Fashion Week Insiders Call For Sustainability Clarity, Citing Confusing Brand Marketing and “Green-Washing”

Fashion month has come to a close and this season, more than ever, the industry has been under pressure to address its environmental responsibility. There are some steps being taken, whether it is the launch of the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Initiative in London or Dior‘s zero-waste, plastic-free, fully recyclable set and tree replanting scheme at their Paris show, but what does that mean on the ground? What do the people attending the shows, working in the industry, buying the products and living their day-to-day lives think and feel about the role of sustainability in fashion? We took to the streets at London Fashion Week (LFW) to find out.

To delve deeper, Techstyler gathered a crew to find out exactly what people know about sustainability in fashion and how they integrate it into their daily lives, if at all. Continuing from our pilot research project back in February, this season we partnered with The British School of Fashion to develop a questionnaire that would capture individuals’ attitudes towards sustainability in fashion, consumer behaviours and personal views on the topic. We then interviewed hundreds of attendees of LFW, both inside and outside the official venues, over the five days. 

Image: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

This season saw pressure groups including Extinction Rebellion (XR) and PETA protesting against the environmental and ethical impacts of fashion, culminating in a “funeral” march by XR featuring a coffin inscribed with “RIP LFW 1983-2019” sending a clear message to the BFC and wider industry. While these groups were protesting outside the official LFW venue of 180 The Strand, Techstyler and “parent” company BRIA were inside presenting solutions, seeking to understand the current climate and calling for change, amongst other innovators. There are solutions and designers doing “good”, some of which were showcased in the BFC’s Positive Fashion space including Patrick McDowell, RE;CODE and the global movement supporting the UN sustainable development goals #TOGETHERBAND; but there is also huge consumer confusion which needs to be addressed before we can expect widespread change in sustainable consumption. We wanted to find out what’s actually going on on the ground, and this starts with you (yes, you).

Patrick McDowell at LFW. Image: Techstyler

The study found that the overarching sentiment when it came to sustainability in fashion was a resounding, and slightly concerning, “I don’t know”. When asked “which brands do you see as the most sustainable”, one respondent replied, “Tricky question. How do you define sustainability?”, and that, ladies and gentlemen, sums it up in a neat bow. This commentary could probably end right there, but there’s a lot at stake here. If we are out on the streets fighting for our future, we should probably understand what we are fighting for and our roles in the battle beyond the placards.

Image: Techstyler

After combining this past month’s data with our research from February, it is evident that there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion, and, let’s not forget, that the respondents are not regular consumers on the high street; they are buyers, designers, stylists, journalists and fashion students. In other words, they are those at the forefront of the industry. The answers were incredibly varied, showing a large gap in knowledge, but ultimately a desire to do better. Many simply don’t know how because the messaging is highly confusing; brands can say what they want around sustainability as key terms like “organic” and “natural” aren’t even regulated, never mind the word “sustainability”, which, to be honest, is anyone’s guess at this point. One respondent even said that the term “sustainability” is itself off-putting.

“There is too much negativity arising around the term “sustainable” and a huge part of it comes from the misunderstandings created when communicating it.”

Questionnaire respondent
Image: Techstyler

Respondents were asked to list the brands they see as the most sustainable, at which many reeled off those who are shouting the loudest but are not necessarily backing up their efforts up with facts. When telling us which brands they are wearing, high street fast fashion was ever-present, despite the interviewees claims to be concerned about the issues involved with fast fashion manufacturing and consumption. H&M was one brand that regularly appeared on both the “most sustainable” and “least sustainable” brand lists, thanks to their Conscious Collection campaigns. Eight respondents who said they were wearing Zara at the time of the interview then went on to list it as a least sustainable brand, which is sufficiently revealing alone. Five out of the eight claimed that sustainability was important to them, so there is a clear disconnect here which needs to be addressed. Overall many simply didn’t know what to believe. “I think there is too much green-washing going on with brands and the marketing teams confuse the sustainability message. They make it harder for consumers to understand sustainability,” said one respondent. 

BFC’s Positive Fashion Panel. Image: Instagram

Alongside the confusion there was also positivity around the growth of the sustainability movement and a recognition of our individual responsibility, with one respondent saying “I think [sustainable fashion] has a potential to be huge in the future” and another recognising that, “it is so important to think of your wardrobe and how to make it last longer than a season.”

Many are calling for industry change: for designers to implement sustainable strategies, brands to be truthful and transparent, and fellow consumers to make the “right” choices.  And this sentiment has grown slightly since last season’s research, showing a steady change in attitudes in just a short time; short, but impactful, with the rise of Greta Thunberg and her Global Climate Strikes, XR mobilising groups across the world to call for action, and 150 brands signing up to the G7 fashion pact after a highly publicised 45th Summit in Biarritz. 

“Is there really a place for fashion week anymore? Seems out-dated and pretty distasteful given the current climate crisis… It seems like a parade of excess that isn’t needed”

Questionnaire Respondent
Image: Techstyler

In response to London Fashion Week being well and truly under the microscope this season, the British Fashion Council hosted a panel to discuss the climate crisis and fashion’s role in both causing and, hopefully, reversing it. Panellists including Bel Jacobs representing Extinction Rebellion, Tamsin Lejeune founder of Common Objective, Cameron Saul of Bottletop, and model and activist Arizona Muse were moderated by journalist Tamsin Blanchard on the final day of LFW to debate the best way forward. In an open and honest discussion, Bel Jacobs reiterated XR’s warning that we are “in the middle of the 6th mass extinction”, going on to say “we called for fashion week to be cancelled to use this as a platform to broadcast the climate emergency. Everyone will stop and recognise (the emergency) if the BFC does that. It’s too late for incremental change.” Arizona Muse proposed that “fashion week could be harnessed for good [so that it] reflects a more humane approach.” Fashion Week’s role in this change was agreed to be pivotal and the time is now.

Image: Techstyler

Reflecting on our time at LFW, there was a palpable air of eco-anxiety both inside and outside the venue. Although there was consumer confusion surrounding exactly how they can be part of the solution, there was an encouraging desire to understand and do more. The public are looking to brands and the wider industry for clear indicators and evidence of widespread change, with one saying, “The industry is on the right track [it] just needs to gather momentum”. Experts joining the discussion are calling for major change for the sake of our survival as a species, nevermind the survival of Fashion Week as we know it. Following this initial research, Techstyler and The British School of Fashion will be releasing more detailed reports in the coming months and replicating the study internationally in 2020. The need for change has never been so urgent, and to make these changes sustainable we must understand the issues at a grassroots level. There is still a long way to go, but change is in the air and how these changes manifest next fashion month will be key, as, this time, the world is watching. 

Image: Techstyler

We would like to thank the research crew for volunteering their time over the last two seasons. Keep an eye out for more results from our recent study, and news of the international research on Techstyler’s Instagram, Techstyler.fashion and by signing up to our newsletter.

Techstyler X DAI: Leading a Sustainable Lifestyle, From Fashion to Food

In our ever-more hectic and multi-faceted lives, getting to grips with the most sustainable and ethical lifestyle choices from fashion to food (and beyond) can be a challenge. Sustainability and climate change are growing concerns, taking up more media column inches every day and providing a staggering amount of (sometimes conflicting) information. 

As a consequence, eco-anxiety is on the rise, as reported by the BBC and The Independent recently, resulting in a what may sometimes feel like hopelessness and defeat, when in actual fact, the effort of individuals can be a powerful tool for change. The recent Techstyler X DAI panel discussion held at the Dai Performance Space in Marylebone, London, provided insights into a number of initiatives and identified actionable changes that individuals can make to behave more sustainably and reduce their carbon emissions.

Lizzie Rivera, Founder of BICBIM (Because It’s Cool, Because It matters) – a sustainable and ethical Lifestyle Directory – explained that BICBIM had vetted hundreds fashion brands with an extensive questionnaire in order to compile a list of the most ethical and sustainable ones. Many are under the radar brands that would take considerable time for shoppers to unearth, so BICBIM is doing the legwork and asking the crucial questions so consumers don’t have to.  The content on BICBIM benefits from Lizzie’s journalistic expertise as a writer for The Independent and other publications, giving her the platform and mandate to ask the tougher questions that consumers might find uncomfortable – like “where do you source your meat from” when ordering food in a restaurant.

Jihea Kim, Founder @ecolifechoices provided snippets of real-life sustainable choices she is making ‘on the ground’ via her Instagram page. Her page presents sustainable lifestyle kits (for example low waste holiday travel kits), along with tips like joining Slow Fashion Season. As a Sustainability and Climate Change Consultant for ‘one of the big four’ accounting firms, she is privy to the research and debate around macro-forces influencing global sustainability and climate change challenges and initiatives. During our preparation call for the panel discussion she explained to me that companies in Europe may sometimes feel as though the burden of ocean plastic waste, for example, is not theirs, given that much of it originates from plastic entering the oceans off the coast of Asian countries. However a ‘bigger picture’ analysis of this situation reveals that exporting plastics from Europe to Asia (and exporting our plastic waste to Asian countries) is an irresponsible practice, given that the industry is Europe is fully aware that Asia does not have adequate facilities to safely and effectively process this plastic waste. 

Delia Gadea is an Account Manager at OLIO, which connects neighbours with each other and with local shops and cafes so that surplus food (and other items) can be shared instead of being thrown away. Gadea explained how the power of one user quickly escalates, and in the case of OLIO, it has resulted in 356 tonnes (356,000 kg) of food being saved from waste bins by individuals signing up to the app.  They now have a million users active in various countries around the world.  Gadea shared tips for how to be an ambassador for OLIO (requiring a couple of hours per week) through to sharing the OLIO story with your colleagues and family – it all helps to push the brand (which has not done any paid marketing and is not profit-making) and help as many people as possible.

David Pepper, Project Lead at Provenance, explained how they help brands and retailers build customer trust through transparency.  This, in turn, empowers shoppers to choose products carefully along ethical and sustainable lines.  Provenance use blockchain technology to securely store uneditable details about the origin, creation and impact of products and processes, which can be unlocked by consumers via NFC technology with QR codes being scanned easily and quickly.  Rather than acting as a certification, it is a platform that powers and facilitates the provision of information by brands (large and small – from Unilever to London-based Mashu, for example) to consumers.  Pepper’s work currently involves mapping global supply chains, including for coffee and tea. Provenance’s work highlights the opacity of the supply chain, and often the financial inequality that brings.  For example, in the vanilla market, farmers only receive 5-10% of the value of their crop (around 45 cents per kilo, versus the 500 euro price it can command in the global market). Provenance believe transparency is the way to achieve fairer wages and a balance of power in the supply chain.

Quick wins and takeaways from the panel were: 

 

  • Tackle one thing at a time until you’ve nailed it as a habit, then move onto the next thing (eg. switching to a reusable coffee cup);
  • Commit to free meals/meat free days;
  • Only buy second hand clothes;
  • Use a reusable water bottle;
  • Get a smart meter; 
  • Wash your clothes at 30 degrees instead of 40 (it reduces energy consumption by 40 percent).

Helpful Tips and Links:

Carbon emissions calculator: WWF Carbon footprint calculator 
Energy efficiency tools:  BulbSmart Meters and General Tips for energy saving at home
Water consumption tools: Water calculator
Fashion Rental: Front RowHURRHire Street
Second-Hand Fashion: Vestiaire CollectiveThe RealReal, EbayDepopC
Drycleaning: Blanc
Food tools: OLIOand others
Tree planting initiatives: Earth DayOne Tree PlantedLondon Tree Planting

News/Information:

Trusted Climate change news: World Economic Forum
Fashion sourcing: Common Objective
Circular Economy and Waste news: WRAPEllen Macarthur Foundation,
Carbon Footprint OffsettingTransport emissions summary

DaI X Techstyler

Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning From Your Mobile Phone For Virtual Try-on At Home

For those of us keeping abreast of fashion-tech innovations and mobile-first solutions, it can feel as though there is a new 3D scanning, avatar-creation or augmented reality (AR) virtual ‘try-on’ solution launched every week.  It’s true that virtual try-on tools have been picking up speed in direct correlation with a surge in mobile-first and social media-led e-commerce sales.  Historically, this has perhaps been more successful in beauty, where makeup is mapped onto the face ‘virtually’, compared to fashion, where ‘wearing’ the garment virtually has presented huge challenges – the obvious ones being the fit of the garment, the feeling of the material and the quality of the AR output.  However, it would be a trap to fall into the mindset that scanning ourselves and wearing virtual clothes before purchasing is a gimmick.  The reason?  Because the youngest generation of consumers – the famed ‘Gen Z’ – are so ‘at one’ with technology that they exist in digital realms as avatars in gaming communities in numbers never seen before.  Brands are latching onto this and developing various AR solutions.  For many Gen Z’ers, viewing an avatar of themselves to try on clothes is a natural extension of their online behaviour.  Make no mistake, this is where fashion consumption is heading, but what has been missing until now?  Why aren’t we all scanning ourselves to create our own avatar to try on clothing virtually?

A second driver to consider is usability. Anyone who tried the ZOZO suit would know that for all of its clever (and accurate, in my case) 12-stage ‘clock-face’ photography process, the requirement of a special cardboard stand for the phone that had to be set a specific distance from the user and carefully angled in order to capture the photos accurately meant that it definitely wasn’t ‘foolproof’. Whilst it was a great leap forward in terms of giving consumers control over the fit regardless of ‘size’, it did not offer the measurement accuracy of Reactive Reality’s Pictofit 3D technology solution – or AR try-on. It has to be said that to try on the clothes virtually, it is necessary to do the 40-second video of the user, and the brand you want to try on virtually has to have been rendered in Pictofit 3D – so this collaboration should be considered a ‘proof-of-concept’.

For those of us keeping abreast of fashion-tech innovations and mobile-first solutions, it can feel as though there is a new 3D scanning, avatar-creation or augmented reality (AR) virtual ‘try-on’ solution launched every week.  It’s true that virtual try-on tools have been picking up speed in direct correlation with a surge in mobile-first and social media-led e-commerce sales.  Historically, this has perhaps been more successful in beauty, where makeup is mapped onto the face ‘virtually’, compared to fashion, where ‘wearing’ the garment virtually has presented huge challenges – the obvious ones being the fit of the garment, the feeling of the material and the quality of the AR output.  However, it would be a trap to fall into the mindset that scanning ourselves and wearing virtual clothes before purchasing is a gimmick.  The reason?  Because the youngest generation of consumers – the famed ‘Gen Z’ – are so ‘at one’ with technology that they exist in digital realms as avatars in gaming communities in numbers never seen before.  Brands are latching onto this and developing various AR solutions.  For many Gen Z’ers, viewing an avatar of themselves to try on clothes is a natural extension of their online behaviour.  Make no mistake, this is where fashion consumption is heading, but what has been missing until now?  Why aren’t we all scanning ourselves to create our own avatar to try on clothing virtually?

Getting down to the practicalities of use, the 3D avatar is a great tool for determining measurements and whether garments will fit, so do we need the AR try-on? Our behaviour suggests we do, and so does the strain on the planet due to garment returns and unsustainable consumption. We are not just shopping online more, we are shopping on mobile more, driven by the pull and shopability of mobile platforms like Instagram. It’s probably impossible to overestimate the importance and symbiosis of mobile retail and user-generated content, and Reactive Reality’s Pictofit 3D solution has the potential to nail this, with exceptional render quality of the garment and highly realistic user avatars – giving rise to try-on that you might actually want to screengrab and share.

Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning

On a sustainability level, garment return rates are soaring because of ill-fitting clothing and the difficulty of determining fit from standard e-commerce tools. If you’ve grappled with a tape measure and an online retailer size chart recently you’ll know what I mean. Additional to fit is the concept of style – which is how you want to wear your clothes. ‘Fit’ means baggy to some people and second-skin to others. It certainly looks like the only viable solution for considering both fit and style is trying on the clothing – either digitally or physically. If getting to the physical version is impractical, or not in line with consumption patterns, Pictofit 3D offers a total solution.

Of course technology like this lives and breathes when fashion brands engage with it, hence Reactive Reality’s recent partnership with Charli Cohen, facilitated and driven by the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion. The FIA is an enterprise-facing innovation team driving the union of cutting-edge technology companies with fashion brands and designers. But why Charli Cohen? The FIA explained that as a “digital-first” brand, Charli Cohen relies heavily on e-commerce, which for the reasons explained above, needs to provide greater digital attention to detail and fabric quality to satisfy modern online customers. The FIA explained that Reactive Reality’s technology bypasses the need to sell in a physical store where you can touch/interact with the garment because their AR clothing is exceptionally realistic. Cohen was keen to work with the FIA and Reactive Reality to allow her online customers to get the closest thing to a physical experience of her products, digitally.   Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the Fashion Innovation agency said “the rapid digitisation of both product and people offers extraordinary possibilities for the fashion industry. From virtual product and virtual try-on to future bespoke experiences, we are creating entirely new ways for consumers to engage.”

As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, augmented reality has been a buzzword for some time, but it has been hampered by teething problems and an uncompromising fashion audience. It has taken brave, pioneering designers, including Sabinna and Fyodor Golan, to make the first steps towards getting the AR experience to where it needs to be for the fashion crowd and consumers. Charli Cohen, CEO of her eponymous brand said “we have long seen AR as a really exciting way to create an immersive experience for our customers, but it has lacked much practicality beyond a fun novelty. This technology from Reactive Reality, however, is incredibly practical and helps to emulate an important aspect of the physical in-store experience for digital, in a truly immersive and interactive way.”

With the current version of Pictofit 3D still in development, it is not yet ready for consumers but is of huge interest to brands looking to expand into offering virtual try-on.  The brands have been put off in the past by substandard imagery and usability, often referred to as “uncanny valley” gaming-like imagery. When I spoke to Arjun Thomke, Director of Business Development at Reactive Reality about the adoption of their technology by fashion brands, he said there are “two big drivers – reducing return rate by offering the correct fit at first purchase. The second piece is user engagement and sales conversions.” Expanding on this, he explained that in an increasingly brand agnostic world, why would consumers choose one brand over the other? How can brands draw consumers in so that they become more involved with the products, thereby increasing dwell time and, as a result, an increase in sales.” He says he has sales figures to back this up, but can’t share them as they are under an NDA.

When I asked about their nearest competitors, Thomke listed Zeekit and Metail, who provide fashion try-on, 8i who provide photorealistic avatars and ZOZO suit (no longer available to consumers), Body Labs and others with respect to creating precise body measurements.  It appears that there are no competitors providing all three solutions together.  Thomke said he has received the feedback that their competitors “never give a live demo [in the first pitch]- they show slides.” Highlighting the jewel in their tech crown, he explained that the fast algorithmic calculations of their solution provide photo-realistic 3D models in around 37 minutes with regular wifi access – no competitor can match the speed or detailed image output.  In a follow-up email after our conversation, Thomke added “our artificial intelligence algorithms will bring this down to a matter of a few minutes in the coming months”. 

“Reactive Reality’s technology enables users to try-on different accessories (e.g. purses, shoes), which gives retailers + brands the opportunity to cross-sell products. Again, other solutions do not generate 3D models of all your products. We go even further than generating the 3D models; users can virtually open a purse and place objects (e.g. mobile phone) inside to see if they will fit.”

So which fashion companies are adopting this technology? Many are choosing to partner with Reactive Reality to test all the elements of their offer and run initial pilots. The brands Reactive Reality are working with span luxury and fast fashion – he can’t say who they are, due to NDAs. He did elaborate to say of the 3D avatar and garment capture process that these fashion companies already have the studio set up to take photographs of models and products, so this technology solution simply allows them to better leverage this facility by creating photorealistic 3D assets – without the need for 3D digital design or CAD software.

We are in contact with a major retailer that invested significant resources into a ‘computer-game like’ avatar solution, and recently shut it down.  Customers reacted poorly to seeing an ‘unrealistic’ 3D avatar.”

Thomke says they are “constantly in touch with larger players in the valley.” The avatar creation of their platform has a powerful potential in gaming, teleconferencing and social media. He astutely points out that the “biggest problem in AR and VR is content – where is it? Most AR and VR experiences are PR related, rather than improving the consumer shopping experience.”  Pictofit 3D seeks to change that.

Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning

Which brands are on their ‘most wanted client’ list? “By region, Japan has a huge interest and is very tech-savvy – they are very mobile-driven”. He says they are “aggressively pushing these types of solutions.”

Broadly speaking, he said “some fashion companies are developing a 3D strategy and AR and VR are still extremely new areas for fashion. The luxury customer and high-street customer will be very different so we work with the brands to present a unique experience.” Differentiating between the market segments, he said “luxury is very interested [in the technology] because of the realism [and detail in garment stitching and fabrics]. Fast fashion is interested in scalability.”

The current business model is a fixed fee for pilot projects but subscription-based for integrated solutions, where Reactive Reality charge a fee per monthly active users. Last year Reactive Reality partnered with YOOX Net A Porter to offer at 2.5D frontal try-on with a parallax effect using the retailer’s existing images, but their new 3D tool is a huge leap beyond that. The recent implementation of AR solutions at ASOS, Nike, Zara, Gap (the list goes on) suggests that once Pictofit 3D is rolled out by brands it may be the first window into your truly personalised virtual shopping future.

The Country With The Most Certified Sustainable Garment Factories Is…

I began a 24 hour Instagram poll with a hypothesis about general perceptions of sustainable garment manufacturing. It was: ‘Fast fashion manufacturing hubs are seen as having less sustainable factories, while premium and luxury manufacturing hub factories are seen as inherently more sustainable.’ I received over 80 responses spanning Vogue editors, fashion designers (from LVMH brands to independents), a fashion retail journalist, sustainability influencers, architects and fashion academics. They spanned the globe, with locations in Russia, Germany, the US, Australia and across Asia. But did my hypothesis ring true?

Throughout the poll my hypothesis was proven, and disproven. This is a complex subject, not least because ‘sustainable’ is interpreted in many ways. For this poll, I quoted the LEED certification as the benchmark in my Instagram post. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. Its certification extends to buildings providing a safe and healthy work environment. In addition, within 500 sq. feet of the factory there should be residences, school facilities, markets and transport stands for the workers. To be clear about the scope, this poll specifically focused on environmental sustainability, not wages or ethics, which I address later in this article.

I did not quote LEED on the Insta Story, so the full sustainable context was on the feed only, however I saw the same pattern of responses in both Insta Stories and in the comments on my feed.

To the results and what they mean:

Votes by country - Most certified sustainable garment factories
Votes by country – Most certified sustainable garment factories

To put the numbers into context, respondents cited varied (and fascinating) rationales. A common thread throughout the most popular response ‘Netherlands’ was a general perception of it being a progressive and clean country with robust frameworks across industry and government to put environmental initiatives in place – so by extension, most respondents thought it would have the most certified sustainable garment factories.

I chose the Netherlands because of “a more generally progressive eco-ethical attitude to consumption” and a “greater than average awareness of climate change because of being one of the first countries in line to really feel the pain with rising sea levels…”

Fashion Journalist and Retail Innovation Specialist, London

My assumption was completely based on (an) economical front. As most certifications cost a bomb, I am not sure if third world countries can initially afford it themselves (Bangladesh) without western companies sponsoring that particular company. In India I have seen most production companies go for GOTS. But I believe there are many more certifications OekoTex etc…. “

Sustainable Designer, London (originally from India)

Italy and China ranked equal second in the poll, closely followed by India, with these rationales:

“China. I did research 6 years ago and found it was changing towards sustainability because the west had asked for it and also because they thought investing in new technologies would be better for business in the long run. I imagine they now have the certification to prove it.”

Fashion Designer and brand owner, London

“India. We have been making sustainable (GOTS certified) tees there since 2005 – they were very early to embrace this with perfect finishing and details and also fair wages, health insurance for everybody and a space for their children on school holidays”

Ninette Murk, Founder, Designers Against Aids

Italy had the fewest explanations and comments as to why respondents believed it had the most certified sustainable factories in the world. This has left me wondering if their impression of sustainability comes from the power of the ‘Made in Italy’ brand being synonymous with premium and luxury goods and strongly linked to craft and quality.

“Italy. I base my guess on the assumption that there are certain EU regulations and maybe the history of more sustainable practice within independent makers”

Emerging Technology Innovator and Blockchain Researcher, Singapore

So to the facts.

The country with the most certified sustainable factories in the world (in terms of overall number, percentage and the most factories in the world’s top ten) is Bangladesh. 55% of respondents citing this were either working directly with Bangladesh manufacturers or had been at a recent event of mine where I presented this statistic. So apart from me sharing this information to some respondents already, Bangladesh would have ranked lowest in opinion (equal to Indonesia and France).

I believe this impression of Bangladesh being least sustainable reflects a number of dominant themes about the Bangladesh garment manufacturing industry. 1, that the Rana Plaza tragedy and the heavy ‘promotion’ of it during Fashion Revolution Week and across mainstream media generally, gives an overall impression that Bangladesh has a poor record in all areas of sustainability and ethics. 2, the general impression that fast fashion manufacturing hubs are unsustainable and premium/luxury ones are. 3, Less developed and ‘third world’ nations are seen as less able to achieve sustainability and best practice in general. 4, many respondents have confused a sustainability rating for an ethical or wage-related measure.

Here is a fuller picture of the rankings:

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Bangladesh’s RMG sector now has 67 LEED green factories. Among them 13 are LEED Platinum rated (the highest rating) while more than 280 factories are registered with USGBC for LEED certification. Indonesia has the second largest number with 40 green factories followed by India with 30 and Sri Lanka with 10.

Number of LEED Certified Green Factories by country according to USGBC
Number of LEED Certified Green Factories by country according to USGBC

Interestingly, one of the respondents not involved professionally in the fashion industry chose Bangladesh, with this explanation:

It was a bit of a gut reaction. I remembered the tragic collapse of the building where so many garment workers were killed, and how shocking that was. Then of course it came out that American and European clothing companies had some of their clothing made there, and that in general it was such an unregulated industry. I wondered if, because of that, Bangladesh and their clothing partners had to step up their game and improve conditions. Sadly I seem to be completely wrong. I’ve investigated a bit more since then and found that not much has changed.

Artist, UK

So despite this respondent correctly answering Bangladesh on impulse, the predominant representation of Bangladesh online gave her the impression that factories in Bangladesh remain largely the same as they were in 2013. I also asked which sources she had researched for her assertion that not much has changed, but I did not hear back. This supports my hypothesis that people’s opinions are being shaped by continuing ‘promotion’ of the Rana Plaza tragedy. To be clear, I am not saying there are no issues to be resolved in the RMG industry in Bangladesh. In terms of ethics, a living wage is not paid to some workers and some factories are still in remediation measures following the Bangladesh Accord. There is still much work to be done. This is not unique to Bangladesh, though, and there are similar issues in the UK, as well as some of the other countries mentioned in the poll. However, these examples are not then attributed to garment manufacture and working conditions in general across the UK and shared worldwide.

In terms of achieving the certification, LEED has 9 conditions with a total of 110 points to fulfil. 80+ points gives Platinum Certification and Bangladesh has the largest number of platinum certified factories in the world. In order to achieve Platinum status the factory must be built brand new, following a framework that can be independently verified by LEED. Existing factories can upgrade facilities and structure but will only achieve a maximum of Gold Certification. The world’s highest-rated green denim, knitwear, washing and textiles mills are all located in Bangladesh. Eight of the top 11 LEED Platinum-certified factories globally are in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry figures
Bangladesh Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry figures

According to the Ethical Trading Initiative, the country’s garment sector not only contributes significantly to national income but has made a real difference in helping raise people out of poverty. The initiative goes on to say that it has helped to transform the country’s economic and social landscape. There is no question of the industry’s importance, since it makes up a significant portion of the country’s GDP.

During my research, it became apparent that European garment factories do not appear to see a need to be LEEDS certified. I wondered why this is. Part of the reason could be that they already have the unquestioned trust of brands and consumers and a clean image. Also, on a financial note, they would have to build brand new factories from the ground up in order to achieve Platinum certification. I spoke to a Bangladesh-based architect and construction expert about the prevalence of LEED certified factories in Bangladesh and Asia generally. His response was “Bangladesh has an image problem”. Meaning that in a global, competitive industry, with negative views prevailing, Bangladesh has to make additional efforts to remain competitive and gain external and objective validation of the progress they have made. In terms of the credibility of LEED, he confirmed it is robust. The equivalent certification in the UK and Europe is BREAM, although LEED is also used, confirmed the expert.

Plummy Fashions Ltd  - plummyfashions.com
Plummy Fashions Ltd – plummyfashions.com

What has driven the huge push for Platinum LEED certification in Bangladesh, apart from the image problem? Ahmed Mukta, the architect and building expert I spoke to, explained that factory owners in Bangladesh have approached sustainability as a business opportunity. They have profits and choose to invest them in green buildings to boost their credentials and help to command premium prices for the garments they manufacture. Through the adoption of new technologies and renewable energy sources it also provides real efficiencies. There is no question of the achievements of these LEED certified factories and they are clearly a testament to the desire to progress and future-proof the RMG industry in Bangladesh. However, this does not necessarily translate to buyers paying a higher unit price for garments manufactured in these factories – “The buyers do not pay even a single cent more for sourcing from a green garment factory,” claims one factory owner.

Why this poll and why now? I just arrived in Dhaka for the Bangladesh Fashionology Summit, taking place on May 2nd. I wanted to get a barometer of opinion on garment factories here ahead of a day of discussions on how the garment industry is transforming through new technologies. As the industry heads towards the fourth industrial revolution, the need to balance climate impact with manufacturing outputs is ever more urgent. Can fast fashion ever be sustainable? This article is essential reading regarding fashion fashion and ethics, and be sure to follow Techstyler as I explore and report on this further as the conversation evolves. For now, I will close with this on point quote from one respondent:

“Netherlands, but Bangladesh might be a surprise – Indonesia peeking through too. Asian countries don’t get enough credit for their stand towards sustainable fashion and more favourable manufacturing”

@mariamaduke, Fashion Stylist, London

More information from the Accord website on Bangladesh LEED factory certifications and those in the top ten can be found here.

More information on the LEED scope and certification process can be found here.

Techstyler X Avant Habit: Sustainable Business Models Versus ‘Greenwashing’

Sustainability is an inescapable topic of discussion in the fashion industry, but what does it involve? Is it materials? Is it manufacturing processes? Is it recycling? Is it all of these things and more?

The Techstyler X Avat Habit panel discussion on 12th April sought to answer these questions by bringing together sustainable brand founders Sabinna Rachimova of SABINNA, Charlotte Instone of Know The Origin and Shope Delano, Marketing and Communications Manager of Common Objective – a platform providing industry-wide guidance on sustainable business principles and processes.  The audience spanned industry insiders from ASOS and Burberry to founders of fashion startups and sustainability enthusiasts.

Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models
Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models

Addressing the ‘what, how and why’ of holistic sustainable business models and how best to execute brand messaging, the panellists shared business and personal insights based on their experience within businesses that are both Europe and Asia-centric in terms of sourcing and manufacturing.

Know The Origin (KTO) is an online retail platform stocking 70 lifestyle brands that meet sustainability parameters set by founder Charlotte Instone and her team.  These parameters are based on 18 months of intensive ‘on the ground’ research into materials, manufacturing and ethics in Asia and Africa, conducted by Charlotte herself. She launched KTO with her own Fairtrade collection after building partnerships with ethical suppliers and manufacturers in India. This allowed her to put in place a fair and transparent business model for a core range of ‘essential’ clothing. The collections meet her aim of delivering quality and style that is sustainable in terms of people, planet and purpose. Charlotte warned the audience that consumers will not compromise on design or price when it comes to sustainability – “it has to be a given” she said. KTO is an entry point into sustainability and for many consumers it is their first ‘sustainable purchase’, with retail prices ranging from £15 – £55.

Charlotte Instone speaking about Know The Origin
Charlotte Instone speaking about Know The Origin

Charlotte’s in depth understanding of supply chain mechanics, certifications and trade organisations in Asia and Africa led her to create a 30 point sustainability and ethics charter. The brands she stocks on KTO must meet at least six points to qualify as a stocked brand on the retail platform. Recognising that brands must start somewhere when addressing sustainability and ethics, the charter acts as a motivational and transparency tool. Its aim is also to give consumers confidence that they are purchasing from brands with sustainable foundations and strong future intent to produce and sell sustainability and ethically.

Sabinna Rachimova is the founder and head designer at London-based womenswear brand SABINNA.  As a graduate of Central Saint Martins, she explained that her resulting view of establishing a fashion business meant “showing at London Fashion Week” and following the well-trodden route of chasing industry validation and a wholesale sales model.  Eventually, rejecting this traditional approach opened up opportunities to implement ethical and sustainable practices into her business incrementally over the course of the past four seasons, and in the process, an exponential rise in direct to consumer sales.

Sabinna Rachimova of SABINNA speaks about her transparent business model
Sabinna Rachimova of SABINNA speaks about her transparent business model

A great appreciator of craft, Sabinna has long recognised and shared the contributions of all the workers in her supply chain.  She has mapped the sourcing of her materials and the manufacturing locations of all garments in her collections for the past three seasons and transitioned to a direct to consumer business model via sales on her website and through Insta Stories. Whilst this might not sound immediately linked to sustainability, it underpins her ability to promote, sell and make her collections in a fair and transparent way across the entire supply chain.

Key to Sabinna’s business success has been Instagram-based sales campaigns featuring Influencers in place of a traditional London Fashion Week show, saving thousands of pounds on a London Fashion Week venue, show production, PR and models.  By working directly with Influencers to create and share sellable content on Insta Stories she connected directly with consumers in telling her brand’s story and sharing its ‘fair fashion’ values.  This strategy allows her to carefully track sales and manufacture only the quantities needed. Also, the money saved by implementing this campaign (instead of the London Fashion Week show) helped her balance the higher unit price she pays for her garments to be manufactured fairly and ethically in the UK.  This Influencer marketing model saw her sales double, and her sustainability credentials increase to boot.

Shope Delano explained that Common Objective advise and support brands to implement sustainability principles, materials and processes to address all areas of their business. Consideration of end-of-life at the initial stages of design and product development is a key focus, in order to aim for circularity – the ‘holy grail’ of sustainable business models.  Shope provided consumer sustainability insights, explaining that heritage brands with deep-rooted consumer sentiment are protected from long-term damage caused by shocking revelations, like the recent news that Burberry burnt millions of dollars worth of excess stock. On the flip side, lesser-known brands don’t hold such ‘mindset’ power, and an expose’ of this kind can be devastating to them.

Shope Delano of Common Objective speaks about sustainability solutions across the supply chain
Shope Delano of Common Objective speaks about sustainability solutions across the supply chain

An example Shope cites in a follow up conversation is Carcel, whose garments are produced by women in prison in a bid to equip them with skills and job opportunities. They came under fire recently for their ‘made in prison’ ad campaigns. Without context, this led to a big uproar on social media – the main argument being that they are glamourising slave labour. To see how this conversation played out between the brand and its followers check out Instagram and then a follow-up article in the New York Times.

‘Mindset Power’ poses both a risk and an opportunity. Agile brands can conduct in-depth due diligence and work directly with manufacturers to win on transparency and storytelling about how and where their products are made. Selling direct to consumer allows for further transparency over pricing and a greater margin for the brand and manufacturer, balancing the power across the supply chain and removing the traditional hierarchy that often leads to secrecy and exploitation. It’s clear though that the message has to be delivered carefully and authentically.

Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models
Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models

Emerging brands can control the narrative and change direction quickly, explained Shope. Sabinna shared an example of how she did this when she discovered that one of her suppliers in East London was forcing its staff to work under poor conditions without heating in the depths of winter.  When she questioned the manufacturer he protested “what do you expect? You want a cheap price…” She switched manufacturer immediately and adjusted her business model to incorporate the higher prices required to ensure fair conditions for workers.

Closing remarks from the panellists on their advice for initial steps brands and founders should take towards achieving sustainable business models included ‘pay everyone fairly – even interns’ from Sabinna. “Sign up to Common Objective for free advice, supplier contacts and sustainability templates’ was Shope’s advice. Lastly, Charlotte urged the audience to “do your research into trade unions and suppliers in Asia to source responsibly”, reminding us that ethically sourced clothing is not only about the price of the garment.

Noshua Watson of Avant Habit, Brooke Roberts-Islam of Techstyler and Shope Delano of Common Objective
Noshua Watson of Avant Habit, Brooke Roberts-Islam of Techstyler and Shope Delano of Common Objective

The Ethically Woven series by Avant Habit continues at The Ministry in May and June. More details can be found here.

Techstyler x BOTTLETOP: 3D Digital Design Is Critical For A Sustainable Fashion Future

When discussing the future with pioneers on the edge of current industry practice an impassioned debate is inevitable.  The latest Techstyler X BOTTLETOP panel discussion ‘Sustainability Driven by New Technologies: 3D Digital Design and Virtual Reality ’ hosted three such pioneers who are reshaping the fashion landscape and meeting ethical, logistical and philosophical challenges along the way.  Their insights gave us an eye to a future fashion industry that is inherently more sustainable, and our place within it.

 

Opening the discussion, Kerry Murphy, Co-founder of the digital fashion house The Fabricant, discussed how within months of experimenting with 3D digital fashion design and animation and uploading the result on Instagram, The Fabricant was receiving interest from brands and manufacturers wanting to know more about their capabilities.  

The starting point for The Fabricant has been digital storytelling, with their recent collaboration with Soorty Enterprises, a jean manufacturer in Pakistan looking to share their Cradle to Cradle denim production and raise brand awareness in an increasingly competitive market. The manufacturers in Asia and the Far East are plagued by negative opinion and press coverage, despite many of them making significant strides in sustainable dyeing processes in addition to investing in new, cleaner technologies.  The next step will be integrating The Fabricant’s 3D design into the garment cutting and construction process, negating the manual pattern making process and reducing the need for physical samples at all. From his, and his Co-founder Amber Jae Slooten’s experience so far, this will take years rather than months.

Cameron-James Wilson is a visual artist and fashion photographer whose mission is to provide an alternative beauty and hyper-real honesty via digital models.  His debut model, Shudu, has been hailed the ‘first digital supermodel’, has 149,000 followers on Instagram and is represented by Cameron’s digital model agency, The Diigitals.  Although the inspiration and conception of Cameron’s models is rooted in fantasy and fiction, constructed from free to download software Daz 3D, his aim is to create honest representations of beauty and a more positive attitude towards diversity.  His model Brenn is curvy, with stretch marks and an undeniable allure. This kind of appreciation of what is often deemed imperfect is possible with 3D digital design, said Cameron, because it is in the hands of the artists and is a product of their ideals, not of an industry fixated on people born as genetic flukes with perfect symmetry and 34-24-34 measurements of their bust, waist and hips.  Even as I write the previous sentence I can barely believe how ludicrous a concept it is. Cameron asks why we reward genetic flukery rather than celebrating diversity.

Cameron’s visionary thinking prompted an interesting debate on human versus digital models and whether emotion could truly be experienced when presenting a digital versus human experience.  There was also a question from the audience about whether digital models could be ‘trusted’ as they are not ‘real’. To that, Cameron presented the traditional scenario of a fashion shoot, with models having toilet rolls shoved down the back of their bra to make their breasts heave.  And all know how much editing is done to digital images to sculpt and smooth, nip and tuck real life models. “The fashion industry lies to us every day” said Cameron. “It’s all a lie”. Add to this the fact that digital models cannot be exploited, do not age and can remain exclusive brand ambassadors for ‘life’ and his perspectives and insight left us questioning whether it makes sense to go forward in the fashion industry without digital models.

Amber Jae Slooten brought the rare, rounded knowledge of a fashion designer who has worked with both traditional manual and 3D digital pattern cutting and fashion design tools.  Having graduated from a fashion degree in 2014 with a fully digital collection which she presented in hologram form, she set off on a path to reimagining and redirecting the fashion industry to a more sustainable, digital future.  Unwilling to enter an industry that creates masses of waste, she was driven to adopt methods that have since unleashed her creativity and allowed her design in a more detailed, iterative, experimental and efficient way. Amber’s approach to design incorporates both the technicality of pattern cutting and garment construction and the creativity of fashion design.  She creates digital pattern pieces in Clo3d which are stitched together onto an avatar to create a 3D foundation garment and then renders on different fabrics (scanned in at such a high resolution that they are indistinguishable from the real thing) colours, textures and proportions. She is able to develop her designs and iterate quickly, reaching high levels of refinement in hours, rather than days or weeks – all the while generating zero waste.

What are the challenges and drawbacks to these new approaches?  “The (traditional) mindet”, said Amber. Currently, the industry is largely unreceptive to adopting the technical advantages offered by software like Clo3D.  Although this and other software is being used by a number of pioneering designers, brands are currently most interested in the visual output as a content tool for social media or e-commerce.  In time, the panel believes a shift towards further integration is inevitable.

To hear to the full panel discussion, head over to the podcast here.

To watch the panel discussion, keep an eye on Techstyler.fashion, where the video will be available soon. 

The next talk in the Techstyler X BOTTLETOP speaker series will be in December on the subject ‘Fashion and Accessories Designers – Their Influence and Impact on Sustainability in Fashion’.  Follow Techstyler here and on Instagram to be notified when the tickets are released.

Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Grown Materials for Fashion – Past, Present and Future

Growing materials to use in fashion products may be new to most, but the panellists of the Techstyler X Bottletop Speaker Series discussion on ‘Biomaterials and Biodesign: The Next Generation of Sustainable Materials’ have been working in this sector for several years and it is bearing interesting fruit.

Carole Collet, Professor in Design for Sustainable Futures and CSM-LVMH Director of Sustainable Innovation at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London has spent a decade researching biomimicry, biofabrication and biodesign.  Her work gave rise to the MA Materials Futures course at CSM and will soon see the launch of the MA Biodesign degree at the same institution.  Education, ethics and robust frameworks for the future industrialisation of materials grown in living systems are what Carole sees as current imperatives for the responsible and safe development of this sector. In addition to her academic research, Professor Collet has recently supervised the PhD work of Amy Congdon, now a member or the Modern Meadow team, founded by biodesign pioneer Suzanne Lee.  

Image: Carole Collet: Biolace

When asked why the past two years have seen an explosion in biodesign and grown materials she stated that accessibility of ‘recipes’ and equipment, which are fairly rudimentary in the initial phases, have given rise to a surge in interest and experimentation by designers, usually with basic kitchen equipment in their own homes.  She goes on to say that designers remain ill equipped, however, to navigate and document their developments due to a biology and scientific process knowledge gap. The MA Biodesign course aims to fill this gap.

Ex-Adidas designer, Jen Keane, just completed her MA Material Futures degree, during which time she grew a nanocellulose trainer upper, using a hybrid of manually warped threads with a weft grown by bacteria.  Essentially, the process of growing a material requires a sterile environment, into which a living organism (bacteria from Kombucha, for example) and a sugar and water solution is introduced.  The organism then creates the material – in the case of Jen’s material, the nanocellulose weft. The resulting material has a papery feel, but once treated with oil it is smooth and flexible with a semi-translucent finish.  Jen spoke about the challenges in interpreting the biological building blocks of her experiments and controlling the easily contaminated environment (sterilised dishes) used to grow her materials. Household mould was her biggest challenge, but she managed to successfully develop samples in her kitchen and bathroom which she presented to the audience.  

Image: Jen Keane

Having recently visited Bolt Threads to see their synthetic spider silk developments and the scale of their operation, and armed with industry standard experience for materials approval at Adidas, she estimates that her material requires five more years of research and development before reaching commercial readiness.

Imparting a scientific voice and reasoning was Tom Meany, CEO of Cell-Free Tech and Director of Open Cell.bio – the new lab and workspace initiative that supports designers and scientists to rapid test and prototype in lab facilities, usually the preserve of industry or established educational institutions.  Tearing down barriers to entry by allowing quick experimentation, Open Cell residents include Chip[s] Board, who are turning potato waste into an MDF-equivalent material that is 100% biodegradable and sustainable from an as yet un-exploited waste stream.  In addition to the bio-lab space, there is a Maker Space and shipping container space available for residents to set up their own dedicated small-scale labs or production facilities – as the Chip[s] Board team (comprised of two designers and a biochemist) have.

Image: Open Cell.bio

Tom warned against hype-driven new or prospective materials which create ‘Instagram attention’ but are founded on shaky or unproven science.  He points to a danger that this can create unrealistic expectations on those trying to genuinely move the industry forward. The discussion turned to fashion’s propensity for storytelling to sell products, which may lead to style over substance where science is concerned.

While materials grown from living systems offer clean and efficient alternatives to currently polluting material production methods, Professor Collet warned that they currently have severe limitations in terms of cost effectiveness, performance and scalability.  She warned against viewing materials grown from living systems as “saviours” for our urgent sustainability and environmental woes. Using newly created Mylo ‘leather’ from mycelium as an example, she said that we do not know how this leather equivalent will look and perform throughout its life – it may not be a durable long-term replacement for existing leathers.  Additional research and development into biodesign and biofabrication and materials from living systems cannot be rushed, she concluded.

To hear the full panel discussion, listen to the podcast here.

The next talk in the Techstyler X Bottletop Speaker Series with be held at the Bottletop store in November, entitled ‘Sustainability Driven by New Technologies: Reducing Waste using 3D Design and Mixed Reality’.

Follow Techstyler to be notified when tickets go live

Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Sustainable Materials for Design

Much is said about ‘sustainable materials’ in apparel and product design, but what makes a material sustainable? How can brands adopt sustainable materials without compromising on aesthetics and function? Why is adopting sustainable materials crucial to both the future of the design industries and commercial success of brands?  These questions formed the basis of the first in a series of panel discussions led by Techstyler in partnership with Bottletop, hosted at their flagship store in London’s Regent street. 

An inherently sustainable brand, Bottletop not only repurposes the tabs on aluminium cans to create its products, but uses only reclaimed and recycled materials in its flagship store interior, making it a fitting home for this speaker series unpacking a range of themes on fashion innovation, beginning with sustainable materials for design.  

Speaking to an audience spanning multiple industries, including fashion, furniture and interior design, the panel addressed common misconceptions around sustainable materials and highlighted opportunities for designers and businesses in adopting sustainable materials and practices.

Key takeaways from the event included insights from Oya Barlas Bingul on Lenzing’s Circular fibre, ‘Refibra’, which is created from 50% cotton off-cuts (pre-consumer waste) and 50% Tencel, creating a 100% virgin fibre that can be recycled in a circular manner using Lenzing’s closed loop process, which does not use harmful solvents and creates no toxic byproducts. 

Qiulae Wong enlightened the audience on brand opportunities and adoption of sustainable practices and materials.  She explained that sustainability efforts are unique to each brand and depend on the products being created, so there is no blueprint for becoming a ‘sustainable’ brand.  In doing so, she highlighted that the desire to become ‘sustainable’ but the confusing nature of ‘sustainability’ (does it mean using organic materials, or is it related to carbon footprint generated by the supply chain, for example) means many brands feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. 

To this end, Common Objective, where Qiulae is the Production and Marketing Manager, helps brands to assess their business on all levels and identify realistic changes they can make to become more sustainable.  This may mean a brand switching the raw materials of their best selling product to the most sustainable materials available, thereby maximising the positive impact in a targeted and manageable way.

Ronan Hayes is the Co-founder of Reflow, which creates sustainable materials for 3D printing from local waste streams, namely PET plastic bottles.  Ronan shared insights on how 3D printing was initially enthusiastically adopted by engineers and is now in widespread use by artists and designers.  As a result, there is now an appetite not just for the original PLA and ABS plastic filaments, but malleable filaments that 3D print soft, moveable objects.  These new filaments are being used to 3D print clothing and Ronan sees opportunities opening up to feed a wider range of polymer waste materials into the filament making process.  Interestingly, he also explained that Reflow are being approached by global brands to create 3D printing filaments from the brands’ single-use plastic waste and then utilise this filament within the business in place of other materials, thereby contributing towards the overall sustainability of the brand.

In defining sustainability, the panel discussed how everything we do as designers and brands creating products utilises resources (electricity, water, raw materials like cotton etc.) and therefore has an impact.  Being sustainable means minimising that impact and extending the life of materials and products or, better still, recycling them.  But how do brands quantify and qualify their sustainability?  How can sustainability be measured?  How can consumers understand which brands are more sustainable than others?

During the Q&A a question was posed by an audience member who had seen Primark on a ‘top sustainable brands’ list as one of the most sustainable brands in the UK.  A Google search didn’t unearth said list, but it did demonstrate very clearly that there is no benchmark or framework for declaring a brand as ‘sustainable’.  Sustainability is broadly used as a marketing and storytelling tool by brands spanning small artisan labels who cite ethical processes as their key pillar of sustainability, to high street giants who create one-off products or small ranges of products with enhanced sustainability credentials (made from recycled cotton, for example).  The reality that brands must start somewhere means it’s hard to criticise any efforts being made, however the greater effort would ideally come from the brands having the most negative environmental and social impact.

In terms of measuring a brand’s sustainability, unfortunately, as yet, there is no industry standard.  This is not to say there are not tools available  that assess sustainability of fashion companies. The Higg Index is one such tool.  It is, however, completely voluntary, self-reported and unverified externally, making it inherently subjective and therefore difficult to apply to the industry as a whole.  

For more insights on sustainable materials for design, listen to the full panel discussion and Q&A on our podcast.

The next panel discussion in this series, ‘Biomaterials and Biodesign – The Next Generation of Sustainable Materials’ takes place on October 8th at the Bottletop Store.  Tickets available here.

The Zozosuit: A Fashion Revolution

It’s not often that something entirely new happens in the fashion industry – something revolutionary.  The Japanese Zozosuit is just that – a revolution in one of the biggest bugbears consumers have when buying clothing – the fit.  Fit is such a confusing word.  Does it mean skin tight?  Does it mean just the right measurements in the right places?  For the team a Zozosuit it is an altogether more sophisticated notion, condensed into a straightforward suit and a series of photographs that result in individual shoppers globally obtaining custom fit clothing.

The cynic in me wonders immediately how the photos will be taken, how the user will interpret how the suit will be worn and the angle and lighting required for the photos, but this is all dismissed when I see that the Zozosuit App talks the wearer through the process from beginning to end – starting with a tutorial on how to smooth out the suit and ensure it is being worn properly, right through to the slow turn required for the app to acquire the 12 photos that result in the 360 degree ‘body scan’ containing all the measurements needed to create custom made or custom fit clothing (I will explain the difference later in the piece).

https://youtu.be/32rbuLFbVWk

When I tried the suit myself it took me a couple of minutes to run through the tutorial, place the phone correctly on a table on the stand provided (it seems our floor is a little uneven) and stand the correct distance from the phone to have my whole body in the field of view for the 12 photos.  The app told me to move “to the front a bit, back a bit, turn to 1 o’clock” so it was simple enough to follow, and startlingly accurate.  After obtaining my Zozosuit measurements I manually measured my bust, waist, hip and thigh and found that all were within 1cm of the Zozosuit measurements – in the case of the bust, waist and thigh they were identical.  I promptly sent my measurements to the team at Start Today, the ecommerce fashion brand behind the suit, and will report back on how the product fits.

The custom made and custom fit proposition by Start Today is startlingly sophisticated for a company making wardrobe basics at the same sort of price-point as Uniqlo.  This is the first mass customized product available at a high-street price point and available within weeks, sometimes days.  Tech manager Masa Ito confirms that “this is what comes after fast fashion”.  He believes their business model will reshape the industry.

To say this is a fashion company is only half the story.  “We’re as much a fashion company as we are a tech company” explained Masa.  “We have 220 programmers working in-house” on the proprietary pattern-cutting server and software that handles all the incoming 360 degree ‘body scans’ and measurements from customers in 72 countries and interprets them into a bespoke pattern.  Bolted onto this are AI algorithms that mean that with every customer transaction this proprietary system gets smarter – it knows what customers want, both broadly and on an individual level.  This is the holy grail of individual customer service on a global scale, online – such a beautiful paradox of personalization from afar via digital, rather than physical, means.

Discussing the customer experience from beginning to end with Masa I learn that once the customer completes their scan they can shop from the online store, and for each item they wish to purchase their measurements determine a ‘best fit’ which they can then choose to tweak in increments of 2 or 3 cm up or down, depending on their preference for how baggy or slim, or how long or short their garments are.  Cue a wave of Japanese ‘designophiles’ adding a foot to their jean hems and double-cuffing for their own take on how denim should be worn – making this cutomisation of wardrobe staples doubly attractive to a young, directional customer.  I can’t wait to put this to the test myself, being small waisted and rather round in the hip region, jeans shopping is a nightmare for me.  Well, no longer, hopefully.

**add self-styled jeans pics**

Once the products are in the customer’s online shopping bag there are two routes to manufacturing – custom fit (the t-shirt, shirt and jeans products, which are manufactured and in stock based in thousands of variations in measurements, derived from thousands of subjects in their body analysis data).  Custom fit products are available within two weeks.  The other product option is custom made, which is fully bespoke and is currently offered for their tailored suits.  The product offer will expand, though.

All three women above wear their custom fit Start Today straight leg jean

Start Today’s head office, design team and programmers are in Japan and the manufacturing is done in China with Industrial partners.  Digging a little deeper, I ask Masa about how the products are manufactured.  The factory is set up in ‘stations’ to manufacture the different products, which are still made by hand, however there is a huge push towards automation.  This is no surprise, as a business model like this does not survive with a slick tech front end and slow manual (and therefore expensive) backend.  The manufacturing process needs to be fast and accurate, and ideally local.  Once manufacturing is set up along these lines it can be located in the markets it is serving.  For cut and sew garments like jeans and t-shirts this seems a little way off, however for inherently automated systems like 3D knit there is already minimal manual input, so manufacturing of knitted sweaters and the like could feasibly be made local much sooner.

Both women above wear their custom fit skinny jeans.  The men wear (top) slim tapered jean, (above) straight leg jean

Start today are not only creating bespoke clothing, they operate an entirely bespoke design and manufacturing process.  Many fashion companies work with existing software and machinery in a standardised manner in factories manufacturing products for multiple brands.  Not so for Start Today.  They have created proprietary software and systems to drive their technical and manufacturing processes and are working with machine manufacturers to redesign and augment existing machines to function in streamlined and automated ways to support their mass customization.  Their factory setup is unique to them – they could not work in a standard factory that manufactures for other brands.  This is next generation manufacturing and nothing about this business model is ‘off the shelf’.

It’s difficult to sum up just how transformative this business model and philosophy is.  It addresses so many pain points in traditional fashion supply chains and processes and removes sensitivities like body shape, size and race – it does away with all the labels.  In that way, it is entirely liberating and inclusive, blowing traditional fashion retailers out of the water.  It questions fashion’s use of ‘model sizes’ – whatever they are – and a certain portrayal of what fashion is.  According to Start Today we are all fashion.  Individually and as a mass market.

Where next for Start Today?  They gave away 100,000 Zozosuits in July this year with the launch of their ecommerce store to 72 countries.  The measurement data being fed in from the Zozosuit in all the markets around the world is helping Start Today perfect their algorithms and patterns and offer ever better fitting products.  Knitwear launches in a few weeks to add to the custom fit offer and I am delighted to be receiving one of their first knits to test.  Knowing my knitwear background, I warned I would notice even a single dropped stitch, so I’m a tough customer.  What was incredible refreshing was that the Start Today team begged me to feed back to them on all the products and the process of taking my Zozosuit measurements.  A fashion company wanting my personal opinion in order to change their processes?  Can that really work?  When you have complete control over the individual consumer’s clothing offer, fit and service, yes it can.  This is the key.  Traditional fashion brands and retailers can’t reasonably act on such feedback because of the archaic, complex supply chain and the lack of control over product ‘sizing’.  Their best intentions will always fall short in a consumer landscape where we demand products quickly and cheaply that are perfect for us.

Speaking on the founding principles of the company Masa said that the company was determined to address something that was being ignored by their competitors.  Plainly speaking, he said they could not compete on design – there are incredible brands out their winning in this area.  They could not compete on retail stores – there are wonderful shopping experiences already existing.  But what no brand has ever addressed is how horrible it is to spend your life buying clothing off the shelf that is ill-fitting or having to get it altered – making the customer feel self-conscious and short-changed.  Considering the desperate lack of provision for people who fit into what is often termed ‘petite, or ‘plus-size’ or ‘big and tall’ it is incredibly refreshing to realise that the Zozosuit means these categories and labels need never exist again.  Zozo fits you perfectly, whatever dimensions you are.

Fashion Tech Goes Mainstream in Munich

Next week sees Fashion Tech take a step closer to the mainstream with the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’ showcase at the Munich Fabric Start trade show, in collaboration with FashNerd.

Top, Orange Fiber X Salvatore Ferragamo.  Above, Nadi X 

The showcase features a number of existing products, including the citrus waste recycler Orange Fiber’s collaboration with Salvatore Ferragamo, which proved the quality and appeal of their waste to cellulose textile.  Alongside this is Nadi X by Wearable X, the yoga legging that uses sensors and an App to guide your alignment during poses.

Flair Atelier’s mass customisation

Other brands in the showcase include Flair Atelier, which offers shoppers ‘base designs’ that they can customise within a set of design parameters on their website.  With mass customisation a key opportunity for product and brand differentiation, this business model looks to a changing consumer landscape, breaking the usual retail mould.  Their website states that they “create a unique digital pattern with your name on it and send it to our tailors in Italy”, suggesting the use of Gerber or Lectra digital pattern cutting software, which no doubt helps them achieve the 2 week order to delivery time.  It would be interesting to know if there is any other technology employed in the manufacturing process that would allow this business to scale and truly achieve mass customisation, or whether the remainder of the process is essentially manual, as per tradition. 

Thesis Couture heels

Thesis Couture have used technology, broadly speaking, for R&D to design a sole for high heels that redistribute weight more effectively than standard heels, thereby reducing pain under the ball of the foot and shifting some of the weight back to the heel.  Tackling the problem of foot pain by “using structural design and advanced materials” to replace the metal shank and cardboard in standard heels makes Thesis Couture’s development a smart leap in the engineering of a product that has barely changed for a hundred years. 

 

Top, Lorna & Bel.  Above, Emel + Aris 

Lorna & Bel will also feature in the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’, with their bags with built-in phone chargers.  London-based brand Emel + Aris, will also be presenting their heated coats. 

PerFlex 3D printed composite bra.

On the speculative side, the PerFlex project bra is a ‘proof of concept’ that harnesses the customisable sizing and 3D printing of plastics by PerFlex, in collaboration with Brigitte Koch of the Technical University of Eindhoven.

The PerFlex website provides consumers with the option to combine parametric patterns made by designers with their body data to get a personalised 3D printed product at the same unit cost as a mass produced item – truly achieving mass customisation.  This application of 3D printing combined with traditional textiles could be a game-changer. 

The significance of this fashion tech showcase is the placement of products that have arguably been viewed as ‘futuristic’ amongst mainstream textiles at a trade show, throwing them into the commercial spotlight.  

Target Open House Garage

Along with the recent launch of Target’s Open House Garage – a testing ground for new fashion tech products that are not yet ready for widespread industry roll-out – it seems like commercial retailers and the industry at large are showing increasing interest in fashion tech products and innovations and their potential to woo consumers.  

The Wardrobe of the Future runs from 4th-6th September 2018 at Munich Fabric Start’s KEYHOUSE.

Header Image: PerFlex

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