Top themes and challenges from this year’s AAFA Traceability & Sustainability Conference


August 2, 2023By Brian Carelli, Vice President, Software Development, Infor Nexus & Valerie Keast, Senior Account Manager, Infor Nexus

The July 2023 AAFA (American Apparel and Footwear Association) Traceability & Sustainability Conference in Boston, MA brought together top apparel brands and industry leaders to address pressing challenges and opportunities in the realms of traceability and sustainability. Several key themes emerged from the discussions, highlighting the shared commitment to driving positive change in the fashion and apparel industry. Here were some of the top themes and challenges from this year’s AAFA Traceability & Sustainability Conference:

Key themes

  1. Embracing change and taking action
    A prevailing sentiment throughout the conference by apparel leaders was the acknowledgment that no single entity has all the answers when it comes to traceability and sustainability. However, they all recognized the urgency of the global challenges, such as increased environmental transparency, and ensuring goods aren’t produced with forced labor. Attendees emphasized the importance of taking the first steps towards meaningful action. Brands were encouraged not to remain "stuck" but to actively embrace innovation and drive transformative change.
  2. Unity in addressing global challenges
    Speakers emphasized the need for a collective effort in tackling sustainability challenges. Many speakers emphasized that brands, solution providers, regulatory bodies, and stakeholders should collaborate and unite in their pursuit of traceability and sustainability. They highlighted the significance of industry-wide cooperation for achieving positive outcomes.
  3. Regulations and environmental responsibility
    The impact of sustainability-related legislation was a key topic of discussion, such as the proposed EU Product Passport1. Governments at both the national and state levels are introducing regulations to enhance environmental responsibility, and attendees agreed that such legislation will continue to increase and evolve over time. Some speakers said that some brands may need to make significant changes to comply with emerging sustainability requirements, making environmental responsibility part of their business strategies.
  4. Strategically addressing the issues
    Industry experts suggested that addressing sustainability initiatives requires a strategic approach that goes beyond concentrating solely on unfinished fiber and product accountability. Brands shared their challenges in traceability, particularly when tracking beyond their tier 1 suppliers. Industry experts recommended utilizing multiple vendors as no single entity possesses the capability to handle the entire traceability process. Additionally, brands were encouraged to learn from other industries that have successfully implemented traceability initiatives, such as healthcare, drug, and food.

Key challenges

  1. Tracing beyond Tier 1 suppliers
    Brands expressed difficulties in tracing beyond their tier 1 suppliers. Even though Brands are aware of current and potential global legislation surrounding material origins, like the Uyghur Act2, finding effective solutions that encompass the entire supply chain remains a challenge.
  2. Compliance with sustainability regulations
    The evolving landscape of sustainability-related legislation encourages brands to make changes to comply with emerging requirements. Ensuring product claims are verified and meeting environmental standards are areas of focus for many manufacturers.
  3. Managing Scope 3 emissions
    Brands are seeking to capture data on Scope 3 emissions into their supply chain management to measure the environmental impact of their entire value chain. This is challenging for brands as a Deloitte survey found that while companies are prepared to report their Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions, a vast majority (86%) reported challenges measuring Scope 3 GHG emission3.
  4. Eliminating harmful chemicals
    Speakers and attendees also discussed eliminating harmful chemicals, such as PFAS. PFAS has been found in a variety of everyday garments such as rain jackets, hiking pants, shirts and yoga pants4. The industry discussed commitments to consumer safety and environmental health and how to eliminate harmful substances, such as PFAS and other chemicals, from products.
  5. Support recycling
    Some brands are working towards creating easily recyclable products and providing access to recycling facilities to encourage consumer behavior. In fact, some brands are starting to offer upcycled clothing to support sustainability and circular fashion5

Despite the challenges, everyone seemed optimistic about the future. Attendees shared their confidence in discussing success stories of traceability and sustainability within the industry in the coming years. By coming together, learning from other leaders, and embracing change, attendees felt that we can pave the way for positive transformations in the apparel sector and beyond.

As the industry continues to evolve, brands are turning to Infor Nexus to help support their sustainability and traceability initiatives. Infor Nexus™ is a world leading multi-enterprise supply chain business network that helps support supply chain transparency, compliance, and sustainable business practices. Ultimately, Infor Nexus provides a multitude of ways for supply chain leaders to tackle their initiatives while improving business performance, which you can read more about in this article. Interested in learning more about Infor Nexus? Connect with us below!


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