Without a doubt, the fast-fashion industry has grown leaps and bounds over the past 60 years. It evolved from a seasonal industry to one with new clothes arriving every week, roughly corresponding to 52 seasonal weeks throughout the year. Fast-fashion retailers work hard to make the consumer believe that clothing is so dirt cheap, it can be thrown away guilt-free. Large fast-fashion retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, Primark, and others are at the heart of the problem.
By continuously lowering the prices of its products while keeping the costs constant, the labour market is forced to accept the hard bargain of this equation. Pollution is also another issue that plagues this industry. Fast fashion is one of the world's most wasteful and polluting industries, second only to the oil and petroleum industries.
H&M, for example, reported a global inventory of unsold clothing totaling more than 4.3 billion euros. Each year, half a million tonnes of microfibers from clothing leak into our oceans, according to a report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2017.
Fortunately, the fashion industry is taking steps to reduce its negative impact on the environment, thanks to increased awareness of these issues and global consumer demand for more sustainable products and eco-friendly behaviours. Fashion brands are incorporating technology to make clothing production and consumption more sustainable, including reassessing the use of plant-based textiles and bacterial dyes, as well as establishing blockchain-based supply chains to increase transparency.
Following are some of the ways in which technology is helping the new era of the textile economy:
Alternative/ Eco-friendly Textiles
Cotton and polyester are the most widely used textiles on the planet. They are also responsible for significantly increasing our carbon footprint around the world each year, polluting the air and filling landfills to capacity. Both of these resources have a significant environmental impact. Cotton production is heavily reliant on water, labour, and pesticides. They are not only wreaking havoc on the environment but also endangering human lives.
Punjab is one of India's leading cotton producers, and an increase in pesticide use has been directly linked to an increase in jaundice, various skin pigmentation disorders, cancers, and even childbirth and other congenital abnormalities in the region.
Thankfully, some fashion brands are taking note of this dilemma and converting food remnants into sustainable fabrics and leathers using technological advancements and lessons learned from the pre-industrialization era.
DHURI by Madhurima Singh, for example, has been at the forefront of this innovation in India, creating sustainable fabrics out of plant waste and incorporating them into their collections.
Automation and Fashion On-demand
Fashion behemoths lag in terms of environmental goals. Fast fashion and mass production have contributed to massive amounts of waste and return to landfills. Marketers pushed mass consumption on consumers, and this mentality fueled their business model throughout the 1920s. Within a year, there have been additional e-commerce advancements and the development of an entirely new business model, an unanticipated effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are now in charge, and they care deeply about both personalized experiences and the environment. On-demand design and manufacturing is the next big thing in fashion, and it will play a significant role in the future of fashion.
Marketplaces with built-in technology are reshaping the ethical and sustainable fashion industries. One such fashion-tech online platform, Upcycleluxe aims to build a conscious authentic ethical community of curated home-grown fashion brands, informs customers about ‘what's their impact on the environment’ when they buy a product via an integrated science-based sustainable target solution. Sustainability is measured, managed, and marketed at Upcycleluxe.
One cotton shirt requires about 2,700 litres of water, which is roughly equivalent to what one person drinks in 2.5 years. Because cotton production is heavily reliant on pesticides, the fast-fashion industry and its supply chains are strongly inextricably linked with soil degradation and biodiversity loss. Composting, avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and planting crops that enrich the soil with natural nutrients to prevent soil erosion are all examples of regenerative agriculture techniques. Kering, Patagonia, and Prana are just a few of the major brands that are investing in regenerative farming.
Patagonia and Prana are also key members of the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA), which are working to develop a Regenerative Organic Certification to establish a legally quantifiable standard for regenerative farming.
The Circular Fashion Model
Brands such as Gap, H&M, Nike, and Stella McCartney have teamed up to launch the ‘Make Fashion Circular’ initiative, which aims to transform the fashion industry into a circular operating model. Working with key fashion manufacturers and designers to focus on business models that keep clothes in use, incorporate more renewable materials, and recycle old clothes is central to the circular fashion model.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular fashion model could cut Europe's carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030 and reduce consumption of other materials such as fuel, pesticides, fertilisers, and water by 53 percent by 2050.
A More Transparent Supply Chain
With growing public awareness about sustainable fabric, fair trade, and labour conditions, particularly since the release of 'The True Cost' in 2015, more consumers are becoming aware of where and how their clothes are made. Blockchain technology has the potential to play a significant role in this paradigm shift. Blockchain startup ‘Provenance' created a ‘smart label' that, when scanned, shows the consumer a digital journey of the garment from its origin to its final production.
Meanwhile, EON has created a digital thread that uses RFID to store information about the fabric of the garment. Although these technologies are still in their infancy, an initial commercialization study found that more than 65 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainably sourced fabric and products.
From Disposable to Reusable
Widespread internet use is reviving the second-hand market, transforming pre-loved clothing into re-loved clothing. ThredUp, a website for buying and selling used clothing, has raised more than 125 million dollars in funding. Similarly, ReBag, an online luxury bag resale website, recently raised more than $25 million in funding. Many designers are collaborating with resale platforms, while also offering shopping credits to users who purchase their products.
Fashion is one of the most polluting and wasteful industries on the planet, but in the end, it’s up to us, the consumers, to embrace these sustainable fabrics, shop responsibly, and collectively be a part of the solution, and not a part of the pollution.