On an early spring day at Mamon, a seriously cool Tribeca haunt, while sipping great tea and eating the most awesome white chocolate cherry cookies w/ calorie count unknown, we met with Natalie Grillon, the Founder and CEO of Project Just. We were interested to discuss key supply chain issues and related retail industry trends. Since its inception 3 years ago, Natalie has led Project Just’s mission to apply metrics and analysis to increase the transparency of retailers’ supply chains.
Project Just is uniquely positioned to identify early on, key trends and factors that will disrupt the status quo of supply chains, where changes in consumer behavior, ie. demand for transparency, social justice, and constraints on natural resources, will fuel the restructuring of the industry on a global scale.
We chatted with Natalie on her outlook for the global retail industry and where she sees a convergence of several seriously disruptive trends:Retail manufacturers are actively working towards shortening the supply chain cycle so they can quickly respond to consumer demand, and shift their product offering for retail buyers so they can access merchandise closer to when it was designed versus waiting 9 to 12 months from design to delivery -- aka: a Zara like business model on a bigger scale.
Technology innovation - 3-D printing and robots will shorten the manufacturing cycle and cut out medium skilled workers.
Demographics - the unique perspective and characteristics of Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z which comprises a significant percentage of the population and the not to be forgotten “Perennials” (an emerging age agnostic group). The Perennials are highly selective about their purchase goods due to several factors including the backlash to fast fashion and clothes made by unethical and child labor.Millennials and Gen Z also do not have the incomes their parents had and want unique items individualized and custom goods that make a statement will grow in demand - Vintage reigns!!!
Additionally, as this group is also oriented to buying products online, retailers are struggling to maintain retail locations and physical stores. This consumer is also price sensitive and savvy with online purchases, and use online research to avail best prices by comparing multiple websites. Due to price sensitivity, the consumer can also be brand agnostic, especially when a brand value proposition is not apparent.
The Art of Selfies
The emergence of social media has encouraged Gen X and Millennials to showcase their daily lives in the public domain, posting their purchases on a daily basis as they perfect the “selfie” technique on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. It seems that having access to versatile, unique and customized products that are representative of a person’s identity is a growing trend among these consumers, since no one wants to be seen wearing the same thing that their friend wore yesterday. Artisanal items are special because they are produced in small batches and have a limited distribution - like Shokunin’s highly curated selection of artisanal products sourced from artisan communities worldwide.
Plastic goldfish is whats for dinner...
Consumers are also becoming more aware of the environmental impacts of manmade fibers such as polyester and nylon which enter the water systems as micro fibers and are consumed by the very fish we eat -- OMG #*&! -- which can potentially have serious health consequences.
Cutting down trees to make clothes
Rayon, another major textile group, also known as lyocell, modal, viscose and also sold under the brand name TencellⓇ has a significant negative impact on the environment in which it is produced. This category of material developed to mimic many of the desired qualities of the more expensive silk and wool fiber is comprised of cellulosic fibers. The production of cellulosic fibers has several serious negative environmental impacts - massive deforestation, as trees are cut down to obtain raw material inputs; water pollution as cellulosic fibers are produced by dissolving wood pulp in acid, a highly toxic process, and the reduction of ground water aquifer levels as plant species such as eucalyptus suck up massive amounts of water.
Doing Good is Good Business
Natalie also provided some key insights drawn from the analysis of consumer behavior exhibited by Millennials on their website. They demand radical transparency and would like companies to speak openly about their supply chains, reflecting their inherent mistrust of the corporate world. It is Project Just’s goal that through measurable metrics and increased transparency, companies will be differentiated with those integrating ESG* principles being clearly identifiable. Longer term, Natalie hopes to see a shift in incentives from low cost and fast manufacturing towards prioritizing ESG criteria and a decreased emphasis on low cost and fast manufacturing.
Longer term, companies may evolve towards a slow manufacturing and fast delivery strategy, as consumers demand grows for unique, high quality handcrafted goods, from around the globe.
Beacon for Navigating Murky Waters
Certification is about providing a roadmap that aligns their social compliance policies with the intent to execute them. All you can assume is the good intent and the consumers must do the due diligence. Celebrities and big brands must be held accountable. Organizations such as Project Just and others are giving consumers the tools to distinguish who’s getting it right and who isn’t. A factory can pass a Fair-Trade audit but there are ways to work around the system and a consumer can’t just read the checklist, and retail companies that are starting businesses can’t just trust the information provided. What is old is new again and there is no substitute for due diligence. Using a platform like Project Just helps consumers and emerging retailers navigate the maze of certifications and due diligence.
** ESG (environmental, social and governance) is a generic term used in capital markets and used by investors to evaluate corporate behavior and to determine the future financial performance of companies.