The Fabric of Reality

RYOT, Verizon Media’s Emmy Award®-winning immersive storytelling production house, announced today the launch of The Fabric of Reality, a fully immersive fashion show in partnership with Kaleidoscope, the Museum of Other Realities (MOR) and the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) at London College of Fashion, UAL. The experience will be a first of its kind virtual reality fashion exhibition, aimed at taking audiences on a journey to explore the story and narrative behind the designer’s collection. The exhibition will launch on the 29th July, presented by Brooke Roberts-Islam, Founder of Techstyler, and will last for 12 months within the Museum of Other Realities multiplayer VR platform – available through premium virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive Cosmos or Pro.
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The Fabric of Reality will showcase the work of three top designers, curated by FIA, and will enable audiences to view and interact in real time in 3D via VR headsets creating a new and unique way to experience a virtual fashion show. The experience will feature an exhibition room where the designers’ sculptural garments will be showcased, and three portals representing each project’s ‘Storyworld’ – a self-contained universe expressing the emotional reality of the Sculptural Garment. For fashion fans not able to view in VR, a live event with the designers inside the experience will stream at 18:30 BST on 29 July on Yahoo Style and HuffPost UK in 2D formats and will be available on VOD following the event.
The Yes

Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks 2nd Edition: Day 1 Tackles Diversity, AI and Sustainability

Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks 2nd Edition

Spanning two focal days, World Environment Day and World Oceans Day, the second edition of Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks marked the coming together of over 100 industry thought-leaders, innovators and business owners to discuss the fashion industry’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

Casting fresh light on the evolving relationship between fashion, culture, art, and the environment, the topics of discussion included sustainability, innovation, advanced technology, plastic-waste, ocean pollution and the attitudes and behaviours of Gen Z consumers. This article shares selected highlights from day 1 of the talks, beginning with the opening address from Annemarie Hou, Acting Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships. Hou shared an overview of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calling for “inclusive solutions” for what is now a “health, humanitarian and a development crisis” during the coronavirus pandemic. She reminded the online audience that the SDGs offer a roadmap to sustainable transformation, to which innovation and entrepreneurship must be coupled.

Global Supply Chains

Taking a global stance from the outset, Lian Kariuki, founder of online artisan shopping platform Loocid Global joined the online talks from Nairobi, Kenya. With behind-the-scenes access to the manufacturing of screen-printed face masks, this session placed artisans on a global stage. From there, the broadcast moved to India, with Sunil Sethi, Chairman, FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) explaining how the Design Council is supporting fashion designers and companies who are suffering during the Covid-19 crisis. Sethi said the FDCI foundation, funded by private sponsorship, supports small businesses to stay afloat and “pay their master cutters, their weavers, their office boys.” He envies the “big fashion design councils of the world,” and said that by comparison, the FDCI does not have “such deep pockets.” Despite this, sponsorship will continue to be allocated to FDCI member and non-member businesses who apply for support.  

“Financial help is not enough to aid the designers. We started a program called insights to curate content relevant to the hour. We, the Fashion Design Council of India, brought together different experts. We had webinars, talks, and more, and provided designers with solutions.”      

Sunil Sethi, Chairman, FDCI
Jaipur Rugs

Social entrepreneurship and the impact of culture on fashion were explored in the context of race, class, gender and spirituality across a series of panels during the day 1 sessions. Speakers included Yash Ranga, Stakeholder Engagement Partner, Jaipur Rugs Foundation; Samata, CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress and Farai Simoyi, Founder, The Narativ. Crucially, the speakers brought perspectives from the design and manufacturing industries in India, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Kenya and beyond, expanding the industry dialogue beyond the usual supply chains and global brands already known to consumers worldwide.  

“The most important aspect of Jaipur Rugs is the sustainability vertical. The customers we engage with worldwide are conscious consumers. They are art connoisseurs who believe in the art and celebrate the craftsmanship that goes into creating a product.”

Yash Ranga, Conscious Luxury Evangelist, Stakeholder Engagement Partner, Jaipur Rugs Foundation

The Power of AI

As the coronavirus pandemic has caused worldwide disruption I have reported extensively on the impact and technologies offering solutions in my recent Forbes articles. Technology adoption has escalated during the pandemic and new digital retail solutions include App The Yes. Founded by industry eCommerce veteran of 20 years Julie Bornstein, who is ex- Stitch Fix, LVMH and Nordstrom, her knowledge is being channelled into an AI solution to offer a new level of shopping personalisation.

Speaking with Elizabeth Segran, Staff writer at Fast Company, Bornstein explained that the app pulls data from the user’s feeds and searches to compile shopping recommendations based on their online behaviour. The Yes aims to cut through digital shopping noise by asking the user some fun, simple questions then create a feed of products for them, pulling in products from partner brands’ online stores and promising to halt ‘endless scrolling and fruitless searches’. Backed by several VC investors (and included in the CB Insights’ annual ranking of the 100 most promising AI startups in the world), The Yes is further proof that AI-powered solutions for fashion retail are fast becoming omnipresent. This indicates that data-based solutions will replace “guesswork” and subjective decision-making. Promising to place Prada next to artisan brands, feeds on The Yes are driven by the sensibility of the user, rather than the brands that have the means to shout the loudest and rank the highest by traditional aggregation metrics. This makes the app a potent tech tool for a democratic, inclusive and accessible fashion industry now and in the future.

Sustainability Facts Versus Perceptions

Industry stalwart Sara Sozzani Maino, Deputy Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia and Marina Spadafora, Sustainability Consultant and Country Coordinator, Fashion Revolution Italia spoke with by Lance Gould, Co-founder and CCO of Silicon Valley Story Lab about the sustainable development goals and how the fashion industry should action them. Spadafora and Sozzani Maino are both based in Northern Italy, closely linked to luxury fashion, however during the discussion they also reflected on fast fashion and its global environmental impact. 

“We have to slow down and go back to two collections a year. Dries van Noten gathered a big group of people and said the same. Gucci last week announced that they will do the same. In the luxury industry, after Covid-19, we’re moving back to wanting to produce less that’s good quality and produce in Italy/ locally. This could be a good development.”

Marina Spadafora, Sustainability Consultant & Country Coordinator, Fashion Revolution Italia

This narrative, while important in terms of ostensibly slowing down the industry, may be problematic in some ways. This is because the presentation of fashion does not represent the production and sale of fashion, which is expected to continue throughout the year in multiple collections, despite a reduction in fashion shows by luxury brands. Will Gucci only sell products twice a year? In my recent Forbes article, I argue that this is not likely. The profitability of luxury brands depends on regular product launches throughout the year, and tackling waste and overstock with responsive business models (AI and tech-based systems offers the most potent solutions) will undoubtedly have more a bigger impact on sustainability than reducing the number of fashion shows. 

The biggest obstacles to sustainable reform in the fashion industry are education and brands “being stubborn and afraid” of being called out as not 100% sustainable or “not doing enough,” according to Sara Sozzani Maino.  

Sara Sozzani Maino, Deputy Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia, Head of Vogue Talents & International Brand Ambassador, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana

Also debatable is the notion that luxury is synonymous with manufacturing in Italy or “locally” as it diminishes the importance of rigorous sustainability assessments of manufacturers, regardless of geographical location. Saitex in Vietnam, for example, is the only large scale denim manufacturer in the world to have achieved B Corp Certification and is a leader in garment upcycling and digital transformation. Taiwan has the highest recycling rates in the world and is a leading producer of high-quality recycled PET yarns, including those used for the Adidas Parley for the Oceans products. Bangladesh has the largest proportion of LEEDS certified sustainable garment factories in the world, indicating the magnitude of the turnaround in manufacturing standards after the Rana Plaza disaster. These examples indicate that simplistic assumptions about sustainability and attitudes towards manufacturers in the far east have been shaped by subjectivity, rather than fact-based information. As the Sustainable Development Goals were discussed in terms of the global volume of waste created, it’s undeniable that fast fashion and high volume production are causing much of the industry’s overstock and landfill waste. These problems must be addressed from a systemic perspective, and new profitable fashion business models that do not rely on simply producing and selling more clothes offer the biggest hope, alongside radical streamlining and digitalisation of fashion design and production. It is a mistake to assume, however, that sustainability is simply a matter of local production.  

Gen Z Consumer Demands

During a panel discussion focusing on Gen Z, Blakely Thornton, co-founder CEO of C1V1L Jewelry, called for the fashion industry to tackle diversity beyond outward appearances (for example, diversity in ad campaigns) to the teams working “behind the camera.”  

“The way you get a Gucci sweater that looks like blackface is that there was no one black at the company to tell you ‘hold on, don’t do that!’ If you had one (black person) you could have passed (that disaster) by,” said Thornton. 

Blakely Thornton, Co-Founder, C1V1L & CEO, Blakely Thornton

Thornton was referring to the jumper in a Gucci campaign that created a backlash online with one Twitter user declaring it “Haute Couture Blackface for the millennials???”, forcing Gucci to remove the product from stores and issue an apology. 

Thousand Fell trainers
Thousand Fell trainers

The panel, which also included Chloe Songer, co-founder, Thousand Fell, a trainer company with circularity ambitions and Merri Smith, Co-Founder & COO, Tulerie, a peer-to-peer fashion rental platform, agreed that the ‘next Gen’ consumer expects transparency and can quickly fact-check a brand’s values online. Authenticity and brands demonstrating values that are an extension of the Gen Z consumer are key, according to Thornton.

IP and Trademarking

During an in-depth discussion on protecting cultural and creative legacies, Attorney and co-founder of Ebitu Law Group, Uduak Oduok, explained the importance of IP protection and Trademarking. Specifically, she said African Governments should protect the IP of their cultural heritage to ensure the designs developed by African creatives cannot be plundered as seasonal ‘Africa’ trends by International brands. This type of appropriation has long been rife across the fashion industry and has led to incidences of demands for payment of royalties for the use of unique design details and fabrics. Oduok also explained that a lack of a formal approach by many African fashion businesses to trademarking and IP is leading to loss of income and creative control. She advocated for business support to help develop African fashion businesses for long term global success. Panel moderator Alexis Rai Hernandez, Director of Digital Strategy and Partnerships, African Fashion Foundation directed viewers to their website for further information, guidance and business support.

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Image: Queen of Raw

Circularity and Sustainable Transformation

A panel discussion on supply chain and circular economy included Jessica Schreiber, Founder, Fabscrap (a total solution for handling textile waste responsibly and sustainably), who spoke about the importance of developing business relationships to action effective circular solutions. Fabscrap works with various parties, including those who typically incinerate unsold merchandise, to channel those textiles back into the creation of new products. They charge a fee for this service, understandably, and that can be a challenging proposition for companies simply wanting to offload waste.

Sustainability tends to be inaccessible for a lot of people and in a way mismanagement. Where resources, transfer stations, etc. are placed, and where waste is produced are also not entirely fair across locations. There’s a lot to be done, not just in fashion but in the environmental movement as a whole, making sure that diversity is part of environmental education.

Jessica Schreiber, Founder, Fabscrap

In a parallel realm, Stephanie Benedetto, CEO of Queen of Raw explained that they sell wholesale luxury deadstock and offcut fabrics direct to makers via their online store, but highlighted the importance of digitising inventory and stock management as an effective way to funnel deadstock into online marketplaces. Divya Demato, CEO and co-founder of Goodops, a sustainable supply chain consultancy, urged brands to share their progress in sustainable transformation, regardless of the stage they are at versus their ultimate goals, and advocated for a “technology and data-centred approach.”

Discussions throughout the day were dominated by social and cultural diversity in fashion. The importance of the presence of people of colour and those from minority groups at every level in the fashion industry was universally called for. This was demanded not just in terms of fair and correct representation, but in terms of acknowledging the craft, skill and knowledge held within the cultures currently underrepresented, and the mistakes being made as a result. The speakers on day 1 of Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks, Edition 2 illustrated that a more diverse industry will be a more successful and sustainable industry. In parallel, adopting new technologies and business models and harnessing the power of AI will allow informed decision making to solve overstock problems, reduce waste and provide more personalised shopping experiences. Stay tuned for my download on Day 2, coming soon.

Brooke Roberts-Islam, Founder, Techstyler

Why Climate Activism Was the Biggest Trend at London Fashion Week

Originally published on EcoAge

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Image: Talia Woodin

This season, London Fashion Week saw the climate crisis take centre stage both on and off the catwalk. Brooke Roberts-Islam looks at the initiatives shaking up the way the industry works, and exactly what these demands for action should entail. 

Following a packed month of climate change and sustainability summits in January spanning the World Economic Forum in Davos, The Future Fabrics Expo in London and the Study Hall Climate Positivity conference in New York, February showed little sign of retreat from the appeals to act against climate change. While New York fashion week rolled on with what looked like business as usual, London Fashion Week (LFW) was punctuated by activism, climate speeches, designers presenting clothing they had stolen or swapped or upcycled, and the, now seasonal, Extinction Rebellion climate protest. 

Ahead of LFW on 10th February, Extinction Rebellion (XR) delivered a letter endorsed by Caryn Franklin MBE, Livia Firth of Eco-Age and among others, the founder of London Fashion Week, Lynne Franks OBE, asking the British Fashion Council (BFC) to “cancel September 2020 fashion week” and “ immediately start work on an emergency action plan that aids stakeholders through change.” Extinction Rebellion has asked the BFC to respond before September 2020 with a commitment to this transformation. While their response is as yet unknown, that wasn’t to say that the climate message didn’t manage to dominate London Fashion Week nonetheless.

On day one, the mood was set by the ON|OFF catwalk show which commenced with a speech from fashion sustainability researchers Professor Kate Fletcher and Dr. Mathilda Tham. “Climate scientists tell us that we’ve only got 10 years to change how we live, and also how we dress,” they declared. “For many years we have been dressing like we are somehow separate from the earth; as if our fate is somehow not tied to the health of the planet that is our home. But it is, and we need to change.” They also proposed that ‘Growth Logic’ should be replaced by ‘Earth Logic;’ the name of a report and manifesto they have authored as a blueprint for rooting fashion in creativity, community, curiosity, courage, and care, instead of profit. 

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Images: ON|OFF

Fletcher and Tham’s speech was followed by a catwalk show entitled All Power to the Imagination. The clothes were strewn with anarchic slogans, stickers on the soles of second-hand sandals, stilettos held on with scotch tape and spewing ball gowns, painted as though they were decaying – all while models stomped down the runway to a remix of The Clash’s ‘London Calling.’ These looked like clothes for rebellion and the message felt more important than the medium (which was largely synthetic, not particularly commercial and was peddling the idea of shredding fashion rules). It felt like these designers were lashing out – and rightly so, given that they are inheriting a climate crisis and an industry painfully resistant to cleaning up its act. 

During a conversation after the show with Fletcher and Tham, I asked what the desired outcome of their Earth Logic manifesto is. They are pushing for a slowing down of the fashion industry and adoption of their ‘landscapes’ for redefining and reorganising it. The full manifesto calls for changes including less growth, local scaling and re-centering of the fashion industry. I questioned whether the manifesto would deliver widespread action in an industry that is largely based in Asia (China and Bangladesh, to be specific, given that these two countries manufacture most of the clothing sold globally). Aren’t scalable, technology-based solutions needed to solve the immense problem of waste and overproduction, I asked? 

Fletcher’s response was words of caution against looking to technology to solve our climate challenges. The Earth logic document states that “technology is good at reducing impacts associated with the production of material goods, but it has very real limits. Yet somehow a dream of a techno-fix still permeates society. The only solution is less stuff. There are no other options.” But won’t it take longer than a decade to convince people to buy less stuff? Fletcher thinks not, citing the smoking ban and suggesting that it sparked a swift change in public opinion and behaviour. She and Tham are touring the UK to disseminate Earth Logic and will be speaking at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in an effort to lobby all fashion industry stakeholders to adopt their radical re-think and re-organisation of the industry.

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Images: House of SheldonHall

Meanwhile, day two of London Fashion Week saw the launch of Extinction Rebellion’s XR Fashion Action protest effort. This season, the protests too had a creative slant, featuring talks, block printing on second-hand clothes and music outside of the BFC’s main show venue at 180 The Strand. Their actions were bolstered by respected academics and industry veterans, including Professor Dilys Williams FRSA of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion. “We ask all involved in fashion to place earth and equality first, to respond to XR demands and to recognise those designers and fashion practitioners who create prosperity in social, ecological, cultural and economic dimensions,” stated Williams.

There is no doubt that XR is shining a spotlight on fashion and demanding that business as usual ceases, but I can’t help but ask what will replace it? What happens next if XR’s 3 Demands Bill (their core aim) is passed? The industry still needs to be transformed, but how will that be done, and by whom? In previous interviews, Sara Arnold, a pivotal member of the XR Fashion Action team, has explained that their aim is to trigger the announcement of the climate crisis by parliament, catalysing a pause in the industry so that all stakeholders can plan for, and implement, a more sustainable form of the industry. However, I would contend that it is difficult to understand how this will be structured and actioned, in practical terms. 

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[Images: Talia Woodin]

Elsewhere during London Fashion Week, Anya Hindmarch replaced her usual catwalk show or presentation with the ‘I Am A Plastic Bag’ collection and filled up her London stores with plastic bottles to make a statement on waste. Phoebe English, an up and coming designer and advocate for slow, low-impact fashion, created her collection from the leftover fabric of twelve London-based fashion design studios, including Simone Rocha. How this works for the production of the collection post-show is not immediately evident, but the use of existing materials sent out an applaudable message.

Yet perhaps most notably of all, the main BFC showroom space at 180 The Strand that was once a vast trade show of brands presenting collections to buyers this year became a paired-back ‘Positive Fashion’ showcase. While still a commercial brand space, it was filled with labels claiming a facet of sustainability in their offering. What was also new this season was the prominent positioning of young emerging designers who are operating under sustainable business models that integrate swapping (Patrick McDowell), upcycling (Sophie Hird) and repurposed deadstock (Duran Lantink). Although not immediately scalable, they had the fashion week audience engaged and talking, both in-person and online via Instagram. Their endeavours served to show that the fashion crowd’s appetite for something new is not related to seasonal silhouettes and colour palettes, but the business model and consumption methods of fashion. 

With the global narrative around sustainability and climate change imperatives rising, it is difficult to imagine a fashion week without the growing sustainability narrative taking centre stage, powered by designers making a stand and activists demanding change. Business as usual looks less likely for the seasons ahead – All power to the Imagination indeed! 

Study Hall Climate Positivity Summit: “Climate Change Is A Social Justice Issue”

Originally published on Eco Age.

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The Study Hall Climate Positivity summit brought together voices from the worlds of sustainability and fashion to focus on the importance of climate literacy. Brooke Roberts-Islam shares the key takeaways from the event, which shone a light on sustainability’s wider social context. 

In a month of summits dedicated to debating sustainability and climate change reversal, the Study Hall Climate Positivity At Scale conference presented an entirely more cultural and holistic view of fashion’s relationship to climate change. 

Founded by Celine Semaan and the team at Slow Factory, the summit is dedicated to ‘sustainable literacy’ and ensuring that the climate conversation, and in particular fashion’s impact within it, presents the voices of all individuals. The event goes beyond the publicly-known stakeholders and gives space to the personal, political and cultural mechanisms that drive the industry, from land ownership to gender politics, agricultural methods and slave labour. But don’t assume that the conference focuses on just the problems. Its raison d’etre beyond literacy is to explore fundamental barriers to achieving sustainability to propose appropriate solutions, and readers may be surprised to hear what they are.

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Image: Céline Semaan opens the conference

 

The Study Hall Climate Positivity summit was a timely reminder that sustainability is not about focusing simply on recycled materials, or consuming less and wearing clothes for longer, it is about the cultural, social and environmental dynamics that drive the industry at large, and addressing the triggers for change. The conference opened with a reference to Project Drawdown, the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. Celine cited the list of the 100 most pivotal actions that will reduce carbon emissions and, true to the event’s focus on learning, at number six on this list was the education of women and girls. Why? Because education “is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.” 

This formed the backbone of the ‘A Message From The Earth” panel talk, which explored power of education, community and culture when solving issues around sustainability at scale. Project Drawdown’s research explains that educated girls command higher wages and achieve greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. “Crucially, they are less likely to marry as children or against their will and have a lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria,” their research states. “In terms of their livelihoods, their agricultural plots are more productive and their families are better nourished.”

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Image: Yara Shahidi speaks on the ‘A Message From The Earth’ panel

 

The report shows that universal education in low and lower middle income countries could reduce emissions by 51.48 gigatons by 2050, proving that compressive schooling systems an invaluable investment. With the gender barrier to education in the developing world and the subsequent limitations this puts on reducing planetary impact, it is no wonder that during the panel, Advocate and actor Yara Shahidi, declared climate change a “social justice issue.” 

Representing the brand Noah Clothing, co-founder Brandon Babenzien joined the discussion by saying that they are “not a sustainable brand”. Spoken as an honest assessment of the difficulty of achieving sustainability rather than an assertion of indifference, the founders explained the paradox between selling stuff and trying to save the planet. They advocate for quality over quantity and look to suppliers to take the lead on sustainability.

Given that most workers in the fashion industry are female, and most fashion is manufactured in developing nations, there is a strong link between the exploitation of the fashion industry and gender. There is also a strong link with environmental impacts caused by consumers in the west being most strongly felt in developing nations. Lilian Liu, Sustainability Strategist at Futerra opened the “Transforming The Global Garment Workforce: Improving Lives With Better Work” panel by sharing these statistics: the fashion industry is comprised of “60 million machinists who sew clothes and only 2% of those earn a living wage. 3 in 4 of these are women.” Tara Rangarajan of the Better Work initiative at the International Labour Organization followed by urging brands and designers to “work directly with the countries manufacturing your clothes” to ensure transparency, fair work, and visibility of the supply chain. 

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Image: Lillian Liu opens the ‘Transforming The Global Garment Workforce: Improving Lives With Better Work’ panel

 

Another issue spoken about in depth at the one-day conference was regenerative agriculture, a theme recently addressed in Rebecca Burgess’ book Fibershed and at the Future Fabrics Expo 2020. Agricultural methods rarely feature in the discourse around sustainability in fashion, but they lie at its very heart. Why? Because healthy (ie. not over cultivated) soil can hold three times the amount of carbon as our atmosphere, providing an enormous natural antidote to our fossil-fuel burning industry. 

The founder of US startup Hudson Carbon Matthew Sheffer, explained at the conference how they are making regenerative farming economically viable by quantifying how much carbon can be captured in the farm’s healthy soil and setting up a marketplace to purchase those carbon offsets. What this means for the fashion industry is that a t-shirt cultivated from a farm using regenerative methods provides purchasers the opportunity to buy carbon offsetting as part of that purchase. This is a tech business model linked directly to a farm in upstate New York, bringing agriculture into the fashion picture in a tangible, direct and quantifiable way. 

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Image: Domenique Drakeford speaks on the ‘Incentivizing Good Behavior: How Sustainable Fashion Can Grow At Scale’ panel

 

Yet one of the main recurring themes at the event was acknowledging that indigenous cultures have been practicing circularity for centuries, an issue addressed by the co-founder of Sustainable Brooklyn Whitney McGuire and others. Whitney held up a mirror to the fashion industry, reminding the audience that the American fashion industry was built on the economics of the slave trade. “The Fashion supply chain funnels more money to modern slave trade than any industry, apart from technology,” she said.

The economic model for ‘affordable’ fashion demands the lowest manufacturing unit price for mass-produced garments for brands to maximise their margin at retail and grow profits. This is problematic for the global fashion industry as it results in slave labour in all regions–the US, UK, Bangladesh, Myanmar. It is a global consequence of the business model, and not a labour issue related to isolated countries, but part of a flawed system. 

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Image: Korina Emmerich

 

Study Hall informed, or reminded, the audience in the auditorium and on the live stream that tackling climate change and transforming fashion to sustainable systems is an issue of race, gender, politics, and culture. It’s far more complex than the more visible issue of material recycling and reducing waste.

Sustainability Gamechangers: The Innovations Set to Shape the Future of Fashion This January

Originally published on Eco Age.

In her monthly column, Techstyler founder Brooke Roberts-Islam curates a ‘must-know’ list of the innovations set to shape the future of sustainable fashion. Dedicated to positive change, Brooke highlights what is being done right now to transform the fashion industry.

 

The conversation around sustainability heated up to boiling point in 2019, and 2020 has been dubbed the year of action. In this first gamechanger roundup of the year, the innovations supporting a drive towards circularity and inherent sustainability within textiles and garment manufacturing are the initial focus, followed by a surprise change of tack by fashion bible, Vogue.

The Erca Group, a chemical company in Italy that produces formulations for dyeing textiles, has developed chemicals from waste vegetable oils for dyeing virgin and recycled polyester. This example of circularity taps an underutilised waste stream to produce chemicals that reduce the need for virgin resources for chemical creation. Erca collects leftover vegetable oil from households and restaurants and upcycles it into textile formulations including softeners, emulsifiers, and detergents that are used during textile dyeing and processing. It is worth noting that with this type of waste stream input, scalability could be a challenge.

The innovation, called Revecol, is Bluesign approved, which means it meets all safe chemical use criteria of the Bluesign chemical inventory and management system. Erca created Revecol following the launch of ReactEVO, a soaping system for cellulosic fibers, in 2012. Their data concludes that ReactEVO reduces energy consumption by up to 70 percent, water use by up to 50 percent and treatment time by up to 20 percent when performing reactive dyeing of cellulose fibres. If Revecol can provide such resource-saving reductions for polyester this is a circular leap forward.

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Image: TENCEL x REFIBRA

Recycling waste textiles into new fibres is a common practice that is fairly straightforward for materials like polyester, but more complex for natural fibres like cotton and viscose. Cotton and viscose are made of cellulose (plant-based) fibres, and these are damaged during wear and washing so that they break down to different degrees over the life of a garment. This has made it challenging to recycle post-consumer cotton and viscose garments effectively. The result is that most cellulosic recycled materials have been created from pre-consumer waste (for example, denim offcuts created during the cutting process of making jeans) rather than from garments disposed of by consumers at end-of-life. Consequently, the millions of tonnes of cotton and viscose garments dumped in landfill have been close to impossible to include in viscose fibre recycling processes, until now.

The Lenzing Group launched Refibra, a viscose from recycled pre-consumer cellulose waste, back in 2017. Last month they announced the first successful production of Refibra from post-consumer waste as part of the recycled proportion of the fiber’s content (which still includes virgin fibres to achieve consistent quality and performance). What this means, broadly speaking, is that a wider range of waste input streams can be used to create recycled viscose, and the scope for recycling cotton and viscose has been expanded. Lenzing can now incorporate up to 10 percent of post-consumer cotton waste in the 30 percent recycled raw material content in Refibra, representing a further shift towards circularity for the textile industry.

 

The devastating effects of microplastics leaching into waterways from the breakdown of plastic water bottles, fishing gear, plastic bags and synthetic clothing is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face. Studies have found these plastic particles in every ocean on the planet and even in the Arctic. Marine life is ingesting these plastics, which are then entering our food chain. Removing these plastics at the source is considered the only way of effectively reversing this pollution.

An innovation by Turkish appliance manufacturer Arcelik announced towards the end of 2019 (and commercially available this year) captures 90% of microplastics during clothes washing. This game changing innovation will be integrated into their Grundig washing machine appliances, but will also be available to other manufacturers to integrate into their machines. This is significant because it provides the technology for the entire appliance industry to transform all washing machines on the market from pollution-generating devices to part of the global microplastic solution. The innovation is fitted within the detergent drawer of washing machines to filter the microplastics from water before it leaves the machine. It is not yet clear whether this device can be retro-fitted to machines, or how the captured microplastics should be disposed of to ensure they do not enter waterways via landfill, for example.

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Image: Vogue Italia

In headline news this week the decision by Vogue Italia to banish fashion photoshoots in favour of illustrations is an interesting one for several reasons. It is a recognition that fashion editorials require enormous financial and environmental resources (and no doubt Vogue Italia have saved vast sums by cancelling global photoshoots for this issue). In fact, editor Emanuele Farneti told the Guardian that to fill the September 2019 issue, the biggest of the year, with original photographs there were “One hundred and fifty people involved. About 20 flights and a dozen or so train journeys. Forty cars on standby. Sixty international deliveries. Lights switched on for at least ten hours nonstop, partly powered by gasoline-fuelled generators. Food waste from the catering services. Plastic to wrap the garments. Electricity to recharge phones, cameras … ” This decision also points to the glamourous titles in the industry wanting to resonate more closely with ‘woke’ consumers, who are well-versed and engaged with sustainability initiatives. It wouldn’t seem very ‘in vogue’ of Vogue to be promoting unsustainable excess in an age of growing eco-anxiety.

Of course, fashion editorials will not be banished forever, but Vogue Italia’s decision has prompted a pause for thought about the evolution of sustainability in fashion in 2020. As mentioned, 2020 has already been dubbed the year of sustainability action beyond words and this decision follows the commitment of Vogue editors to “preserve our planet for future generations.” Now that Vogue Italia has started the conversation, a blueprint for conducting sustainable fashion editorials would provide an actionable way forward for the industry. The complexity of this can’t be underestimated, but a way of assessing the collective impact of the physical resources and logistics associated with (often international) photo shoots would be a good start.

How Can Natural Fabrics Be Engineered to Perform Like Synthetic Materials?

Originally published on Eco Age.

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Images by Mirum™ by NFW

Techstyler founder Brooke Roberts-Islam looks into the technological innovation of Nature Fibre Welding Inc. that creates recycled natural materials with the durability of synthetic fibres. 

There is an inbuilt (and frustrating) trade-off when choosing textiles for fashion design. There are, broadly, two options: natural fibres, which offer a luxurious feel and biodegradability (including wool, cashmere and cotton), and there are synthetic fibres, which tend to outperform natural fibres due to their hardy, abrasion resistant properties and offer a more technical look and feel perfect for sportswear, for example. Both fibre types have merits (which is why they are so often blended together), but this forces a compromise either on the sustainability credentials or performance of the final product. What if we could harness the performance characteristics of synthetic fibres and apply this to natural fibres? What would that mean for the use of synthetic textiles in the future?

A US-based tech company has come up with one such solution. Nature Fibre Welding Inc. (NFW) uses textile bioengineering to not only recycle natural materials, including cotton, but to align the fibres into yarns to enhance their performance characteristics. To do this, NFW uses a closed-loop chemical process (using intrinsically safe chemicals) to open the fibers at a molecular level and then fuse them together. It’s this ‘rearrangement’ that gives the natural fibres synthetic-like performance properties. To say that this is a potential game-changer is an understatement. Funded by the US Department of Defense (DoD) and part of the Fashion For Good Scaling Programme, NFW have expanded the limits of biology, chemistry and in doing so, the limits of fashion.

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Their patented scalable processes has been described as being able to “tune” natural materials in ways not possible with any other technology. This tuning is possible because their chemical process effectively glues fibres together (without using synthetics or resins), connecting natural fibres in the way that synthetic fibres are typically formed. Tuning is used to describe the welding process because performance and functionality of the fabrics can be precisely controlled, meaning the resulting natural fibres can replace man-made fibres previously best able to deliver such characteristics. As a result, with natural performance fabrics able to replace petroleum-based ones, the problems associated with plastic microfiber pollution can be eliminated. This is an incredible break-through in terms of circular economy, as the fibres, and NFW fabrics, remain 100% biodegradable and recyclable.

In addition to making performance fabrics, NFW is also utilising textile waste to create materials that look, feel and perform like leather. Unlike many other vegan leather-like materials on the market, Natural Fiber Welding is able to achieve high performance luxury materials using plant-based sources only, eliminating all synthetics. This is in contrast to popular vegan leather alternatives currently on the market which typically contain polyurethane. “Unfortunately, many new vegan and faux leather products are really just natural fibers coated with polyurethane and other non-biodegradable plastics.” explained Dr. Luke Haverhals, Founder and CEO, Natural Fiber Welding Inc.

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Digging into scalability and commerciality, NFW have established waste channels from discarded textiles already being collected and available within the textile supply chain. They have worked extensively on their leather-alternative, launched as Mirum, but not yet commercially available. On the subject of pricing, although this information is not yet available, Haverhals recently said in an interview that only large scale adoption can have the large scale impact on the environment they seek to achieve, and subsequently “To change the world, you have to have price points that are relevant to the masses.” This underlines the company’s commitment to creating materials suitable for brands spanning all market sectors, from luxury through to value fashion brands.

In terms of relative energy use and the carbon footprint of the materials NFW creates (which are not yet commercially available, as mentioned) this is currently difficult to determine. A full Life Cycle Analysis upon commercial launch of the materials would be the definitive way of hailing this as the most viable solution for achieving global material circularity in the fashion industry. Happily, all elements of their process point to low impact and superior performance. NFW are one to watch for 2020.

Sustainability Gamechangers: The Innovations Set to Shape the Future of Fashion This December

Originally published on Eco-Age.

In her monthly column, Techstyler founder Brooke Roberts-Islam curates a ‘must-know’ list of the innovations set to shape the future of sustainable fashion. Dedicated to positive change, Brooke highlights what is being done right now to transform the fashion industry. 

It is well documented that a significant portion of the impact fashion has on the planet is attributed to the textile phase. A large factor within this is the use of chemicals and water for dyeing and finishing of the final textile. The toxicity of the chemicals used in dyeing processes and the need for cleaner, safer alternatives has driven research and development of botanical and biological dyes that are not just natural pigments, but that harness biological organisms to deposit that pigment onto textiles.

In an exciting development announced this month, a UK-based startup called Colorifix has gained VC funding to expand on its initial tests which have proven successfully that it is possible to implant colour-making genes into organisms that will then deposit that pigment onto textiles, completely eliminating the need for synthetics processes requiring water and chemicals. Manufacturing tests are expected to commence in factories in Europe and Asia by the end of the year and small quantities of commercially available dyes are expected to be released in 2020.

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Image: Colorfix

Also on the material front, India-based Canva Fibre Labs (CFL) has developed an interesting business model taking agricultural waste from hemp crops (which the farmers usually burn, releasing carbon into the atmosphere) and processing it into cellulose-based materials similar to cotton, but with superior strength and durability. A multitude of recycled cellulose plant fibres are entering the market, but hemp waste has been largely overlooked in terms of apparel and accessories. CFL is using what they call an “indigenous proprietary technique for the processing of agricultural waste from hemp plants, with [an] output that has compatibility with current textile infrastructure.” This points to their ability to scale and integrate this sustainable textile into existing manufacturing supply chains. Their system reportedly uses no hazardous chemicals to process the hemp fibres into yarns. This is definitely a material to watch as global production increases and the market for this high performing and lower-priced fibre rises.

On the subject of waste, the Danish brand Son Of A Tailor has launched what they are marketing as the Zero Waste pullover. This is interesting for several reasons. The first is that they are using a 3D knitting machine called the Shima Mach 2X. This machine knits the whole garment in one operation – sleeves, body then neckline so that there is no cutting and therefore no material waste. Think of it as a bit like three sets of knitting needles in one machine, knitting three tubes (two sleeves and a torso section) and joining them together at the armhole and neckline.

 

This may sound astonishing, but the technology has been around for over 10 years, it’s just that brands have previously not brought the story of the technology to consumers. They have integrated their made-to-measure digital service into the knitwear programming to provide custom-sized knits on demand. Knitwear sizing by its nature has a wider latitude than non-stretch garments and with 3D knitting, changing the circumference of the garment is relatively straight forward. The real win here is that the knitting speed is so fast that they can manufacture on-demand, meaning that knitting stock and generating unsold inventory is entirely avoidable. Whilst their zero waste claims are bold (and the technology is not new), this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and the technology is already in place to provide this on-demand manufacturing at scale.

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a global not-for-profit organisation and is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. To make global cotton production better for the producers, the environment and the textiles sector it has launched an updated framework designed to support members of the BCI to ensure they communicate accurate, credible and relevant sustainability information to consumers. In an industry awash with, well, green-washing, clarity, and transparency are becoming increasingly important (and hard to discern).

“We recognise that the need for members to communicate about sustainability is growing and evolving and that the Framework must evolve in parallel with growing market and consumer demands. We must also give members the guidance they need to report on their achievements in a way that is credible and transparent,” said Eva Benavidez, Senior Communications Manager at BCI.

To deliver accurate and transparent information on cotton sourcing and production, BCI is linking directly back to data and reports from the cotton farms. See an infographic of the latest report here, providing a higher level of confidence and proof of sustainability credentials for brands, retailers, and consumers when they purchase BCI cotton. 

When it comes to materials, this month it’s all about denim. The bain of sustainable denim has long been the presence of elastane. Most jeans contain at least a small percentage of elastane (sometimes just 2%) to provide comfort and stretch. Elastane helps achieve a better fit and allows for skinny jean silhouettes that stretch onto the body. Demand for stretch denim has overtaken the demand for the traditional 100% cotton denim that was used in the original denim material founded in the mid 19th century. Elastane is a synthetic polymer, so it’s introduction turned biodegradable cotton jeans into a part-plastic textile that is far less sustainable. Separating the elastane during chemical recycling has proven to be a huge challenge, so a smart solution has been created to change the chemistry of the stretch component to one that is biodegradable–without losing the stretch and recovery performance.

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Candiani, in collaboration with Denham, have joined forces to launch the world’s first biodegradable stretch denim. Part of Denham’s new “Life is Movement” collection of jeans, the denim is created with Candiani’s patented plant-based Coreva Stretch Technology. The Candiani mill has achieved a stretch cotton yarn (and therefore denim fabric) by wrapping cotton around a natural rubber core, replacing the common synthetic and petrol-based elastane with this new, custom-engineered core component. Candiani announced that they have created an “innovative biodegradable stretch denim fabric without compromising elasticity and recovery properties.” The first production quantity of the fabric is available to Denham exclusively, but expanding this to a global scale at an accessible price would see a dramatic improvement in the sustainability credentials of the global denim industry.

Stay tuned for next month’s column revealing the game-changing innovations that give cause for optimism in a sector that faces many material and operational challenges. See you in 2020!

 

Why Toxic Chemicals Are The Biggest Threat to Sustainable Fashion

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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With recycled and sustainable materials gaining momentum, Brooke Roberts-Islam looks into the impact of toxic chemicals on the circularity in the fashion industry, as well as some of the new innovative solutions. 

As the fashion industry pushes towards identifying and implementing sustainable material solutions, scalable recycling and circular design, there is one rarely addressed limiting factor that threatens its progress – the continued use of toxic chemicals. It is sometimes assumed that all textile waste is suitable for some form of recycling, but the reality is that if textiles contain toxic chemicals, their potential for safe recycling and circularity is at best restricted, and at worst impossible. 

Delving into the mechanics of this, it’s important to note that back in 2011, Greenpeace published some research on the status of global wastewater and the impact of the textile industry, which lead to the Detox Campaign. Additional research by the World Bank declared that “textile mills generate 17 to 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution.” In addition to this, it was revealed that “72 toxic chemicals have been identified in water solely from textile dyeing, 30 of which cannot be removed.” It is thought that the rapid expansion of mass garment manufacturing and the fragmented supply chain for both mass-market and luxury goods (which remains opaque and confusing) are key factors. Many brands and retailers have not historically monitored the chemicals used in textile dyeing and finishing (including waterproofing, stain-resistance, anti-wrinkle and other final processes used in modern textiles) and the revelations of Greenpeace led to an initiative by 19 brands to agree to operate under a restricted chemicals list. 

This list highlights chemicals that are potentially toxic, or toxic and perpetual – meaning they can cause disease or illness, are impossible to break down into non-toxic forms, or cannot be removed from wastewater. This is where we begin to see the link between certain materials not being fit for recycling, as the presence of toxic and/or perpetual chemicals means that they are not safe to process into new recycled materials as these chemicals will remain. These textiles are also not safe to incinerate or dump into landfill. So what is the solution? 

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Well, the solution is to remove these chemicals entirely and replace them with non-toxic alternatives. But what is stopping this from being actioned immediately? A number of things, including the myriad of international chemical manufacturers, the lack of a single global mandatory regulation, the poor understanding of chemical toxicity (in some cases) and perhaps even the pressure to produce huge volumes of cheap materials quickly to meet the demands of mass production. In a more practical sense, the tracing and checking of chemicals contained in formulations for dyeing and finishing have been largely manual, which also introduces human error. 

There are, however, some initiatives that are starting to turn the tide on toxic chemicals and these are part of a global shift towards the use of Cradle to Cradle (C2C) and circular design. This is considered the gold standard in sustainable design because it addresses chemical usage before the product has even been designed, as opposed to the current system of testing the chemical profile of a garment after it has been manufactured – sometimes even after it has been exported from the country of manufacture. 

The key initiative providing a blueprint for safe and non-toxic chemical use is the Manufacturers Restricted Substance List (MRSL). This list was devised by the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) programme; a coalition of fashion brands, value chain affiliates and associates working with global textile, leather, apparel and footwear manufacturers to substitute hazardous chemicals for safer ones in the production process.

The MRSL list, although a complete guideline for safe chemical use, is laden with complex chemical names and is not easy to interpret without a solid grasp of chemistry. A company called GoBlu, whose co-founders have decades of experience working in the mass manufacturing sector, have created the BHive app that uses image recognition to cross-check photos of chemical container ingredients with the MRSL list to flag any restricted substances, reducing the need for chemical expertise and reducing the risk of human error. Currently, brands, manufacturers and chemical providers are using the app, along with certification providers including GOTS and Oeko-tex, so that certifications can be cross-checked at the same time. 

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The bigger picture here is that, ultimately, consumers want to know what is in their clothes and whether they are ‘sustainable,’ and that now means going beyond simply using recycled polyester or organic cotton. Sustainable demands are now spreading to questions such as where and how can this garment be recycled after I finish using it? Therefore, BHive seeks to eventually provide a chemical ingredients list option for clothing, akin to ingredients lists on food. 

Some brands are already beginning to provide answers to the consumer questions above by arranging to collect any textile waste to recycle into new materials, then new products. This is where they have hit a roadblock because taking the external textile waste of origins outside their business means that they don’t know its contents. The waste they have collected to date has been shown to include toxic chemicals. Because of their own strict standards in not using restricted chemicals, they cannot use this waste into their recycling systems. 

An alternative to creating textiles using chemicals (either toxic or non-toxic) is to use nature as a blueprint for creating new materials. The emerging sector of biomaterials spans the use of naturally replenishing seaweed in place of cotton, to the use of bacteria to grow cellulose-based materials (cellulose is what cotton and viscose are made from) and many more innovative applications. This emerging field is being invested in heavily, with companies such as Bolt Threads raising hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Alongside this, new fashion degrees are being established to cultivate the next generation of biomaterials designers. 

Further to this, a company called Evolved By Nature has developed an Activated Silk TM that is made from pure silk in liquid form (simply by combining discarded silkworm cocoons, heat, water, and salt). This is powerful in that it uses the natural properties of silk (such as strength, biocompatibility, natural tendency to absorb dyes without the need for chemicals) to remove the need for synthetics materials or toxic chemicals in composite textiles. 

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Image: Pure silk fibroin in the process of creating Activated Silk™ – Credit: Evolved by Nature

The composite textile options afforded by Activated Silk™ are to coat yarns to provide high-performance characteristics (like wicking of moisture and durability) instead of using chemicals. It can also be used as a ‘natural glue’ when mixed with regenerated fibres when recycling cashmere and wool, for example. In this second form, it supports the structure of the regenerated fibre, improving its performance and enhancing it to make it a viable alternative to virgin materials. Since Activated Silk is 100% biodegradable and biocompatible (it is safe to consume into the body) it also supports circular design principles. 

During a conversation with the co-founder of Evolved By Nature, Dr. Greg Altman he confirmed that CHANEL has just announced their investment in the company over the summer, which he says is “a validation point for us.” He notes, though, that they will also work with mass-market textile manufacturers because they want to “make the technology viable for every consumer.” It is clear that the only way to have a measurable effect on improving human health and reducing the toxic chemicals used in textiles is to make their technology affordable and scalable. With CHANEL on board, and ongoing partnerships with global textile manufacturers (that he can not yet disclose) this milestone looks to be getting closer. 

When it comes to achieving true material sustainability it is clear from an exploration of chemical use that following the blueprint of nature and leveraging the materials provided by the planet in natural abundance is preferable as those materials are naturally non-toxic and biodegradable. Science can help optimise that performance, which is where companies, like Evolved By Nature, come in.

Sustainability Gamechangers: The Innovations Set to Shape the Future of Fashion This November

Originally published on Eco-Age.

In a new monthly column, Techstyler founder Brooke Roberts-Islam curates a ‘must-know’ list of the innovations set to shape the future of sustainable fashion. Dedicated to positive change, Brooke highlights what is being done right now to transform the fashion industry.  

The challenges we face, as fashion industry professionals and consumers, are vast and complex when it comes to changing consumption behaviours and designing and implementing sustainable solutions to save our planet. As individuals, this can feel like an insurmountable task, but there are teams of scientists, designers, engineers and organisations around the world who are making vast strides towards a truly sustainable fashion future.

The global fashion supply chain typically operates in an opaque manner, which has historically been a barrier to traceability and authentication of the origins of materials. As a result, it can be difficult to prove whether materials are from ecologically sound and sustainable sources. This means that sustainably produced fibres, although they are the gold standard, can not always easily prove their provenance. This, in turn, means there risking a reduced incentive for creating sustainable fibres from a business point of view. Imagine being able to trace the origins of textiles fibre throughout the supply chain from source to the final garment. 

Good news. A ​US company is patenting a process to tag the DNA in cellulose​ materials so that they can be tracked across the supply chain, delivering 100% transparency from raw fibre, through to end of garment life. It is the ultimate tool for transparency and proof of provenance of all cellulose-based textiles (ie. cotton, viscose, lyocell, linen, hemp) and it beats blockchain because there’s no risk of human error (as blockchain relies on human input and validation).

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Image: Cellulose as raw fibre

We are all by now familiar with the recycling of plastic PET bottles to turn into yarns for clothing and footwear, however these recycled fibres are now expanding into a new segment – insulation.  ​Primaloft has partnered with Parley for the Oceans​ to develop insulation made from repurposed plastic bottles found on the coasts of remote islands. Insulation for outerwear is a relatively new waste stream for recycled materials that could see the lifespan of recycled garments increased (due to use in outerwear garments, which we tend to keep and wear for longer). Outerwear is also laundered less, so results in reduced micro-plastic shedding into wastewater compared to when recycled PET is used in everyday clothing. 

One of the smartest ways to go zero waste is to use digital garment sampling in place of physical sampling. This is already in use at some brands, but software company Browzwear have taken this a step further by working with a jeans finishing company to create digital denim ‘washes’ and ‘effects’ that mimic physical denim treatments. Browzwear 3D digital design software now integrates photographic-quality rendering of Jeanologia​’s water and chemical-free laser finishes, reducing the need for physical samples to test the final jean look. This saves time, money, and textile waste, as well as carbon emissions from transporting samples across the globe. After 20 years of implementing software solutions, the adoption of Browzwear’s 3D design in place of physical sampling is picking up speed in line with growing sustainability pressures across the industry. This means that digital design has the power to provide immediate and drastic (and measurable)carbon emission reductions.

 

Also in the jeans sphere, ​DryIndigo technology​ is a denim dyeing process invented in by Tejidos Royot in Spain, that has saved more than ​one million liters​ of water since launching in 2018. DryIndigo uses 0% water in the dyeing process and reduces energy consumption by 65% during manufacture. It uses 89% less chemical products, and completely eliminates waste water discharge. Producing a single pair of jeans with conventional dyeing methods uses approximately the same amount of water that an average person would drink in seven years. DryIndigo technology, and its growing adoption in manufacturing, ​means it has the potential to turn one of the world’s most unsustainable (but loved) fashion products into a sustainable wardrobe hero. 

In terms of turning waste into high value products and advancing the circular economy, Spinnova have developed the world’s first straw-based textile​ which performs similarly to other plant-based textiles, but is much lower impact in terms of growth and extraction from the land. Straw has the potential to replace a portion of cotton production because exists globally as a byproduct of grain growth in agriculture. At the moment this straw is mostly burned or left to biodegrade, so this is an opportunity to harness unused low-impact waste and reduce the water-intensive and nutrient depleting production of cotton. 

With much of the sustainability discourse centered on the challenges and problems, these innovations demonstrate significant progress and cause for optimism. Stay tuned for the next edition of sustainability game-changers in December. 

How 3D Digital Design and Augmented Reality Can Slash Textile Waste In Fashion

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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Image: Ethmode 3D digital Bodysuit, BRIA

Much is said about the millions of tonnes of garments thrown away each year, urging us to be more sustainable by wearing our clothes more often, washing them less and keeping them out of landfill, but what about the waste generated in the fashion design process itself? What about the carbon emissions generated in the pre-consumer phase of the fashion industry? How much textile waste is generated before a garment even hits the retail shelves? 

The textile waste generated in the fashion supply chain is difficult to calculate as most companies don’t record the quantities of waste they generate for fear of being reprimanded for it. However, ​EFI/Optitex​ recently reported that £5-7 billion is spent on physical sampling in the apparel industry each year. This sampling is a means to an end in that it generates ‘mock-up’ products, which are fitted and photographed and are generally of no value beyond that. These samples often end up being burned or thrown in landfill. 

As the founder of an innovation agency proposing solutions to material waste problems, I have been met with many difficult facts during my work as a consultant for manufacturers and brands, both large and small. A garment manufacturer in Bangladesh recently told me that he receives requests from brands and retailers for hundreds of new samples each day, based on fast-moving, transient Instagram trends. These requests come from buyers who are anxious to have physical samples at their disposal to develop into products to sell if they choose to. The key here is ‘if they choose to’. These samples are not based on an intention to develop and sell a product – the buyers simply want to see what the garment looks like while monitoring the progress of a trend. These samples are the consequence of brands and retailers hedging their bets on trends and having the manufacturers working on demand for them because of the buying power they hold over those manufacturers. The manufacturers don’t feel they can say no, regardless of how much waste is generated, or the strain it places on their business. 

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Image: Ethmode 3D digital Bodysuit, BRIA

When you hear discussions about supply chain transparency and living wages, this is at the very crux of those issues. Brands and retailers have all the power over the manufacturers when it comes to placing production orders and pricing. With fashion cycles getting faster and the competition for lower prices increasing, brands and manufacturers require ways to work faster, cleaner and more economically. 3D digital fashion design offers a fast, clean solution, and has already gained traction with large global brands and retailers, including Adidas and Target. 

The benefits of digital instead of physical sampling have already been quantified by one solution provider, EFI/Optitex, who have saved companies millions of pounds in sampling costs by creating digital samples in place of physical ones. “But don’t designers and buyers want to feel the fabric” is a common question asked about this digital solution. Yes, they do, and they can. The 3D digital design offers photo-realistic renders of the garment that help to decide silhouette, proportion, design details and colours at the very least. When it comes to the movement, drape and stretch of the garment, this requires more sophisticated animation, which my innovation agency BRIA has achieved as demonstrated in the video below: 

 

Currently, most brands using digital design are doing a portion of prototyping and sampling digitally then moving to physical samples – partly because designers want to feel the fabric and see it move in ‘real-life’, and partly because of the incomplete solution offered when it comes to the 2D pattern output and fitting of digital versus physical garments. This is a fracture in the 3D design process that ​BRIA​ is working to fix. 

Snapshot – Digital Fashion prototyping and sampling in numbers:

  • Target has reduced physical sampling by approximately 65% by implementing 3D digital design 
  • A luxury brand working reduced the average time to market per style from 3 months to 2 weeks 
  • By going digital, Adidas was able to eliminate close to 1.5 million physical samples between 2010 and 2013 

The figures above appear to suggest that 3D digital design is a no-brainer, but holding back its widespread adoption are the fractures in the 3D to 2D workflow (as mentioned above), as well as skills gaps between creative design and technical pattern cutting, which both need to be present and connected to achieve success in the final product. The fashion industry is traditionally slow to adopt new technologies, but with a growing number of use cases and the increased visibility of digital design in fashion retail and consumption, this is expected to change. 

Several brands are exploring how digital design can deliver ​customised clothing​ and are even digital clothes that consumers can ‘wear’​. Perhaps the general shift towards digital solutions in every facet of our lives will propel the use of digital fashion from the design and production phase, right through to purchasing and wearing in digital realms, including on social media and in games, like ​The Sims​ (which recently collaborated with ​Moschino​) and Fortnite, which recently collaborated with Nike on ​digital Air Jordans to purchase in-game​. 

Trend Forecasting agency ​Stylus​ recently released a report demonstrating that the consumer appetite for artifice and illusion is rising rapidly, spanning CGI social media superstars (check out ​Lil Miquela​ and ​Shudu​) and immersive mixed-reality brand experiences, to AI-fuelled avatars allowing us to put ourselves in the brand picture. Of course, digital design paves the way for digital experience, with virtual and augmented reality a natural progression from static digital clothing on fixed screens into the space around us – ASOS, John Lewis and Dior are all in on the ​AR and VR act​. Keep an eye out for digital fashion entering the mainstream and slashing the waste generated by physical fashion both behind-the-scenes in the fashion industry, and in our future digital wardrobes.