Can pre-orders fix fashion’s waste problem?

Written by The Heat Team

21 Sep 2020

Everyone knows that fashion’s waste problem is drastically accelerating the environmental crisis. For decades, overproduction in the fashion industry was normalised. Aided by a throwaway culture, trends emerging and disappearing overnight, and sporadic customer behaviours, forecasting errors are inevitable, but it’s a risk that many businesses have been willing to take. In addition to that, incinerating unsold clothes, filling landfills with textiles, and mounting piles of deadstock has been an accepted byproduct in our society and it was not until recently that it began to change. Brands who overproduce often do because bigger orders likely means costs will be lower. Additionally, if demand is underestimated, they risk losing out on sales and alienating customers who will look elsewhere for products. But the problem occurs when items don’t sell—what happens to the inventory?

Brand new, surplus products sit in warehouses, contributing to ongoing logistic costs for businesses. The easiest and quickest solution to offload these products is to send them to landfills or incinerators. At present, only 60% of garments are sold at full price due to excessive overproduction. But amid government imposed legislations, and as consumers become increasingly educated about sustainability and demand industry wide changes, there is mounting pressure for businesses to rethink strategies on how to tackle overproduction.

It was only a year ago when I positioned myself in front of my laptop, my alarm set to 12pm, refreshing Moda Operandi in hopes of securing a Jacquemus Le Chiquito in a crocodile print green. Six months later, my bag arrived, almost out of the blue. The luxury fashion retailer is just one of many e-commerce sites which offer the pre-sale model, amongst others like LN-CC, Antonioli and Revolve. Moda Operandi’s ‘Trunkshows’ have been making the runway shoppable since its launch in 2011, offering customers the option to pre-order products straight from the catwalk, before they are available anywhere else. Customers are asked to pay a deposit to secure their purchase, and they are billed the remaining amount once the product is available for dispatch.

Pre-orders are a promising solution for businesses who want to take more calculated predictions on how much inventory to order. Customers pay for products upfront, and receive the product later on—time frames vary, taking anywhere from weeks to months. On the seller’s end, once payment is received, the order is sent to factories to manufacture. This is beneficial for brands, who need to front costs for patterns, sourcing materials, fittings, and marketing all before a product hits the shelves. Monetary advantage aside, the pre-order model is ultimately a more environmentally friendly alternative, because items are made by demand.

However, that’s not to say that it’s entirely sustainable, as businesses still have to factor in the cost of returns. For big e-commerce retailers who already have high web traffic, accepting returns is not an overbearing issue, as another customer is likely to place the same order. But for smaller, independent designers, it may be more challenging. Regardless, it’s natural for pre-order returns to be much lower than the traditional sales model, and unlike ordering ten items from an online retailer knowing you can send nine back, if a customer is prepared to wait, it’s likely going to be something they really want. This mindset might be hard for some to overcome at first, but in the long run, it’s bound to save you countless purchases on a whim, and your pockets will thank you for it.

Considering the consumers of today are accustomed to immediacy, spoiled by next day delivery and instant gratification, asking shoppers to wait weeks, if not months for a product may be challenging. Nevertheless, Gen Z has already proven themselves to be susceptible to unconventional norms, welcoming change quicker than any other demographic. To answer our own question, no, pre-orders can’t fix the damage that’s already been done, nor can it completely obliterate disposal of garments. But, it can certainly help reduce the amount of textile waste that is deposited into landfills, and aid in shifting consumer mindset to purchase less.

Can pre-orders fix fashion’s waste problem?

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