On the sustainability challenges faced by brands in the fashion and apparel industry and how implementing the right technology can help make a measurable difference. Excerpts from Episode #4 of our BOLD Brands podcast Luxor & Finch founder and fit-technology expert, Jessica Couch. Hosted by Jeff Mergy, VP of Product and Strategy at Bold Metrics.

That is a huge problem, it’s not just about returns and dead inventory. It’s a social justice issue.It’s an inclusivity issue it is the diversity issue, it is just so many other issues that we probably don’t always think matter, and fit is right in the centre. And there is actually no real way to be sustainable, unless you’re matching people to product.

Jessica Couch, Luxor & Finch

Bold Metrics: Let’s talk about something that you’re passionate about, and I know that Bold Metrics is definitely passionate about, and that is sustainability. matching people to products and reducing returns is definitely one of the benefits of our technology, but let’s talk about your thoughts on what that does for sustainability and how that can impact an industry and a brand?

Jessica Couch: Yes and so to me, and what we see at Luxor and Finch, true sustainability is about matching people to product successfully. And I totally get people wanting to use more fabrics and having this transparency in their supply chain, that’s great… but you are not really sustainable unless you are equalizing the supply and demand. 

And I think right now brands think that they can just create in a vacuum and then throw stuff out there, and people will buy it because “Hey, that’s what we like!”. And I think in the past everything has been focused around the buyers and how buyers have to say about what goes into the stores and about what the customer wants but right now you can bypass all of that and really listen to the customers so that you can match product to people more successfully. I think that by implementing fit-based strategies and technology, you are actually being more sustainable because you are reducing returns. We have $62 billion of returns that need to be reduced. That’s a big deal. And I know a lot of brands right now are probably focused on that dead inventory that they have, that is inventory that it’s just not going to move whether it is in-store or in a warehouse. Something about those products did not appeal to people and we know from research that 87% of people say that the reason why they make returns is because of fit but we haven’t polled as many people to see why they simply passed over a piece of clothing. We don’t even have that data if someone goes into a fitting room, we’re not tracking it and we don’t understand what happened in the fitting room and why a piece of clothing didn’t make it to the cash register. And that is an issue.

So we can make an assumption that about 50% of that is due to bad fit. I know that when I try on clothing and it doesn’t work I’m ready to keep it on the floor and move on. I don’t know how many stores I’ve been in where I’ve tried on clothing, had a terrible experience, and moved on without buying anything and just kept it moving. That right there, that dead inventory, that is a problem. Both of those combined equals about 15 million tons of textile waste, which is huge. So when we are implementing fit-based solutions and technology, and helping match people with products, we are actually reducing those numbers significantly. And we are managing people’s expectations. I also think that that is really important – a lot of people think that fit technology is about making a really perfectly fitting garment. Although that can be what it is about, it is also about matching people to the product that is best for them and managing their expectations of how a piece of clothing would fit, just like a great sales associate would. 

BM: Right, that is exciting because definitely at Bold Metrics we are seeing an increased involvement from people on the sustainability side and on some of our projects and it’s just great that that has that is becoming a focus for larger brands, and they’re looking at it from a sustainability aspect and not just from a bottom-line aspect. So it is exciting that the apparel industry is starting to think that way and think about the other benefits of really solving this problem for their consumers and the environment. It is becoming, definitely in some of our key projects, something that brands want to track. And we’re super excited about that part of what we do.

JC: How do you help brands track sustainability?

BM: So Bold Metrics is working with a couple of companies that can take data and use similar techniques to what we use, so A.I. and Machine Learning, By using shipping data, cost data of shipping and shipping details, and being able to track pre-fit-recommendation and post-fit-recommendation results from Bold Metrics. And being able to quantify the impact, like the CO2 impact that you’re having. We’re starting to be able to provide that kind of capability to our clients and we are super excited about it.

JC: That is really awesome, maybe Bold Metrics should start standardizing how fit and sustainability work. 

BM: That is definitely one of our goals by doing this because we have never been able to quantify it so we are working to be able to do that and that way you can actually track it, so you can come up with metrics. So it’s all very new for us but it is definitely something we are really passionate about right now.

JC: That would be super cool for the industry to have too so that they can have a more actionable way of being sustainable. Because I know we hear it a lot of times but when we actually asked friends how are you being sustainable and show us the numbers, it’s never really associated with things that I assume our sustainable, it is always about ‘oh, where sourcing organic cotton from this farm that is allegedly Fairtrade…’ and that’s good in theory, but I don’t think that that is going to reduce the ways that we have all the things that are getting shipped to different countries and the edges pouring our non-usable clothing over there.

I think that we have to do more. I think that those things are noble in theory but it’s like slapping a bandaid on a gash and we have to do more. 

 Image of a child rummaging alone through a trash pile
Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

BM: As you said earlier, the fabrics and chemicals that we use all of that are becoming more and more sustainable. But until we find out how to reduce the overall amount of waste, we really got inspired by this idea to try and quantify the impact of returns on the environment because it really isn’t talked about in sustainability reports from companies and so we’re excited to be able to put some numbers behind that. 

JC: Certainly and I think that that part of the conversation is so needed because that’s a different aspect of the supply chain that we need to pay attention too when we are thinking about sustainability. But it could also be controversial because I think brands do a lot of things to kind of write-off returns and we don’t know what they do with their dead inventory, they are not always reporting how much inventory they have.

It could be embarrassing for them but it could be useful to have that kind of transparency so that they can change their assortment issues or whatever that data the buyers are using to put the wrong products in-store or online Can now be a big focus for the company and hopefully we can reduce all of these things with data which helps to get more accurate information.

Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Anchor.FM

Or head to our website to check out the rest of the episodes. This episode was produced by Aya Ford.

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