Interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson, Co-founder of Better Buying

 Dr. Marsha Dickson, Irma Ayers Professor, Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware discusses her co-founded Better Buying project(, a meaningful effort to improve the social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry. The video is produced by Mallory Metzner, reporter of channel 49 of the University of Delaware.

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

23 thoughts on “Interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson, Co-founder of Better Buying”

  1. I thought the interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson about her initiative for “Better Buying” practices was extremely informative and brought light to a side of the industry that many professionals leave in the dark. “Better Buying” is a website created for suppliers to communicate with buyers about purchasing practices, as well as a place for suppliers to rate buyers and give anonymous input on responsible practices of their partnerships. The issues at hand highlighted throughout the website are planning and forecasting, design and development, cost negotiations, payment and terms, and sourcing order placements. The supply chain for many fashion companies gets lost in translation, as many suppliers feel immense pressure to meet deadlines. Subcontracting to other factories (without buyer knowledge) is an issue that companies have been facing, which was brought to the public’s attention from the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, where a factory collapsed, revealing unsafe work conditions. This website will be an industry tool that can assist in the improvement of buyer/supplier relationships, while allowing companies to maintain their values on sustainability and social responsibility, with a completely transparent supply chain.

  2. Dr. Marsha Dickson states that the overall goal of the Better Buying Initiative is to contribute to industry-wide transformation of buyer purchasing practices so the buyer-supplier relationship allows each end to achieve their financial, environmental, and social sustainability goals. This is important to consider when looking at how many tragedies occur due to miscommunication and workplace conditions. When deadlines are approaching, factories are pushing to produce faster (or subcontract in other factories without the buyer’s permission) and ignoring serious factors that can harm employees — as seen in the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh. Many buyers who had products being produced in that factory were unaware of the conditions. Dr. Marsha Dickson also states that in order for these purchasing practices to improve, the buyer need to understand the viewpoint of the supplier and the challenges the supplier is facing which I think is a very important fact to consider.

  3. I thought this interview with Marsha Dickinson was very interesting and informative. The better buying project is a program in which it helps to reveal where purchasing practices can be improved. There are 7 main goals of this practices. They include: it allows the supplier to communicate with the buyers, includes planning and forecasting, design and development, cost negotiation , sourcing, payment, and management of the purchasing process. All of these elements make up this new project. What i thought was interesting that was mentioned in the interview was when the Rana Plaza incident was brought up. Many suppliers didn’t realize that their products were being manufactured where this incident occurred. This program would prevent this issue from happening and would create a better form of communication between the supplier and the buyer.

  4. Better Buying sounds like it is going to revolutionize the buyer to supplier relationship. Suppliers are contacted to find out what are the purchasing practice factors that suppliers need in order to have an optimal experience. Many buyers are unaware that their products are being produced in these unsafe conditions. The Better Buying system is addressing these issues and hoping to raise the voice of these suppliers in order to have effective, safe purchasing practices. Better Buying will be supplier focused in order to have an anonymous outlook for better business. I think this is going to be very successful and hopefully change the poor working conditions in many textile factories.

  5. I find Marsha Dickinson’s Better Buying initiative remarkable. After participating in the case study regarding the Rana Plaza disaster and discussing with my peers who was ultimately responsible for the tragedy, we came to the conclusion that it was difficult to decide who was ultimately the most responsible. There were issues with companies being unaware that their products were even being produced in that factory, which made it difficult to decide if the companies were completely at fault. Better Buying hopes to eliminate the potential for these tragedies ahead of time by improving suppliers communication with buyers to make sure both parties are on the same page. I would be interested in learning more about this program, especially as I enter the workforce in a few months!

  6. Marsha Dickinson’s “Better Buying” initiative is a great idea for helping shed a light on unfair labor practices across the globe due to the buyer-supplier relationship. With the Rana Plaza tragedy occurring and killing thousands of people, something needs to change. Dickinson’s plan is to help the buyer-supplier relationship so that buyers aren’t setting unrealistic quotas and suppliers aren’t making their employees work 20 hours a day to complete those goals. I think it’s smart that Better Buying is going to be mainly focused on suppliers because this will hopefully make factories more safe and promote fair labor standards. Too many tragedies have occurred due to overcrowded and unsafe factories, and this initiative is looking to stop them from reoccurring.

  7. I thought that this video on “Better Buying” with Marsha Dickinson was extremely informative. I feel that this is something that most people do not consider or think about as often when they are purchasing clothing. It is a good idea to begin to shed a light on this issue, so people are aware of where the clothing they are purchasing has come from. The Rana Plaza tragedy is something that should never happen again. I feel that unfair labor practices need to be put to an end and this is a step to improving them. Overall, this video was very interesting and very important for anyone involved in the fashion industry to watch.

    1. Well said! A unique contribution of the project is that it places “pressures” on importers and retailers instead of factories in the developing countries. Quite a few studies show that fashion brands and retailers’ buying practices (such as insufficient lead time and cost pressure) could have a negative impact on the condition of social responsibility in a garment factory (for example–en/index.htm) I look forward to seeing the positive impact of the better buying project on the industry.

  8. I thought that this video about Dr. Marsha Dickson, Co-founder of Better Buying was extremely informative and interesting. I think that unfortunately the average consumer is not educated enough on the different components of the fashion industry and how these components such as the relationship between the buyer and the suppliers effects people on a daily basis. The creation of this forum where buyers and suppliers can rate each other and the general public can see these ratings are very innovative and it will help prevent tragedies like Rana Plaza from occurring.

      1. I think that “Better Buying” is a great way to shed a light on the darker, less talked about side of the supply chain and can be very useful. I think that there will be potential challenges for this project such as suppliers having fears of losing business. If they rate the buyers poorly, they can lose the business. Even though it is anonymous, I’m sure buyers will be able to figure out what supplier said what based off how they treated them. Also, buyers may not want to work with suppliers who use this since fashion is a fast changing pace and sometimes they need to change orders last minute, calling for unethical choices to be made by the factories. This may make buyers shy away from these suppliers in fear that deadlines won’t be met as well as getting poorly reviewed.

  9. I thought the interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson was very informative and eye opening to some consumers. She introduced her co-founded Better Buying Project, and she a light on the relationship between buyers and suppliers. They consulted with buyers and talked about how to improve these factory environments with their suppliers. She also touched on how the buyers were shown the factories that produced some of their products, and the buyers were unaware of these factories producing for them. She details that focus on the supplier is very important and they need to use their voice. The buyer also needs to be able to look at the suppliers position. This Better Buying Projects initiative is to help the supplier so that there can be improvements within purchasing practices

  10. The Better Buying initiative is a great platform to begin having conversations between buyers and suppliers about improved purchasing practices. In the video, Dr. Marsha Dickson discusses the goals of the project: to allow suppliers to provide anonymous input about how specific buyers’ purchasing practices make it difficult for suppliers to achieve compliance with their own code of conduct for working conditions, and to create a forum for suppliers and buyers to share and talk about potential solutions to the problems. This type of initiative has the potential to benefit both parties. Suppliers who have been frustrated by buyers in the past can now feel comfortable to critique these buyers in a safe space with full anonymity. Buyers are always looking for ways to improve their performance, but may not know how to do so, and with Better Buying they will be able to find the answers they’re looking for. My only concern would be what would happen if a supplier were to post false or particularly defaming information about a buyer just because they were frustrated with them? There will have to be a standard format for rating these companies that tries to combat subjectivity and personal bias as much as possible.

    1. You mad a great point that “Buyers are always looking for ways to improve their performance, but may not know how to do so”… or maybe they had no idea how some of their purchasing behaviors would affect workers in the factories in a negative way.

      And you raised a great question! I will forward it to Dr. Dickson and see how she thinks about it

    2. Thanks for your input and very good question. We actually protect buyers from vindictive supplier ratings by requiring suppliers answer the full set of questions covering the full range of business practices. Chances are they might be upset about one area, but when considering the full business relationship there will be things the buyer did pretty well! And the other protection is statistics. Because we average all the supplier responses together, a single outlier will be washed out. But if there are a lot of ratings showing unhappy suppliers that peobsblunrevesls a truth that needs to be addressed!

  11. The Better Buying initiative is definitely pointing out issues within the suppliers and the buyers’ relationship. Transparency can be a challenge in a globalization world, as we’ve learned in the VF Case Study – most apparel companies used short-term contracts to produce a specific garment in specific volumes, which allows the brand to shift production among suppliers in different locations in order to optimize costs and to respond to changes in exchange rates, tariffs, and other cost factors. However, these suppliers need to reduce costs in order to compete for future contracts, which led to the lack of coordination and trust between the suppliers and the apparel brands. These suppliers feel the pressure to compete with other suppliers in different locations thus resulting in subcontracting to other factories who may operate on substandard work conditions. In the case study, the VF Corp introduced third-way sourcing – which was meant to establish trust and provide a more transparent supply chain. Though, the third way sourcing strategy requires the skilled engineers to go overseas and help regulate these factories. This platform provides another way to improve both the suppliers and the buyers’ practices, as well as providing a more transparent supply chain for brands who may not be able to afford to send workers overseas.

  12. Although we know how important a complete and through supply chain is in the development, production, shipment, and placing of goods and services around the world, it is very easy to forget how crucial of a factor it is to have a good supplier/buyer relationship. Having such a partnership with better and more open communication has the ability to lead the supplier to many more orders and contracts with this company in the future. The buyer also benefits through factors such as: better prices offered, greater quality construction, and more care and effort toward all contributing employees. The Better Buying project will allow buyers to better understand how well their suppliers are following the compliance stance of the buyer’s company, and they do so by “walking a mile in one another’s shoes.” This notion really stuck out to me because it serves to enhance the partnership a supplier and buyer must have over anything else. This is a really great concept, particularly in this day and age in the fashion industry.

  13. I think Better Buying Project is a good idea, and it provides a platform to buyers and suppliers to talk about purchasing practices, and setting up relationships. The program wants to achieve economical, sustainable, and environmental goals in the fashion industry, and enhancing the whole process of purchasing practices. I think manufacture is an important progress in the fashion industry, and it may lead to many problems if it does not work well, including labor safety problem and economic problems. For example, the Rena Plaza tragedy, it always reminds people in the fashion industry to build a health working environment. However, still many people do not aware think it is not a big problem, and pursuing high profit. I believe the program can protect suppliers in someways.

  14. This video was very interesting to learn about the Better Buying project. This was especially interesting because of our most recent case study we did on VF. In that case study we learned about how VF was trying to change their buying practices. They were trying to focus on build better relationships with the buyer and supplier, which seems to be something that Better Buying is doing as well. They are trying to keep open communication throughout 7 different categories. The categories are analyzed every size months to keep up with the relationships. VF could potentially learn something from the Better Buying project.

  15. Marsh Dickson has a very interesting outlook on the global apparel industry with her “better buying” initiative. I have never heard about anything like this, but I know that it can definitely be put to use because there are many issues that occur within interactions of suppliers and buyers. This is a good way for suppliers to know who will be a loyal buyer and not treat them unfairly. It has an anonymous feature that allows suppliers to really say what they want and not be afraid to have any complications with other buyers. There is a lot of pressure on suppliers for having to meet certain deadlines and sometimes buyers don’t budge and have poor social responsibility, but thankfully “better buying” prevents things like this from happening. I hope that suppliers take advantage of this opportunity because it can only be beneficial to the apparel industry and would cause less harm on the workers within these factories.

  16. I really enjoyed listening to Dr. Marsha Dickson’s interview on her “better buying” initiative. It was very informative and eye opening. After learning about the Rana Plaza tragedy and discussing the issues in class with my peers, I had a whole new outlook on working conditions and buying practices. Also, with our most recent case study on VF, we learned that they wanted to/ were trying to change their buying practices by making relationships between buyers and suppliers stronger with trust and better communication. It is great to hear that the “better buying” initiative is making efforts to reduce workplace tragedies and fairness between companies as well as to create stronger buyer-supplier relationships.

  17. Hi everyone, thanks for your interest in Better Buying and your enthusiasm about what we are doing. You might also enjoy this recent video, created by UD graduate student Dipti Bhatt who works with me in Better Buying. It addresses some of the concerns that suppliers may have and reminds of the protections in place. This really is a new and unique opportunity to amplify supplier voice and raise the concerns they have about how business plays out. Enjoy!

  18. Dr. Marsha raises the attention to the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh. Not only the Brands’ companies should pay attention to the event, but also the shoppers. When people are shopping they do not know the histories about the clothes that they are buying. They do not know the cost, the origin, labor, and the materials.
    Once consumers realized the slave labors in the fashion industry they will help to support them. They will buy wisely to support ethical companies and manufactories.
    Also, the companies will communicate with manufactories more and offer better environment for workers in order to avoid more collapse or injuries.

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