In the last decade, the fashion industry has been undergoing development in two seemingly opposite directions. On one hand, large fashion chains, such as H&M, are exploring new markets and production sites far away from headquarters, such as Africa and South America. This “expansion” or globalization trend has been dominating the international fashion industry for the last decades. Since 2006, H&M has established a steady chain of new shops in countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Earlier this year (2013), H&M opened up its first store in Chile and hence announced that they were “excited to finally be expanding our business concept here within South America and also in the Southern Hemisphere” (ref). According to the same press release, H&M “will continue its expansion in Serbia, Estonia, Lithuania and Indonesia during 2013” (ref). Less than a month ago, H&M also launched its online shop in the United States (ref). Besides establishing new markets, H&M are now also exploring new far-off sites for production, i.e. in South America, Central America and Africa (Northern, Southern and Eastern), according to an interview with Managing Director Karl-Johan Persson by the Financial Times in May 2013 (ref).
On the other hand, another trend or rather “counter-trend” seems to be working in parallel on the global fashion scene. A growing number of smaller fashion brands in Sweden are acknowledging the advantages of placing production units closer to headquarters. In part, to get better control of production cycles and, sometimes, to more quickly adjust production to customer demands, but also to reduce transportation costs and environmental impacts. For clothing companies with a clear sustainability agenda, more local production tends to be a natural choice. Several smaller Swedish brands have thus settled for production in the Baltic region or Southern Europe. Some brands have even set up production sites in Sweden, while others are exploring such possibilities.
An example hereof is the Swedish fashion brand Gul&Blå. In March 2013, Gul&Blå (ref) officially announced its plan to set up local production in the Borås area (Sweden). It will in fact be in the same tract as where they first produced their famous jeans collection in the 1970s. Gul&Blå’s goal is to produce at least 15 to 20 percent of their total production volume in Borås. According to their new co-manager Magnus Senke, “low price and fast fashion we believe is already history in every way. This can be a new step for the fashion industry, towards more sustainable fashion” (translated from Swedish, ref). Gul&Blå is not the only brand going more local. Other examples hereof are LIND and Matilda Wendelboe, both having all of their clothing production in Sweden.
Looking back in history, smaller companies have often been the ones to pave the way for a new trend. Hopefully, larger chains will take inspiration even this time.
(This article was originally published for Future Threads Project on August 25, 2013).