No Damn Inventory
If we’re serious about a sustainable future of fashion, we have to start from the beginning of production pipelines.
What is inventory?
Inventory is the backstock companies keep in order to fill orders and have items on hand in stores. There’s inventory for everything. Cars, coffee cups, bras, toys – you name it. In the fashion world inventory refers to clothes in stores and garments stored away in warehouses to – theoretically – replenish clothes in storefronts as they’re sold or to send to customers that buy clothes online.
Of course inventory wasn’t always the process through which clothes were produced. It was in the mid-late 19th century that clothing shifted from being home or custom-made to being produced for sailors and slaves. Clothes were made in one size and after they were bought people sewed them to fit the individual. These garments were called “ready-to-wear” and by 1880, it was the mainstream method of production. Although that was over 125 years ago, the low paying and challenging conditions of making clothes in mass continues to this day.
The issue of inventory
Because we’re a culture of consumption and convenience, we don’t often challenge or question why a product wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for us to buy it, although in many cases it doesn’t make sense.
Holding back stock of clothing is another way to hold capital. It takes money, resources, and people to make products and the more of these resources you have, the more potential you have to make money. Inventory is a source of potential for financial gains, but that potential is not always realized. Often cars aren’t bought, the overproduction of clothes per season doesn’t realistically meet the demand, or consumer behavior shifts unexpectedly. Having inventory is a projection or an assumption about anticipated consumer behaviors. While this can lead to gains, it often puts a financial strain on companies because they have to pay more upfront for items they aren’t guaranteed to sell. They also have to pay for the space to store the items.
Inventory is an issue of supply and demand. When the over stock of certain items doesn’t fit demands, the retailers often discount garments so that they’ll sell within the season. Consumers wait for these sales, like on black Friday or cyber Monday. While this works in motivating buying, it also increases unnecessary consumption which perpetuates unnecessary production. Do we need sixteen crop tops? Probably not. But even if we want sixteen crop tops, there are likely a couple hundred thousand available in second hand stores or garbage cans already.
Production costs resources and the financial gains do not outweigh the tax it puts on the planet to make them. By 2030, it’s expected that there will be 148 million tons of fashion waste. In many ways, we can think of inventory as another site of garbage. A pile of unused and never to be used resources gone to waste.
unspun has been about zero inventory as a fundamental pillar in the business from the start. Making custom clothes means nothing is made unless someone is asking for it, which eliminates the need for inventory. Custom clothes are personally fitted and designed by each customer, promoting longer wear time and a higher likelihood that customers will love what they buy. And it’s not just an ecological move to design the brand this way.
Without inventory, unspun is more agile. Money isn’t locked up on a potential sale, it’s used to make things better. unspun doesn’t have to pay for warehouse space or a fleet of sewers to meet a projected, assumed demand. Only as the need increases does the use of resources.
Sustainable fashion has many agendas and ways of making things look optimistic in the short-term. The problems of fashion start at the very beginning of the production pipeline and stem from mass production. The more we make, the more waste there is. It’s that simple. While eco fashion takes their time making incremental changes that benefit them, unspun asks for more radical care for the planet. Not having inventory isn’t mainstream yet, but we want it to be.