What would happen if we all stopped shopping for clothes?
Levi’s Paul Dillinger said that it would take “forty-eight hours” for the apparel industry to enter panic mode. A global consumption halt means sudden profit losses irrevocably. It would, in succession, spark a chain reaction affecting millions of working people.
The whole clothing trade is worth 1.3 trillion dollars. It represents upwards of 325 million workers globally, ranking it the fifteenth biggest global economy. The cotton industry workforce alone lives in eighty countries and represents 3-percent of the world population. That’s 250 million people dependent on income from the cotton industry. If Levi’s alone incurs a 50-percent sales drop, wages amounting to 1.25 million dollars would be impossible to give. That’s income to cotton workers, inside and outside the United States, gone.
From one clothing company’s perspective, you can see a grim picture of what would happen if Levi’s had to make do with another recession. Levi’s depends on more than five hundred suppliers for its cotton and outsources sections of the manufacturing process to third parties in sixteen countries. Smaller companies with similar supply chains would overstock. They would have already planted endless cotton fields before news of a global economic bottleneck reached them.
I am advocating a renewed regulatory sweep of overstock mandated of all manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers due to the threat the practice poses to global sustainability, with a specific crackdown on clandestine outsourcing of the supply chain. If the goal of sustainability rests solely on our capacity to assume responsibility, then we, as businesses and shoppers, have to work with what we can control. And supply chain outsourcing makes it far more complicated and time-consuming to hold companies accountable for unsustainable production. Addressing waste logistics at home is simpler. Accountability for offshore supply chain production becomes, in part, a question of that country’s jurisdiction and the terms of our economic partnership.
In the case of the cotton industry, I am not demonizing the practice of a country using it as an instrument of economic growth. Just yesterday, Minister of Agriculture, Malam Mohammad Abubakar of Nigeria expressed the need among visitors from the National Association of Cotton and Textile Producers in Nigeria (NACOTAN) to revitalize the cotton industry to boost the country’s economy (John 1 May 2022). Where an underdeveloped country relies heavily on stagnant sectors to stay afloat economically, it makes sense why the Minister of Agriculture would emphasize the need for stakeholders to revitalize it.
On the other hand, profit-driven businesses fearing supply chain breakdown are hard-pressed to invest in precautionary measures of waste mitigation any more than they have to, fixating on out-of-stocks (OOS) rather than overstocks. Primarily it is an ethical issue highlighting businesses and shoppers like you or me. We like to think that wholesalers like Amazon are more frequently OOS than regular retailers. As a general rule of thumb, though? — they are always overstocked (A Fresh Look at Overstocks). The exacerbated waste of overstocks from Amazon alone accounts for mounting pressure on producers to make more with less, forcing them to engage in new unsustainable production patterns. Shoppers like you or me, all the while, stockpile sh*t they don’t need!
Did you know?: China produces 82 million meters of the best cotton fabric every year.
A Fresh Look at Overstocks, Australian Retailers Association, 15 Jan. 2020, www.blog.retail.org.au/newsandinsights/a-fresh-look-at-overstocks. Accessed 2 May 2022.
John, Adegwu. “Agric Minister Seeks Collaboration to Revive Cotton Industry.” Leadership News, Leadership Media Group, 2 May 2022, www.leadership.ng/agric-minister-seeks-collaboration-to-revive-cotton-industry/.