Photo by Amberjack
It’s a refrain we’ve heard repeated so many times before: In a world where networks are no longer constrained by borders and communication is practically instantaneous, designers are struggling to keep pace with a speed of fashion best described as “brand new today, discount rack tomorrow.” In fact, nowhere among the creative sectors is the pressure to deliver “felt more keenly” than in fashion, according to Lauretta Roberts, director of WGSN Futures, which released on Monday a white paper on technology’s role in boosting fashion’s sustainability and success. “Yes,” she wrote in the introduction to the report, “the very thing has helped speed the industry up to its current break-neck speed, holds the answer to restructuring the industry for a more sustainable and successful future.”
With growing evidence that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in how their clothing is rouced and manufactured, fashion is no longer “just seen as a form of self-expression in terms of personal style but also in terms of personal values,” Roberts said.
A 2014 Nielsen study, for instance, found that more than half of online consumers in 60 countries are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.
We can attribute this uptick in awareness to technology, as well, notes the WGSN report. By sharing producers’ stories, empowering consumers to make educated decisions about their purchases, promoting transparency in supply chains, and using crowdsourcing to reduce waste, technology has become a key driver in promoting a more ethical fashion industry.
Innovations like waterless dyeing, self-repairing textiles, and three-dimensional printing, along with fabrics made from novel waste materials such as recycled plastic bottles, pineapple leaves, and coffee grounds, further underscore technology’s position as a force for good.
We can also expect closed-loop textile supply chains to soon become the norm, predicts WGSN. “Old clothes will become new clothes as we ‘close the loop,'” the report said. “This will help replace the use of materials derived from non-renewable resources.”
Bleeding hearts have little to do with these developments. Altruism aside, the tightening vise on the world’s resources offer another compelling reason for fashion businesses to embrace this brave new side of the industry.
“Many of the materials the fashion industry depends on to produce clothes will become scarcer and more expensive as the impact of climate change are felt around the world,” WGSN said. “Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change; higher temperatures and reduced water availability will eventually reduce crop yields and increase the prevalence of pests and disease. This will have significant impacts on the production and costs of cotton, for example, which while resilient to temperature changes is very sensitive to water availability.”
Innovations in the supply chain have the potential not only to reduce production, manufacturing, and transport costs but they can also minimize these costs in ways that are better for the planet. Bonus: they offer a cool brand story.
“Sustainability, which was once seen as a supply chain problem is now seen as a design opportunity and a means by which brands can distinguish themselves in a packed market,” the group wrote. “Having ideas is one thing, but proving you have values is quite another and one that is more likely to resonate with the customer of the future.”