In recent years, the need for sustainability in fashion has become apparent. The fashion industry is an energy-exhausting market, it accounts for about ‘10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater‘. That’s more than the aviation and shipping industries combined. The fashion industry is now the second biggest polluter in the world. Water pollution caused by toxic dyes and chemicals is harmful for aquatic and human life. Large quantities of fresh water used to produce cotton depletes an already scarce resource. Textile waste contains synthetic fibres such as polyester, which can take up to 200 years to decompose, and the list goes on.
Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental cost of fashion
One of the biggest culprits is fast fashion; clothes made and sold cheaply to meet current trends. Fast fashion along with social media also contributes to ‘wear it once’ culture; resulting in more waste. Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental cost of fashion, turning to recycling and reselling in an effort to be more eco-conscious with their clothing. So, how is technology improving sustainability in fashion?
Blockchain technology creates a supply chain for a physical product, for instance, a piece of clothing and records each step of where it comes from. Consumers can scan a smart label and see a digital history of the garments journey, from the source to production. This technology isn’t available for the mainstream just yet but is a step forward to increasing sustainable fashion.
Petit Pli are a ‘wearable technology’ company. They design clothes that grow with children, from 9 months to 4 years. They’re made from recycled fabrics, and they can easily be recycled again at the end of their use. Petit Pli states that their designs ‘significantly reduce waste and CO2 emissions at the point of production, distribution and after purchase’. Their innovation is introducing a new generation to sustainability and reducing waste.
Digital sampling is also cutting down textile waste because brands can see a 3D version of their designs without the need for physical fabric. The method has already gained traction with global brands like adidas.
The retail industry is using artificial intelligence or AI to predict trends and sales, which prevents overproduction and allows brands to understand consumer patterns. An autonomous factory opened in the US in 2018. Using Sewbots, which are the creation of SoftWear Automation and are designed to sew clothing. The Fashion For Good initiate predicts that Sewbots could decrease global carbon emissions by 10%. Despite this, there is concern that Sewbots could replace human workers in other countries. This could put jobs at risk and lead to displacement in countries with a large manufacturing industry.
New materials created through technology are preserving resources and reducing the use of chemicals. One example is Bolt Threads, creators of Mylo leather and Microsilk. Mylo leather, made from a type of fungus is biodegradable. The material can grow in days, saving time, land, resources and livestock. Microsilk is created through the process of bioengineering yeast to produce silk protein and is also biodegradable.
From pre-loved to re-loved
Technology is also changing how we get rid of our clothes. Instead of throwing them away, more people are choosing to resell or recycle their pre-loved clothes using apps like Depop, Shpock and Vinted. In the US, Rent the Runway offers a wide selection of designer clothing available to rent at a fraction of the original cost. Reselling/renting is a sustainable alternative to buying new and is accessible through technology we use every day.
Sustainability in fashion is a privilege
With innovation comes change. Brands are working to become more eco-conscious. Most notably is H&M, a leading fast -fashion brand now advocating for sustainability. H&M has pledged to become ‘100% climate positive’ by 2040, through using renewable energy. Alternatively, there are a number of sustainable brands on the market.
However, it’s important to recognise that fast fashion is often the only option for some, who should not feel guilty for buying within their means. Sustainability in fashion is a privilege and though we are all doing our part, it is the big brands and corporations who can enact real change.
Technology is embedded in fashion; it is changing the way clothing is produced and bought. As the fight against climate change continues, it is hopeful that technology can create a more sustainable fashion industry. Leading to a much greener future.