Material Exchange

Sourcing smart with your heart with colorful thread

Sourcing smart with your heart

Sourcing. It’s the act of shopping for materials, products, and services that you cannot produce yourself. Being savvy in sourcing means you are efficient at finding the right materials with the right attributes at the right price. You find what’s needed fast and at a good price, saving your company time and money. You are sourcing smart!

But is sourcing smart enough? Is keeping up to date with sourcing strategies, landed costs, duty rates, global trade regulations, and economic conditions sufficient? Does staying in the know of all your sourcing data, analytics, time and action charts, vendor contract details, efficiency, and lead times make you better? Has all this smart sourcing caused anything that isn’t smart?

Although we’ve been sourcing smart – which is a positive – there are many important factors that aren’t being considered: the environmental and social impacts our sourcing is having on the Earth.

Heart-brain sourcing

Shifting our sourcing perspective

Those of us in fashion all know the data that exists regarding how much fashion and textile production have degraded the planet’s water, air, and soil; abused people, communities, and habitats; and dispelled billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In addition, many fabrics and styles are made by garment workers who are paid very low wages – so little that, in some cases, they cannot make ends meet in their home countries, despite working 10-hour shifts or more than six days per week.

The problem is that, in being so smart, we are sourcing with our brains. But… we are the fashion industry. We design, produce, and sell fabulous fabrics and captivating clothing that is creative and imaginative and that makes our customers feel dreamy, beautiful, and confident. We should be sourcing with our hearts!

If we were sourcing with our hearts, would we have thousands of yards of overbought fabric sitting in factories and distribution centers worldwide? If we were sourcing with our hearts, would we have millions of excess merchandise units unsold at retail? And, I wonder, if we were sourcing with our hearts, would there be such a high number of garments returned due to poor fit?

If we sourced with our hearts, would we still ask: How fast and at how low of a cost can we get this?

Data that makes our hearts flutter

Sourcing smart is focusing on minimum order quantities (MOQs), lead-times, duty rates, and costs. But we also need to source with some heart…

Over the past 10-15 years, I’ve been feeling that short-term analytics and data were usurping long-term conscientiousness and concern. But then I opened the results of our annual Material Exchange Digital Sourcing and Sustainability Survey, and I felt really hopeful. What I saw in many answers to our survey questions reflected a resoundingly optimistic theme: sustainability is becoming a greater priority for brands and suppliers this year, compared to last year, and sourcing choices are starting to reflect this shift.

For instance, let’s look at the responses to the question “What are your most important criteria when sourcing?” The survey results show that 31% of those surveyed selected price as most important (no surprise there). Then, coming in at a close 2nd and 3rd were quality at 30% and sustainability at 29%. In fourth place was MOQs at 22% and lead-time trailing behind at only 19%!

Only last year, when we launched this survey, MOQs came in at 2nd place at 30%. This means that in one year, 8% less of fashion industry professionals are concerned with primarily meeting minimum order quantities! That’s some heart-happy data.

And, for this same question, sustainability increased by 8% from last year and quality rose by 15%! That means quality – connotating long-lasting, enduring, strong, safe, and health – all the things that suggest and convey love and long-term thinking – are apparently a great deal more important than only one year ago!


How often do brands/buyers ask for sustainable material options?

How often do brands ask for sustainability options chart

More heart-palpitating stats

Are sourcing managers using more than their brains to source? Are they crunching fewer numbers and making more decisions with their hearts? Are costs and data becoming a tad more level now with purpose? Our survey indicates so.

Perhaps more companies are developing business models with the Earth, people, creativity, and art at their core. Case in point: when we surveyed suppliers and asked: “How often do brand buyers ask you for sustainable material options?”, 18% responded always in 2021 – and – here’s the good news – that number rose by 13% in 2022! 31% of suppliers report brands are always asking for sustainable options for their fabrics and trims! If that doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, I don’t know what will.

Sourcing for the future is our call to action

The fact is that there is nothing wrong with sourcing with your brain – it is smart. But bringing in your heart and considering factors that do not always look “right” on paper is also smart. These 2022 survey results show a trend that suggests caring. They show that sourcing professionals are using their feelings as well as metrics in their decisions.

I encourage you to look at our upcoming survey-results report (watch this space for more details!). The data shows that social and environmental factors are at last starting to take precedence over the amount we have to buy and the speed at which a factory can produce it for us – this really is brainy sourcing!

We’re thrilled to see results which signify that systems thinkers and world viewers are starting to source. These professionals recognize the interconnectedness of their sourcing decisions and the Earth. They know that bringing a fashionable product to market must come from the soul. They know they must also use their guts – not just their PLM programs. Using the heart, as well as the brain, when sourcing materials and producing fashion styles is the right thing to do: for the planet, for our companies, for our customers, and, in these uncertain times, I dare to say, for our bottom lines – because there is no business on a broken planet.

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