The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported that the fashion industry could account for as much as 25% of the world’s total allowable carbon emissions by 2050 if the current practices continued.
A study by Unilever revealed that 21% of people would support brands that clearly conveyed sustainability principles through their marketing and packaging. The fashion industry is now under pressure to meet these expectations.
Conscious buying is directly affecting shopping decisions and fashion brands must strive to connect with this new, conscious buyer. The conscious buyer cares about sustainability, responsible manufacturing practices, and ethical sourcing. Today’s customers demand transparent visibility and involvement in the business processes to validate the brand’s claim in these areas, too.
So how can technology help in connecting a brand with the conscious buyer? Technology can be integrated into every step of the process from sourcing to manufacturing. Here’s how:
At the conceptual stage
There are numerous applications of technologies like artificial intelligence in the fashion production process, particularly at the ideation stage.
As more focus is being brought to bear on the wasteful nature of the fashion industry, ethical brands have shifted their focus from fashion seasons to longevity and functionality. With this shift in focus, AI has a larger role to play in the design aspect. AI is helping brands zero in on styles and fashions that represent the values that are most likely to resonate with their key consumers. The aim is to lessen experimentation and soft launches and increase data-backed successful decisions.
Sourcing sustainable fabrics
In the report “The State of Fashion 2019”, McKinsey and Company said that 79% of fashion industry execs believed that self-disruption among legacy brands would among the biggest trends of the industry. The challenge for established brands is how to capture the attention of consumers who are focusing on more nimble, conscious brands with whom they share values and principles.
A huge part of the conscious consumption movement is about sourcing sustainable fabrics. This focus on energy-consciousness extends then across the manufacturing process too. Consumers no longer accept that it takes 2,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. They are willing to shift their loyalty to companies that are actively working to change these stats. Technology has a huge role to play in improving such outdated practices.
From AI-enabled silk to hemp, technology has given rise to plenty of innovation in sustainable fabrics. Less resource-heavy and longer-lasting materials are emerging. Technology is also bringing us materials like Lyocell. A material derived from wood pulp, it’s environmental impact across the manufacturing process is considerably less than traditional materials like cotton.
Streamlining of supply chains
It’s a fact that offshore supply chains from distant shores are not efficient. The supply chain of the future is agile and self-sufficient. Offshore production is slowly being replaced by onshore and nearshore production, all thanks to technology.
Technology such as automation, 3D printing, and robotics have made it possible to have prototypes ready in a matter of minutes. This speed and efficiency have made it more convenient and inexpensive to produce on your home turf, eliminating the costs and hassles of shipping.
Technology is also providing brands and their customers real-time visibility into the entire production and shipping process. This helps optimize the supply chain, helps prevent returns, and reduces waste.
Tracking for transparency
42% of millennials and 37% of Gen Z buyers want to know what goes into their products before making a purchase. How does a fashion brand achieve that?
Technology like AI and blockchain are making it possible for brands to trace every step of the value chain. From the sourcing of raw materials to the manufacturing of textiles and shipping, everything can be traced with the help of these innovative technologies. RFID allows for easy verification and online integration so that you can trace each article right back to its place of origin, the place of origin of the materials, and so on. Once the process is in place, it’s only a matter of providing access to your consumers so they can reassure themselves about the veracity of your claims.
Lightning speed iteration and production
Technology such as 3D printing allows for quick prototypes. Sewbots and other forms of automation on factory floors speed up the production process considerably. Nimble supply chains and nearshore production saves a whole lot of time and energy. All of this technology comes together to accelerate the production process and improve its agility.
Products are released faster which allows customers to have a product in hand faster. Since fashion brands can create smaller batches and pivot when the need arises, they end up wasting less. This helps to reduce post-consumer waste and all else that goes with it -packaging, plastic micro-fiber, etc.
Of course, technology is only the enabler. It is up to the brand to communicate the efforts it is making. It will help to showcase the technology that the brand adopts on the journey to being “conscious”. Technology aims at creating a strong enabling framework for, what we call, ethical fashion. The idea is to be less wasteful and more mindful.
Technology is transforming the way that fashion is created and perceived, from the insight-driven direction of the fashion design process to smart textiles that can harness energy from raindrops, from optimizing the supply chain to making the manufacturing process more agile.
We are excited to see what technology has in store for fashion in a more conscious future -are you?