Techstyler X DAI: Maximise & Monetise to a Sustainable Wardrobe in 2020

Forget about it being the year of the rat.  2020 is the year of action. Climate action, to be precise.  Last week world leaders convened at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the climate crisis conversation took centre stage. Prince Charles delivered a speech where he highlighted the importance of consumers in the urgent “paradigm shift” which is needed.  “People around the world have the power to drive the transformation to sustainable markets. Yet, we cannot expect consumers to make sustainable choices if these choices are not clearly laid before them. For a transition to take place, being socially and environmentally conscious cannot only be for those who can afford it,” he said.

We can all agree that as consumers we play a vital role in this shift, but the solutions need to not only be visible, but more attractive as alternatives. At the recent Techstyler X Dai panel discussion held at the Dai Performance space in Spitalfields, London, we brought together experts sharing insights on how we can boost our environmental and financial sustainability in 2020–through our wardrobes. 

Dai Performance Space, Spitalfields

John Atcheson, Founder and CEO of Stuffstr , explained how his buy-back platform works to divert unwanted clothing from landfill and add monetary value for both the customer and the brand partner. Leading from their mission statement “no unused stuff”, social enterprise Stuffstr partners with retailers (including Adidas) to provide an instant buy-back of every purchase, regardless of the state that the product is in (holey socks are welcome too, apparently). Customers can pull up the last five years of inventory, each piece with a buy-back price, and with a click of a button a courier is instantly dispatched to pick up the item and the customer is rewarded with a voucher to spend with that brand. The whole transaction can be done in one hour. Stuffstr then resells everything wearable and recycles items that cannot be worn. For Atcheson it is about changing perceptions of value amongst consumers and changing the way people make purchasing decisions. He wants people to look in their wardrobes and think “I’ve got an asset here and it’s got a value which is declining over time.” It encourages that mindset that it costs money to have stuff around that they’re not using. Stuffstr provides a frictionless way for consumers to move those unwanted items on to the next stage of their life cycle in a way that Atcheson says is actually easier than letting them accumulate, taking them to the charity shop or, worse, throwing it out. He jokes that the only part of the service they haven’t covered is physically carrying the item from the user’s wardrobe to the courier at their front door.

Victoria Prew, CEO and Co-Founder of the UK’s first peer-to-peer wardrobe rental platform HURR Collective, explained how renting provides consumers with a way to both maximise (by adding key fashion pieces as and when needed), and monetise (85% of the rental fee goes to the renter) their wardrobe. In the era of eco-anxiety, Victoria asserts that fashion should still be fun, and that renting can provide that feeling of getting something new and exciting without having to contribute to the over-production of more clothing, or spend money on a statement piece that may only be worn once. 

HURR encourages people to see the value in their wardrobe and recognise the return on investment that their clothing can have. Prew shared how one dress produced a 350% return on investment as it was the dress that everyone wanted to be seen in last year. It was a win-win as the owner was happy to have made some money out of a dress she may only have worn a few times, and HURR was happy as rather than 20 dresses, say, being manufactured, used and discarded in landfill, multiple dresses have been ‘saved’ due to it being rented instead. It is this sharing mentality that will ultimately reduce the amount of clothing being produced. And if this solution looks and feels as much like the e-commerce we are all used to, then the transition from buying to renting is psychologically a little easier. Prew is on a mission to cut out fast-fashion, encouraging people to invest in capsule wardrobes of high-quality basics, which they really look after, and add to by renting special pieces. This not only reduces the wearer’s consumption, but also is more economical because they buy less, buy better and rent the rest. 

Stylist and Head of Sustainability Communications at Swarovski, Rachele Gonzaga, lives by the quote “the most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.”  Through her wardrobe “detox” service she helps clients identify which pieces they wear, those they could get more use from and advises what to do with pieces they no longer use at all.  If you don’t wear something 100%, then why? Can you wear it in a different way? Are you able to tailor it to fit better? If not, then give it to charity or recycle it but don’t let it sit there. She advises people to invest in timeless pieces that truly suit their body type and colouring, which alone increases the wearer’s wardrobe sustainability and longevity, and over time saves money. When talking to her clients about sustainability, she notes the increasing confusion over sustainability amongst consumers and tries to reconcile that by asking clients what matters to them.  She then finds brands that match those philosophies to propose to the client. 

At the end of the talk, an audience member asked if the growth of rental and resell platforms would lead to revenue being diverted away from charity shops, and therefore the causes (for example Oxfam) that are currently benefiting from them. Atcheson replied by saying that such platforms could integrate charitable options, so in the case of Stuffstr, instead of users being paid with a gift card that money could be diverted to a charity–a concept that their brand partners are very supportive of developing. Prew added that there is an opportunity for charities to “go digital” and create online marketplaces where customers are already shopping, for example on eBay. Joanna Dai, Founder of Dai, shared details of their recent charity campaign during which customers were asked to choose between 15% off with a 5% donation to Smart Works, or 20% discount with no donation. Disappointingly for Dai, the vast majority of customers choose the higher discount for themselves rather than the charitable donation, which points to the need for attractive charitable options that resonate with consumers. 

Another audience member asked the panel their opinion on when rental and clothes-sharing options would become more available for men. Prew answered that the future of menswear rental was a bit “uncertain”, but it was definitely on HURR’s radar.  She did concede that if the understanding around the potential for rental and resell in the mens’ market evolves it absolutely has the potential to grow alongside female fashion. 

The panellists all agreed that there is a lot of disruption in the industry so it’s not all doom and gloom, but the future of fashion has to be circular. Atcheson closed the discussion by saying, “it’s really encouraging to see that there are big players willing to make investments in this area and trying to truely move in that direction. If we can facilitate that by providing our service and building this consumer concept that starts to demand more and more of that innovation then I feel optimistic that we can get there”

Quick wins and takeaways from the panel were:

  • Recognise the value that your clothing has and how you can use that value to your advantage
  • Invest in a capsule wardrobe and consider renting or borrowing the more special one-time pieces
  • Look after what you already own – look at the Clothes Doctor for tips or use eco dry cleaners like Blanc
  • Stick to the 30-wear rule
  • If you do want to get rid of something, think about how you can get some of its value back and continue its life, either in rental, re-sell, charity or recycling to avoid landfill

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.

Biofashion Show Presents The Future Of Sustainability at London Design Festival

Biodesign Here Now opened last night to a captive audience of designers, architects, manufacturers and enthusiasts who were treated to the first edition of the Biodesign Fashion Show, held at Opencell London. Presenting accessories and clothing from designers and makers whose work is part of the exhibition from 19th-21st September, the show was a window into the materials and aesthetics of the near and far future.

Suzanne Lee at Open Cell, Biodesign Here Now Image: Fashnerd

Part of London Design Festival, this launch event and fashion show included a keynote from biomaterial and design veteran Suzanne Lee, who spoke about the impact this sector is having now, and what the future is likely to bring. Having spent well over a decade working on biomaterial and biodesign innovations at Biocouture, Modern Meadow, and now Biofabricate, she summed up the potential sustainable advantages of this sector, along with the significant challenges of scaling these new material solutions. The challenges include the vast amounts of funding and development time needed, which pose significant difficulties when seeking to meet the material needs of fast-moving industries like fashion.

Biofashion Show

In the fashion show following Lee’s keynote, designers presented bio-based accessories including biodegradable biopolymer flowers by Carolyn Raff developed from algae and agar, using rapidly renewable raw materials from the sea. Lina Nurk and Jonas Johansson’s vegan and biodegradable textiles were like an embroidered second skin, along with Silvio Tinello’s fungi bio agglomerate and bacterial cellulose bags. Rosie Broadhead is exploring embedding healthy bacteria into textiles for enhanced wellbeing through skin absorption and presented a bodysuit proof-of-concept. Denimaize is redesigning denim using wasted corn husks to extract the cellulose fibers, and spinning them with flax.

Monika Blaszczak, Biofashion Show Image: Lonesomesalone

Two designers created bio couture, presenting entire collections utilising hand-craft techniques driven by biological processes of lichen and mycelium growth. I have written about Piero D’Angelo’s prospective lichen fashion (article here) in the past, but last night D’Angelo presented his first entire collection, which proved a refreshing follow-up to London Fashion Week, which while commercial and brilliantly creative in many ways, isn’t proposing such radical ways to reimagine fashion for a future fraught with ecological fragility and scarcity of resources. His pieces were crafted delicately but the result was bold in terms of texture, colour, and structure.

Biodegradable biopolymer flowers by Carolyn Raff.

Biocouture

Aurelie Fontan uses scraps from the automotive and upholstery industries to repurpose and extend the life and visual interest of the materials, by exploring how they can be blended with mycelium. Still in its early stages, the majority of her collection showed dexterity with scraps that concealed the fact that these materials were less than perfect when she received them.

Aurelie Fontan – Process.

Both Fontan and D’Angelo are residents of Open Cell, the biodesign lab with flexible and accessible space for experimentation to support designers, makers, and scientists as they tackle the challenges of developing sustainable solutions to our myriad of material problems.

Sustainability and Design

As the dialogue around climate change intensifies and we grow more anxious about finding solutions, the work of those on show at Biodesign Here Now offers optimism, inspiration, catalysis and hopefully scaling and adoption of the new solutions being presented. If you want to know what’s happening in Biodesign, and to see the edge of where materials are right now, with a view to what’s coming next, catch the exhibition from 19th-21st September at Open Cell, Shepherd’s Bush. See the programme of talks on 20th September here. Entry is free.

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.

Bangladesh ‘Fashionology’ Summit Report Reveals Fast Fashion, Sustainability and Technology Challenges

In my capacity as founder of Techstyler I am focused firmly on the need to share meaningful sustainability and fashion-tech information to both fashion businesses and consumers. In addition, I have founded a materials innovation agency, so I understand the challenges faced by both creators/business owners and consumers.

In the following report I summarised a day of discussions at the Bangladesh ‘Fashionology’ Summit held in the capital, Dhaka, between retail and brand giants including H&M and M&S and some of the world’s biggest garment manufacturers – Pacific Jeans, Pioneer Denim and Viyellatex included. In the mix were also startups, including Infinited Fiber and Shimmy Technologies, who recognise that if their sustainability and supply chain solutions are adopted in Bangladesh they will have a critical impact and achieve global scale improvements. Bangladesh is the second largest garment manufacturer in the world after China, but it faces unprecedented challenges and risks, despite it’s successes to date (bringing around 50 million people out of extreme poverty through work and improving life expectancy) and terrible tragedies (including the Rana Plaza building collapse).

Here are key takeaways from the summit, along with my research and opinion-based recommendations for how the RMG industry in Bangladesh could proceed toward the fourth industrial revolution and achieve digital transformation, fair and decent work, sustainable production and protection of the environment – with continued profits. For more information or to share your thoughts, please email Techstylermail (at) gmail dot com.

Brooke Roberts-Islam – Founder, Techstyler; Director, BRIA

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Techstyler X LDC – “Why The Future Of Fashion Will Be Grown, Not Sewn”

Climate change is at the forefront of our minds given the critical warnings about our dwindling resources and rising global temperatures. Halting ‘consumption’ of goods is impossible, so the focus, regardless of which part your play (creator and consumer, or just the latter) should be reducing carbon emissions. It may sound complex, but essentially it means finding alternative solutions to our most carbon-emitting problems. In fashion, this resides in materials. The emissions (or impact, for directness) is around 73% due to the materials phase of product creation. So if we address carbon emissions in this phase we are a long way towards securing life on our planet.

Where do we start on this mission? For the three designers on my recent panel ‘Why The Future Of Fashion Will Be Grown, Not Sewn’ in collaboration with Lone Design Club, the use of plant, rather than petroleum-based materials, is key. This approach brings its own set of challenges and the panellists shared the benefits, drawbacks and tales from the unchartered waters of developing and designing using grown materials.

Techstyler X LDC
Techstyler X LDC – “Why The Future Of Fashion Will Be Grown, Not Sewn”

Adam Davies, researcher and product designer, started his journey towards creating interiors materials and products by shaping seaweed into objects on a beach in Wales. Driven by a desire to make use of the abundant seaweed in an ever more plastic-ridden local beach, he put his energy into chopping, shaping and baking seaweed into lampshades. And so began the journey to eventually experimenting with mycelium. Today, his brand Ty Syml sells lampshades made from both materials, which he has developed through trial and error. His development of mycelium (a type of mushroom harvested just prior to the mushroom’s sprouting phase) started with a mycelium kit he bought online and began mixing with other substrates (base materials). Mycelium grows through a substrate, for example wood pulp. This means it provides the opportunity to combine mycelium with byproducts from other industries (as the substrate), boosting the sustainability and performance characteristics of the resulting materials.

Mycelium Light
Mycelium Light

What has been the biggest challenge so far? I asked. Creating a sterile environment in the 3D printed lampshade molds (so that mould doesn’t grow within the materials) was Adam’s response – a rather scientific problem for a designer. In fact, thinking like a designer and working like a scientist is a path he is still navigating. He admits that the next crucial step for his rapidly growing business is to hire a mycologist (a biologist specialising in funghi) as he expands his range of material composites, which currently includes mycelium and wood and mycelium and spent grain from brewing. Following a discussion with an audience member he will also be exploring a mycelium and flax composite, too. All three of these materials take on waste from other processes and put it to good use in combination with mycelium. These materials all remain 100% biodegradable and have powerful natural properties.

Ty Syml - Seaweed Lampshade
Ty Syml – Seaweed Lampshade

The mycelium composite materials are strong, light, water resistant and fire retarding, so are perfect for building interiors and construction. The natural growth of the materials and use of byproducts from other processes make this a closed-loop system, adhering to the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) design principles. Adam is an ardent believer in, and follower of, William McDonough’s C2C framework.

On the speculative side, Piero D’Angleo is working on growing couture with lichen. His MA Fashion at the Royal College of Art, where he is being taught by Helen Steiner, cofounder of Open Cell, has steered him from the study of plant-based aesthetics to plant-specific functions in his design work. In the case of lichen, its ability to absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the atmosphere is a powerful concept that D’Angelo would like to harness in a fibre, then yarn form. Lichen is a unique fungus-based growth that co-exists with either a bacteria or algae, which infiltrates the fungi. The algae or bacteria performs photosynthesis (turning carbon dioxide into oxygen) within the fungi structure. The relationship of the two organisms is mutualistic, providing a perfect metaphor for how we should be living within nature to halt planetary destruction.

Piero D'Angelo - Prospective Lichen Textile
Piero D’Angelo – Prospective Lichen Textile

Having created prospective textile designs and a ‘grow your own couture’ handbook, D’Angelo is now experimenting with how plants can combine with electronics to form nature-driven automation. This is a window into D’Angelo’s belief that we have a stronger emotional connection to things that grow (as opposed to things created synthetically, like polyester, for example). He imagines a future where the power of lichen can be augmented in the way Bolt Threads have isolated spider-silk proteins and placed them in living organisms to generate synthetic silk in a lab. However, as living organisms (bacteria, for example) are producing the fibres to create these yarns, engineering them and ‘putting them to work’ begs questions about ethics that he is still grappling with, he says.

Piero D'Angelo - Prospective Lichen Garment
Piero D’Angelo – Prospective Lichen Garment

Also exploring this lab-grown material conundrum is Ioanna Topouzoglou, founder of London-based accessories brand Mashu. Topouzoglou currently uses plant-based materials (Piñatex ‘pineapple leather’ is one), as well as polyurethane (PU) synthetic leather alternatives. Here, she balances the impact of synthetic versus natural materials, which is no easy feat. The difficulty lies with balancing the non-biodegradability of the PU and recycled polyester linings in her bags, for example, with the water usage and processing impact of using a cotton, for example. On balance, recycled PET in this non-washed product has a lower impact – until end-of-life is reached. Topouzoglou is in the early stages of planning for end-of-life by dismantling and reusing or recycling the product components, but admits this is a complex service to provide to a growing global customer-base.

Mashu - Piñatex bag
Mashu – Piñatex bag

To the lab-grown materials debate she is open to using animal-origin leather if lab-grown, explaining that “as a vegan, this is not straightforward”, but if no harm (to the animals or organisms) is proven, she accepts the output as “an ethical material”. Given that she has fought hard over the past couple of years to convince manufacturers to adapt their animal-leather processes to utilise synthetic and plant-based materials and non-animal based glues instead, this is a strong commitment to using whatever materials have the least impact and help our planet – even if they do originate from animals, resulting in further adaptation to her manufacturing methods.

Mashu - PU bag
Mashu – PU bag

Of course it is impossible to create products and have absolutely “zero impact”. What this panel discussion demonstrated was that the combination of science and design presents us with better alternatives that can reduce the impact on the planet. It also demonstrates powerful natural processes that we can harness and leverage in materials. For all its challenges, it seems that plants and the rapidly evolving area of biomaterial design, holds the key to a naturally ‘smart’ and sustainable materials 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: Designers Reshaping ‘Luxury’ Driven by Sustainability and Ethics

Rounding off our speaker series for 2018 was our panel discussion on the role of designers in shaping and influencing sustainable brands and changing definitions of ‘luxury’.  Much of what is discussed in the realm of sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands is in the context of materials, supply chain and waste management, but what of the impact designers have in making design  decisions that influence most aspects of the supply chain and the product life-cycle? Can brands achieve sustainability if their designers are oblivious, or have little visibility, of the impact their decisions make?

BOTLLETOP Regent Street Store.  Image: BOTTLETOP

The panel consisted of a cross-section of creatives from multiple backgrounds, spanning finance, textiles and music.  The thread linking them was a pioneering point of view and the fact that their design work and research has begun with identifying a problem to solve and harnessing design to do so.  Design as a tool for change.

Opening the conversation was Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Co-Director of the Centre for Circular Design at UAL where she oversees research and live industry projects that challenge current linear methods of design – that is where resources (including materials) are used to create objects that have a single lifecycle and are disposed of at end of life without recouping any of the resources/components of the product to re-use or recycle.  In order to challenge this linear system, designers work with all other members of the industry on projects that bring together all points of view – from retail to manufacturing to design to waste management, in order to redesign not just products in a circular manner, but the system itself. A striking example of how successful this can be was the case explained by Dr Goldsworthy where a team at Filippa K questioned the lifespan of garments and consumer appetite for longevity of garments. They hypothesised that the average white t-shirt is worn around 22 times before being thrown in landfill, a figure Kate deems generous.  

Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Cyclability Diagram

As a result, a concept for a paper t-shirt that looks and feels like a cotton one was devised.  The paper version could not be washed, but could be worn up to four times and then disposed of in household waste to decompose safely in landfill.  Analysing the total resource use and environmental impact across all areas of creation, delivery and consumption of the product, the disposable paper t-shirt had a fraction of the impact a t-shirt worn 22 times has, debunking the idea that simply wearing clothing more times reduces environmental impact.  The bigger picture here is that every action we take has an impact, including washing our clothes. Therefore a future wardrobe containing some clothing that is disposable by design may, in fact, be more sustainable.

Kresse Wesling MBE isn’t a designer.  She is the co-founder of lifestyle brand Elvis & Kresse and entered into their venture by way of a waste management consultancy career.  Reappropriating what is deemed ‘junk’ by many, Kresse and her partner Elvis set about turning waste into desirable goods by flexing their design approach and conducting ambitious research and development.  They conducted this R&D on whatever materials they could develop partnerships to rescue, diverting them from ending up in landfill. The design process, driven by Elvis, is reliant on the material inputs and strives to maintain the longest life possible of the goods by adopting modular design techniques that allow customisation and re-use of the component materials.  The most recent example of this is their partnership with the Burberry Foundation, from whom they take all of Burberry’s leather waste (which will amount to 120 tonnes over a five year period) and hand-weave it into new products, including wallets and cosmetic cases. Kresse explained that the core of their brand is the agreement to work with all stakeholders in the design, production and waste processes to ensure the work they do is beneficial to all involved, as well as the planet.

Elvis & Kresse, rescued fire hose. Image: Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse, rescued leather Image: Retail Gazette

Elvis & Kresse rescued firehose and leather products.  Images: Elvis & Kresse

This way of working started in 2005 when the discovery of the disposal of fire hose into landfill triggered their desire to make use of this beautiful material, but also to secure the waste input stream to ensure production requirements could be met. This bore an agreement for Elvis and Kresse to agree to take all the decommissioned fire hose “waste” generated by the London Fire Brigade and turn it into lifestyle products, donating 50% of profits to the Fire Fighter’s charity in the process.

Completing the panel was Oliver Wayman, Co-Director of BOTTLETOP, who unwittingly launched a sustainable brand during the promotional campaign of a record he was working on in Brazil.  The catalyst from a career in the music industry to fashion accessories and social enterprise was his mum. Visiting Oliver in Brazil, she bought a locally made bag made from disposed ring pulls, connected using a crochet technique.  To promote the record in his campaign, he had bags made using this hand craft technique, which, it turned out, generated more interest and sales than the record itself.

The original BOTTLETOP bag in collaboration with Mulberry. Image: Bukowskis

At that point, the power to harness a design technique that utilises local materials and generates income for local communities from waste was what drove Oliver to turn this process into a range of products fit for the global luxury accessories market in 2012.  BOTTLETOP now boasts a flagship store on Regent Street, London, a recent pop-up in Dallas, Texas, and has future sights on Asia.

 

The BOTTLETOP brand funds the Bottletop Foundation, which was founded by Co-Director Cameron Saul and his father Roger (Founder of British luxury fashion brand Mulberry) in 2002.  The foundation empowers young people with health education and technical skills training to enable them to make healthy choices and build their future.  It also supports musicians from around the globe to create collaborative work and showcase it through the ‘Sound Effects’ album series, poetically closing the creative loop on where it all began.

Bottletop Foundation.  Image: BOTTLETOP

In discussing the business models and design approaches of Elvis & Kresse and BOTTLETOP, alongside the design research driven by the Centre for Circular Design, new definitions of luxury emerged that encompass transparency and ethics.  The recent revelation that Burberry burnt millions of dollars worth of leather goods as a way of disposing of unsold stock caused a very public scandal, arguably threatening the image of luxury the brand aims to exude. This incineration is by no means limited to Burberry – it is common practice across the fashion industry at the value end right through to luxury.  In line with changing views of luxury from a new generation of consumers who value experiences at least as much as acquiring ‘stuff’, brands that create a community and engage in dialogue with consumers, including those on the panel, are increasingly valued and held in higher prestige than ‘faceless’, out of reach “luxury” brands, that in comparison, can feel out of step and dated.

Stay tuned for details of the next panel discussion during London Fashion Week in February, 2019.

Happy New Year!

More on Fillipa K’s sustainability efforts can be found here

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