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How Kuyichi fights for a serious system change in the fashion industry – especially now

By Partner


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The fashion industry has been hit hard by the crisis due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Entire supply chains are shut down, collections aren’t sold and the pressure on brands, suppliers and retailers is bigger than ever. During these hard times, difficult choices are made. Some decisions are made out of fear, not always keeping the consequences for others in mind. Sustainable denim brand Kuyichi is fighting for every party in their supply chain and calls other brands to do the same. “We have to take our responsibility, especially now. Every choice we make has an impact on everyone we work with. We will only get through this if we work together.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has completely turned the fashion industry upside down. Retailers have to close their shops temporarily, brands are losing their income and can no longer pay for their productions, raw material suppliers have to stop their productions and factories have to (partially) close their doors. Moreover, we are at the beginning of an intense sales and production season. Factories that are currently shut down still have to work towards tight production deadlines because the fashion world has once decided that the autumn/winter collections should launch in August - the hottest month of the year. Although spring/summer collections usually go on sale before summer even starts, many brands feel compelled to start their sale now.

A lack of responsibility

Peter Schuitema, CEO of sustainable denim brand Kuyichi, also saw his entire company change in just a few days. “Because our retailers had to close their doors, a large part of our orders Dropped/vanished? in a short time. Fortunately, we offer a non-seasonal product, we’re a healthy company and we have an online shop that still covers a part of the turnover. We can survive for a while, but it shouldn't take too long for us either.” But Schuitema is concerned about more things. “I’m on the phone with my suppliers every day and what they tell me really worries me. Many production lines are down and on the other hand deadlines often remain because brands want to launch their new collection at a fixed moment”. Another problem is that many fast fashion brands have cancelled their orders and don’t take responsibility for this enormous impact on their suppliers. “Suppliers usually already have a weak position in the supply chain, by doing this they are really putting them at risk. If there is no need for it, don’t cancel your orders. We are talking about human lives here”.

With Kuyichi he tries to deal with the situation as consciously and respectfully as possible. Every option and decision is discussed with his retailers. The brand always takes feasibility into account and payment arrangements are being made that work for both parties. Kuyichi is in daily contact with all their suppliers and together they look for doable and fair solutions for both parties. For example, the pressure on the production chain is taken off where possible, some productions are postponed and payments are spread. “We really do this together and share our responsibility,” says Schuitema, “and it feels great”.

The underlying problem: fashion’s rat race to the bottom

According to Schuitema, the current crisis is revealing what has been wrong with the fashion system for a long time: the infinite rat race to the bottom. “We are going too fast for what both the earth and we can handle. The industry has been strangling itself for a long time. There are way too many collection launches in a year, sale season starts way too early in the season, the supply chain keeps speeding up and we are exhausting the earth and the makers. This has to stop at some point.”

Kuyichi has been proving that it’s possible to not participate in that rat race since 2016, when the brand chose to stop making seasonal collections and doing sale. Instead, Kuyichi now focuses on timeless items and never out of stock styles. It turns out to be a successful formula, even in times of crisis. Schuitema: “Fortunately, we don't have to worry about the upcoming sale season and a complete collection that we have to get rid of. Our products often remain in our collection for years. This is a huge advantage now.”

“The power is in the chain, especially now”

He has a clear opinion about what is needed in the fashion world during this time of crisis. “This uncertainty is causing a lot of panic everywhere and of course this makes sense. But by responding out of fear, we are pushing suppliers, retailers, consumers and ourselves over the edge. Therefore, Kuyichi wants to ask all brands, suppliers, retailers, agents, fairs and other organisations: stay calm and where possible, make choices that do not only benefit you, but the bigger picture as well. Don’t cancel orders if you don’t have to, spread deliveries and try to reduce the pressure on others as much as possible. And keep working closely with your suppliers. Communicate openly and humanely about the impact of this crisis on production, planning, finances and the effect on garment workers. Don't focus too much on profit and growth, but on surviving together.”

Kuyichi also calls on other brands to follow the natural seasons from now on. “Don't launch autumn and winter collections before September, before autumn actually starts. That just doesn’t make sense. And really try to avoid an early sale season. If we continue our normal routine during this time, there will be no more time to sell the current collection in the normal way. Postponing sale season gives brands and retailers the opportunity to offer their collection at normal price. Many brands need this to stay healthy.”

Schuitema is positive in the long term. “I hope these days will encourage consumers to make more conscious choices. And I hope that the industry will force itself to finally build a truly fair system. We all need to act and start taking responsibility. How difficult this time may be, we really are in this together.”

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