Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fashion Supply Chain Management and Sustainability

Yesterday, one of my doctoral students and I finished a paper on fashion supply chain management that we were invited to write. Today, I see that The New York Times has an article on the fashion and apparel industry with a call for minimizing waste.

I enjoyed the article a lot since it highlighted the supply chain aspects of emission reduction, including the emissions generated in the transportation of fashion products, as well as the design of fashion products, such as jeans,which can be notoriously, and, ironically, I might add, environmentally-unfriendly due to the dyes used. What is particularly challenging about fashion and apparel design, as the article emphasizes, is that fashion should also look good. Hence, perhaps we now should also be concerned, as operations researchers and supply chain network designers, not only about the sustainability issues but also about the aesthetics, or shall we leave it to the Parsons School of Design folks who were quoted in the article. As for minimizing waste in this application sector, our discipline can contribute immensely since we have a long history and excellent track record in a variety of "cutting" problems, whether for paper products or fabric.

Our recent paper, "Sustainable Supply Chain Network Design: A Multicriteria Perspective," just published in the International Journal of Sustainable Engineering is definitely relevant to this topic as is the paper, "Fashion Supply Chain Management Through Cost and Time Minimization from a Network Perspective," which we have just completed.

If someone had told me a while back that I would be doing research on fashion supply chain management, I would have said that there are other problems of greater interest to me. I do recall, however, being at a terrific workshop at Stanford years back with both Professor Kenneth Arrow, the Nobel Laureate, in the audience, and Professor George Dantzig, the father of operations research, along with my former dissertation advisor at Brown University, Stella Dafermos. After my talk at the workshop, someone remarked that they thought I was talking about "Wardrobe" equilibrium, rather than "Wardrop" equilibrium (well-known to those who work and study transportation and logistics). I had a good laugh after this.

Clothes are rather basic and important, don't you think, and if one can assist this industry in sustainability, one can make a big impact.