if we were an autarky – no globalized market – it was, from an economical standpoint, advantageous to keep jobs and grow our company. I saw a glimpse of what it would look like without the globalized pressures at play. As domestic manufacturers, especially in California we’re paying at least $15 minimum wage. We have no ability to compete on price with Bangladesh whose workers minimum wage has still not broken the $100 ceiling per month. Once things caught up, the market was flooded with cheap masks and we’re now sitting on more mask inventory than I’d hoped for.
The long term impacts of COVID are varied. One subjective insight is that brands seem to be looking for ways to slim down their internal teams, and also diversify their supply chains. This plays into our hand as we offer fashion brands a way to gain access to our skilled workforce of production managers, quality control specialists, pattern makers at a fraction of what they would pay to hire them internally. Additionally, since we’re set up to produce in several locations globally we can support brands with the diversification they need. In this way they will not be at such high risk if borders are shut down or a single country goes on an extended lockdown, or holiday for that matter.
Zack Hurley, CEO of Indie Source answers a few questions on the current state of the fashion industry + COVID’s personal impact, giving us insight on where the future + fashion meet in an industry in the middle of an enormous overhaul.
In light of fashion being one of the most labor intensive industries alive + current government policies; who + what do you see responsible for future manufacturing techniques? How have and how will these roles change due to COVID?
Governments do tend to bring lots of hype in regards to bringing manufacturing jobs back, but very little funds to actually support manufacturers with building competitive advantages. This is certainly an opportunity. Laser cutters, body scanners, automated sewing machines and digital printing are all technologies that would increase our competitiveness. The problem is that 99% of manufactures do not have the capital to purchase these. In a COVID world there’s even more of an incentive to produce locally as shipping costs have increased, tariffs gone up and thousands of products get stuck at our ports for many weeks.
Considering fashion’s carbon footprint and its lead heavy impact considering the role of globalization; describe where you see the structure of fashion evolving, transitioning, or morphing to deal with developments of environmental trafficking in the modernized ‘One World’ ?
I look at this in my mind as if it’s a plane and axis scenario. Where on the plane we have the act of utilizing sustainable materials and ethical labor, then on the axis we have localized production close to where things are ultimately sold as well as small batch production, eliminating the need to over produce, discount and waste. Both of these are critical and impact one another in different ways. Social demands may pull the lever of sustainable fabrics, while market demands may force brands to produce less units to limit capital exposure while (hopefully) pushing brands to be smarter about their inventory practices. As the market and social components converge that’s where we’ll see serious adoption. This is happening in different subsections of apparel production. As apparel becomes more connected and moves into the 21st century, we’re going to see less waste as a function of avoiding loss and increasing profits, which will happen to be good for the planet. In terms of modelling, we’re always going to have B2B and B2C however you’ll see some shifts. For example many factories are attempting to produce and sell direct to consumers. This has long been happening on Alibaba, but new more exclusive approaches are coming to rise such as brands like Italic.com who claims to cut out the middleman (and the brands all together) and work directly with high end factories that produce some of the worlds most elegant brand, they’re betting on the fact that people want value over brand name.
In terms of globalization – unless the US can create products that actually compete cost wise – total cost, not labor only – globalization will continue to drive costs lower and lower to cheaper and cheaper countries. The solution here is automation. There are many advances in the process that US manufacturers are tapping into. From automated marking software, to 3D software limiting the number of sample rounds, to digital printing, laser cutting and finally, the goliath in automated sewing. These things will inherently eliminate a tremendous amount of waste in overproduction, shipping emissions, and a dependency the world has on unethical labor.
What is Indie Source’s position in terms of social responsibility considering Indie Source’s important role in [Los Angeles] clothing manufacturing?
Our role really extends beyond just a manufacturer but to become a resource and thought leader in the industry. Our clients look to us to guide and team them. To show them what is the current state of the industry and how to navigate it, but then also look at ways to move the industry forward. We’re doing obvious things that are socially responsible like paying above minimum wage and sourcing sustainable fabrics, but as we grow, we’re going to be investing in new technologies that eliminate waste, increase speed and give back to our community. During the pandemic and still today we’ve been donating thousands of masks to those in need and we will continue to set up structures where we can be a positive influence in our community.
We’re supporting our network and other businesses to earn more than they would before we came in as their infrastructure or marketing was not set up to drive substantial business. We are only as strong as our supply chain.
Photos: Courtesy of Indie Source