Interview with Han Bekke

Han Bekke
Han Bekke
International Apparel Federation
International Apparel Federation

Impact on environment creating negative image of industry
After almost forty years, the International Apparel Federation has become the world's leading federation for apparel manufacturers, their associations, and the supporting industry. IAF's membership now includes apparel associations from more than 40 countries representing over 150,000 companies who provide products and services to the apparel industry - a membership that represents over 20 million employees. Associate members are prominent companies or institutes in technology, business services, retailing, logistics, culture and education. The IAF redrafted its mission statement in 2006, broadening its scope and embracing the entire apparel chain. The same year, its headquarters moved from London to Zeist, near Amsterdam where the first IAF office was set up, before moving on to Berlin. Han Bekke, president of the federation, talks about the future of apparel industry.

How has the apparel world changed in the last few years?

The apparel industry in the past few years has had to work under volatile global macro-economic conditions. The fashion market has become a very competitive market with high pressure on margins. Since 2009, the global apparel market has been experiencing a slowdown in growth to some 2-3 per cent per year as a result of the economic crisis that started in 2008.

But, there are also positive signs. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicates that the growth of the world economy in 2018 and 2019 will be 3.9 per cent on an average. Economic growth in the European Union (EU) will be 2.4 per cent, Japan 1.2 per cent, and the United States (US) 2.9 per cent. The conclusion is that strong economic growth will be there in other parts of the world too like in India, China and Brazil. The IMF also reported that the growth of welfare in western countries in per capita terms will never be as high as before the financial crisis of 2008. The reasons for this that the IMF is mentioning in its report are: population getting older, decreasing labour participation, and a low growth in productivity.  For all of us working in the apparel and textiles industry, it is good to realise that these figures can be quickly influenced by geo-political developments, by tensions in international trade via import duties, by tax plans in major consumer markets, etc.

What are the major challenges that the apparel sector is facing?

Consumer behaviour continues to change. According to the McKinsey survey 'State of Fashion 2018', consumers have become more demanding, more discerning and less predictable. This is challenging for companies in our sector who in my view have to reconsider their business models. Speed to market is key. Innovation is needed next to a sustainability approach.

Which factors affect the overall performance of the apparel industry?

New challenges and opportunities are ahead of us. Entrepreneurs are used to initiate, innovate and invest, knowing that risks will be there all the time. Geo-political tensions will continue, the trade policy landscape is still uncertain, and disruptive technologies will continue to come up, digitisation of the fashion market will not stop, and consumers will be more demanding. On top of this, we have a huge responsibility to make our value chain more sustainable, not only in terms of social conditions under which our products are produced, but also from an environmental point of view. The image of our sector has deteriorated in the past years, and I see a growing pressure from society to improve. 

I see two main developments: a race to the bottom on the one hand, where one could question whether this is profitable at the end and whether it will improve the living and working conditions of workers in low wage countries. The pressure on our supply chain to be really transparent and be accountable for these conditions is increasing. On the other hand, I see a movement from focus on price to focus on quality, more value for money, sustainability and speed to market. This could make local manufacturing or re-shoring based on new technology (robots, 3D) attractive.

Which major projects are you currently working on?

IAF's mission is to unite all stakeholders of the fashion industry, including brands, retailers, suppliers and country associations from around the world to enable and promote smarter, stronger, more sustainable supply chains. IAF is structurally carrying out projects with the multiple goals of supplementing income, learning and working in depth on industry development with its members. IAF has worked in the last two years on four projects: one each in Ethiopia and the Netherlands, and two in Bangladesh. In the Netherlands, IAF has been supporting Dutch member MODINT for several years in its innovation stimulation work. In Ethiopia, together with its member Actif Africa and funded by the EU, the IAF researched the development of the Ethiopian garment industry and organised export preparatory workshops for Ethiopian garment manufacturers. In Bangladesh, the IAF acted as advisor to the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka, helping it organise a large conference named 'Sustainable Sourcing in the Garment Sector (SSGS). This was a success and led to a follow up project which IAF is leading. It is essentially a feasibility study for a global management course aimed at both buyers and manufacturers called 'Collaborative Sourcing Course'. The Dutch Ministry, IAF, IAF member BGMEA and ILO Better Work are core project partners.  Last year IAF opened its first regional office in Sialkot (Pakistan) at the premises of its Pakistan member PRGMEA in order to assist local manufacturers to respond to the challenges in de textile-clothing pipeline.

We are also working on a common project with ITMF (International Textile Manufacturers Federation) on audit effectiveness. There are too many audits and a lot of costs are involved for manufacturers. Our aim is to cut down these costs in our supply chain by harmonising these audits.

Sustainability is another topic IAF is working on in order to harmonise all the efforts worldwide to make our sector more sustainable.
Published on: 16/05/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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