By Jennifer Dobrowolski
The Digital Party is Here: How Technology is Making Fashion More Sustainable
Let’s get digital! From working, shopping and socializing online, technology is definitely enhancing our lives. But what can we do more with it to make everything around us better? Be careful because this is a very detailed post: from blockchain to big data, join the digital party.
COVID-19 has fast-tracked the digital revolution. From the growing popularity of working remotely from our couch to virtual catwalks, this pandemic has forced all of us to innovate and evolve.
Major fashion brands are being called out on social media for failing to pay for canceled clothing orders by the #payup movement. As these social and environmental concerns continue to dominate our newsfeeds and our minds, it has become clear that we need all to play our part in changing the fashion industry; and a lot of this change needs innovations and technologies.
So which technologies are accelerating the transition towards sustainability in fashion?
1. Increased Transparency via Blockchain
At some point, you have probably heard somebody try (and fail) to clearly explain what blockchain is at a dinner party. Don’t worry, we won’t bore you with the details.
In Fashion, the role of blockchain is to increase supply chain transparency. The supply chain is the link between raw materials, the factories where clothing is made, and distribution to customers. Essentially, it’s everything it takes to bring a piece of clothing to you. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Supply chain transparency requires companies to know what is happening upstream in the supply chain and to communicate this knowledge both internally and externally.”
Neliana Fuenmay, founder of A Transparent Company, explains blockchain in the context of the fashion supply chain simply:
“It is an information layer that allows anyone, in this case, from the supply chain, to prove a claim. Be it about sustainability, quality, and even authenticity. Its name sums it up: blocks [of information/transaction] in a chain.”
For instance, when a cotton shipment leaves the farm, it is typically recorded through private information systems, or sometimes pen and paper. Usually, a sales invoice is created that contains information about this specific batch of cotton, which is kept between the buyer and seller. When the cotton reaches the textile company, they sign a form and create more paperwork, and so on. These administrative processes follow the raw material through each step of the chain, up until it becomes a finished product. By storing all this information in a blockchain system, the information blocks collect and self-validate. Once the information is there, it stays there forever and cannot be altered. It is also easily accessible to anyone who can read QR codes on their cell phone, hence the transparency. It holds multinational companies accountable for their supply chain and makes it visible to all. No need for old PC’s!
Transparency alone does not hold much weight, as we state in our Glossary. Knowing which factory a garment was made in is a start, but it will not tell you about the working conditions, wages, or policies. Once companies have invested in the technological infrastructure for a traceable supply chain and that information becomes accessible, ensuring safe working conditions and environmental safeguards should follow. In this way, we can all establish trust, ensuring that there is nothing to hide.
2. Big Data and Sustainability Metrics
At the 2019 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Google Cloud partnered with vegan designer Stella McCartney (available on Renoon!) to create a tool that uses data analytics and machine learning to help brands measure the environmental footprint of their production.
The partnership set out to focus on the impact of cotton and viscose, two of the most popular fibers used in fashion. Their goal: create a tool that can measure the impact at each individual link in the fashion supply chain.
Earlier this month, Google announced a partnership with WWF Sweden to build an environmental data platform that will enable more conscious sourcing decisions in the fashion industry. This collaboration will build on the insights from the ongoing partnership with Stella McCartney, examining 20 raw materials, ranging from synthetics to natural products. The findings will be put together into services that will help brands take more sustainability-led decisions when sourcing materials.
This project, along with the work that Renoon does to evaluate sustainability at the product level will help bring sustainable fashion closer to you!
3. Material Innovation & Waste Reduction
Material innovation is an excellent example of how fashion and technology can work together to promote sustainability. One of the materials of the future goes by the name of Piñatex®.
The process of growing pineapples inherently creates waste. The remaining leaves once the pineapples have been harvested are called a “byproduct” of the industry. Normally, byproducts such as these are burned or discarded – that is until Piñatex® came along. To create Piñatex®, these pineapple leaves are repurposed into a leather-looking sustainable material.
Their use also creates an additional income stream for farming communities that otherwise rely on a seasonal harvest.
So, in the making of Piñatex® there is
#1 Better use of natural resources
#2 Support for local farming communities
Browse Renoon’s collection of Pinatex here.
4. Digital Tools and Availability of Information
Finally, since information has become easily accessible online, tools like Renoon have emerged to index the world of online shopping like a giant internet filter and help you navigate the sea of scattered sustainable products with the click of a button!