How Fashion Graduate Aubrey Parnell Is Using 3D Design To Explore Fashion Without Limits

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Aubrey Parnell is a graduate of CSM, where he studied Fashion Design with Marketing. His final collection, The Fold, is inspired by the physics-defying paintings of René Magritte and M.C. Escher, taking place in a utopian world between the sky and the stars and inhabited by inter-dimensional beings. Parnell achieved this by meticulously creating 3D digital garments worn by animated avatars akin to mythical gods. Most of the looks are silicone 3D-printed suits with heavy embellishment at the skin-tight level, with diaphanous, ethereal outerwear taking the form of origami. The processes of creation for his designs included: cutting and folding fabric, bead embellishment, laser cutting and layering, 3D printing and casting, and virtual sculpting. 

Parnell originally wanted to make real clothes whilst also presenting their digital simulations. The designer’s process was upheaved, however, by the pandemic’s closure of the factory that made his chosen fabric (an especially stiff organdie) and the cancellation of the CSM final-year fashion show, which would have been an opportunity to showcase the Class of 2020’s hard work. Despite the setbacks he experienced, Parnell managed to create transcendent designs that were made possible through the endless creative exploration offered by 3D digital design methods. 

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What was the inspiration behind your collection?

I got into fashion design from mathematics: I loved geometry, trigonometry, origami. When I was younger I wanted to be a maths teacher. So a lot of the collection comes from making complex pleats and folds. It’s still fashion, but with quite a mathematical approach. I also like the concept of magic, aliens, otherworldly things. By bridging fashion and video gaming, my designs could have that fantastical, costume-y, sci-fi element.

What software did you use in creating your designs? Were there any challenges?

I started with CLO3D and Marvelous Designer, which is what I use when I do other people’s work (i.e. virtual product visualisation for small clothing and accessory brands alongside developing assets for video games – not just clothing but also environmental pieces like trees and flowers.) I was having trouble doing the pleats that I wanted because there were so many, I needed the folds to be exact. My design was so complex that no clothing simulator could handle all the vertices needed to make the garment. So I went to a regular 3D modelling software called Blender, which is a free one, and I used it to model to garment from scratch. I liked it so I ended up using it a lot. It was difficult because I had to animate everything by hand, frame by frame, which took ages, but it was much easier to model the pleats.

What led you to choose digital fashion design over traditional methods? Was it an unexpected solution to the limitations of COVID-19 or had you been interested in 3D design before?

I’d been doing it [digital design] for a couple of years now. Before I started university, I’d already been pattern-cutting for several years, since I started working as an assistant tailor at 14. Now it’s been almost 10 years. And so I was quite ahead of the game construction-wise. A lot of projects at CSM are theory and sketchbook based, they don’t teach a lot of construction. At first, I found it quite frustrating, but I came to accept it. The final goal for each project was a photograph of the garment. I thought if I could create something digitally, I wouldn’t have to spend money on fabric. I could just do it all on my computer. So I started doing that and turning them in and sort of tricking my tutors, *laughs* saying “Yeah, this is totally real!” That way I saved money and saved time.

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It must have been bittersweet to have your last year cut short; how did you feel?

You’re looking forward to doing this final collection, I knew I was going to spend so much money making it. I’d already ordered maybe half of the fabrics and started doing stuff when they gave us the news that the final show wasn’t going to happen. I told myself: “Well, you know what, I’m saving so much money on models and more fabric and everything else.” Though it was a bummer. I wasn’t quite happy with the way they presented it online, but it’s the first time they’re doing this, it’ll get more and more interesting as it goes on. I missed sharing the experience with my classmates. It was a weird feeling not being able to see them, this family you’d been with for 5 years in some cases. So it was sad to leave without saying goodbye.

How did you overcome the obstacles of designing in lockdown? Was it difficult to stay motivated and in touch with your creativity?

It definitely was for me. I talked to a lot of fellow students about this as well. Designing has always been something that’s about feelings, it’s this feeling that you chase. It’s something you’re doing together as a group, it’s exciting and creative and inventive. When you’re doing it by yourself, for your own brand, it can feel really selfish in a way, as if you’re not really contributing. Especially when you’re getting messages like “We need people on the front line to help fight COVID” and things like that. And so lots of my friends and I were feeling – not quite guilty – but as if we needed to create something that said something and wasn’t going to impact fashion in a negative way. In terms of designing in lockdown, I had hired a studio but I ended the lease and ended up doing everything from my own bedroom. It was hard to be in the same space the whole time, and also feeling like there was no break from this project. You just have to get over it, find the things that excite you, and chase those things.

How do you want to see the fashion industry change? Is it already changing or is this evolution merely superficial (for example in terms of sustainability)?

When I first started doing fashion and submitted my application to CSM I put in zero-waste patterns. And when I first came to the university, I did a lot of zero-waste patterning projects and no one seemed to care. I think part of it was a lack of understanding of how it worked or what it meant. Last year we shared virtual fashion at London Fashion Week and we got very mixed responses. Generally, people thought it wouldn’t really catch on. And then cut to 6 months later, everyone’s doing it. So I don’t know… Part of me is worried that it’ll be a phase, because I believe that the tools aren’t quite ready yet. I think there are some software and hardware things that need to be worked out still. Whether that’ll be accelerated because now there’s more interest or whether it’s a fad that’ll die out, it’s something that I’m always interested in and will continue doing. I do worry that general interest may decrease after this pandemic comes to a close.

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What is your plan after graduation? How do you feel about going into the industry during this uncertain time? 

I was looking for jobs as soon as I finished – and before I finished actually – and had some things lined up but a lot of it fell through, with people unable to hire due to a lack of funding because of COVID. Now I’m just doing a lot of freelancing and consultancy. That works for now but I’d like to find something more permanent because I love working as a team. A lot of people are in that boat now, most of my friends are either doing freelancing or starting a MA.

Is 3D fashion design the future?

I think we’d like it to be. There’s such a huge pushback because people want to feel a physical sample, try it on, feel the fit. I think fashion’s going to move in 2 different ways: I think people will be wearing more sportswear and then the other extreme, couture, that maybe could only exist virtually. I quite like this idea. Maybe I’ll just live in a tracksuit all the time and have virtual clothes. I don’t know if people will design 100% virtually. Certainly for major companies like Zara, who order the same styles quite frequently and just change minor things, virtual would provide a good alternative for them so they don’t have to sample the same stuff over and over.

What about digital fashion from end-to-end (meaning no physical product is made)? 

I love that, that’s what I’m mainly into now. I’m almost trying to get out of fashion. You see all these crazy figures like if we stop producing clothes now we’ll have enough for 100 years. It shows you there’s no really sustainable way to produce clothes, so I might as well do something else with it. I’m doing a lot of character and skin design right now for people. A lot of people are staying at home and they want to have their personalised virtual avatars. So I’m doing stuff like that for games such as Fortnite. People pay so much money for it, sometimes more than what I pay for physical clothes, which is crazy.

Lastly, what do you think digital fashion means for sustainability?

It cuts out the sampling, that’s a fact. Also things like transportation and material cost. But it’s always important to remind people of the cost of producing the machinery and then powering the technology that enables you to do the work. I mean if I could live on an island with solar panels or something, *laughs* have a little farm and do my virtual clothing, that’d be the dream.

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Parnell touches on the difficulties of being a designer during these times: in terms of the lack of stable employment opportunities post-degree, but also in coming to terms with whether it’s even right to create fashion against such a chaotic backdrop. (Though his 3D design skills give him an avenue to work with brands in the booming digital gaming arena.) He and other young designers feel reservations about creating new garments when there is arguably no need for them – we are already saturated with textile waste. Parnell’s existing knowledge of pattern cutting and construction gave him an advantage in this space. Whereas many of his peers were likely learning pattern cutting and construction at the same time as trying to teach themselves 3D design, he was able to simply apply his skills to 3D digital software. That’s why Parnell found creative release in 3D design; with ongoing sustainability imperatives and expanding digital design tools, designers can explore fashion unhindered by real-world limitations. His vision for the future of fashion is an interesting one: physical clothes being comprised almost exclusively of sportswear whilst the traditional fantasy of couture takes place in the virtual world. Considering how many fashion fanatics and industry outsiders already consume high fashion solely through a computer screen, it’s a plausible idea. In any case, even though digital fashion falls short of being the “100% sustainable” solution that we want it to be, it has the potential to revolutionise the industry in terms of both design and consumption.   

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By Anastasia Vartanian

How Fashion Graduate Mathilde Rougier Is Using AI and AR To Eliminate Fashion Textile Waste

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Mathilde Rougier is a recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, where she studied on the womenswear pathway. For her final collection, she wanted to create new designs from old garments and samples of fabric she had acquired from past internships. This circular approach to fashion – where textile resources remain in repeated use rather than going to a landfill or being incinerated – is one that the industry as a whole must move towards, considering the amount of textile waste it produces. Like Mathilde, many students from Techstyler’s Digi Fashion Class of 2020 showcase have incorporated sustainable/waste-reducing practices into their collection, showing an acute awareness of the climate emergency and the incredibly wasteful and pollutive industry they will inherit. It’s a dilemma many fashion students have tried to come to terms with: loving fashion creation but also knowing that the world does not need more clothes. To overcome this problem, Mathilde decided to adopt innovative techniques.

She took photos of the old garments she wanted to use, and these became the basis of the augmented designs in her final collection, which is a tessellation of leftover textiles and existing garments, re-imagined virtually. Although she was interested in 3D design before and planned to use it in her final collection to some extent, Mathilde is one of the many fashion design graduates for whom digital fashion took on a much larger role in their projects due to COVID-19.

 

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It must have been bittersweet to have your last year cut short; how did you feel?

At the beginning, when lockdown was announced, I had a couple weeks of uncertainty. I didn’t know what to expect or how long lockdown would actually be. So for that period I was a bit of an emotional mess. Then I became very determined to make the situation better for UAL students: with petitions, meetings with university staff, demanding to cut the cost of tuition… This eventually fizzled out because we were getting nowhere. Finally, after that, I began to feel more acceptance. I came to realise that I have the opportunity to really throw myself into something which I had wanted to explore before. I was in a good position as the main equipment I needed was a computer. I already had the squares of second-hand materials (from sample books I had collected over internships to avoid textile waste) I was going to use to map the pixels of the digital garment. The only machinery I needed was a heat press for the recycled plastic I was using.

How did you overcome the obstacles of designing in lockdown? Was it difficult to stay motivated and in touch with your creativity?

Actually, I thought it was quite exciting in a sense. I was more productive. It may have been the sense that it was all in my hands, no-one was going to push me. The only real problem at the beginning of lockdown was shipping all my stuff back to France, since I was going to spend lockdown with my family. I needed to ship all my squares, all my materials. I couldn’t replace them because the goal was for them to be recycled materials in order to minimise waste.

What led you to choose digital fashion design over traditional methods? Was it an unexpected solution to the limitations of COVID-19 or had you been interested in 3D design before?

I was interested in it before, but it took on a larger role because of the physical limitations of COVID. Digital fashion had already been part of the plan, but not to that extent. What I do is augmented reality, so a middle ground between physical and entirely digital fashion (with 3D avatars). I still want to dress people but want the option to do so without producing waste. You can update your designs constantly without waste.

 

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What was the inspiration behind your collection?

It didn’t actually come from an aesthetic inspiration, more a problem-solving approach. My approach was technical: I wanted to address the issue of sustainability. I used different tech systems (whether that’s pixelation*, convolutional neural network**, etc.) to solve problems to do with sustainability.

* The images of the old garments were pixelated in photoshop or sections of the garment were 3D scanned. This allowed Mathilde to translate the real-life textiles into a virtual medium for use as the basis of new 3D designs (i.e. the old garments would be the foundation for the Augmented Reality digital layer of Mathilde’s designs.)

** A convolutional neural network is a type of deep neural network that analyses images to determine and categorise their visual characteristics, in effect recognising details of the garment – such as edges or hard components like buttons – and allowing the designer to adjust the pixel patterns within these garment details. The significance of being able to adjust the pixel patterns is two-fold: first, ensuring that everything looks as intended and to make the transition from physical to digital more seamless, and second, it gives the designer the option to infinitely rearrange and “play with” the building blocks of their design.

 

 

 

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What software did you use in creating your designs? Were there any challenges?

I used a convolutional neural network (AI), Spark AR and Blender (3D animation software). I learnt how to 3D model during the project, so it took some time before I was comfortable. It was a challenge to try and get the AR right and plane-track* the clothes. The thing with 3D design is that you need to make sure the design looks good from different angles. This means blocking out the body and using occluders** to make sure that patterns on the back didn’t show up from the front and vice versa. It took a lot of adjustment to make sure it worked.

*Mathilde used plane-tracking on second hand garments to add an Augmented Reality digital layer on top, using software such as Spark AR and Blender. Plane-tracking involves taking a photo of a recognisable high contrast area of the garment, which is the bit that acts as a trigger that causes Augmented Reality interaction.

 

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** Occluders are objects which impede the amount of light that reaches the eye. In this context, an occluder would block a pattern on one side of the garment from bleeding into the other side. Mathilde had to put explicit instructions into the software to ensure that everything was visualised in the correct location and orientation, according to Mathilde’s design.

 

This is an example of what could happen if occluders are not used: you can see the details of one side of the 3D object bleeding into the other.
This is an example of what could happen if occluders are not used: you can see the details of one side of the 3D object bleeding into the other.

 

What is your plan after graduation? How do you feel about going into the industry during this uncertain time?

I don’t really know yet. At the moment I’ve had lots of freelance jobs which I don’t think I would have gotten 6 months ago. All of a sudden people are interested in digital fashion, there’s a lot of hype. COVID accelerated things because everyone was in front of their screens. But people have been experiencing fashion digitally for a long time without really realising it: e.g. all the people that watch shows online rather than being there in real life. Fashion enthusiasts have been consuming fashion from their screens for ages, but now, since everyone was in lockdown, industry professionals and the fashion system have had to adapt a bit more. I’m going onto MA Accessories at the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris so I’ll carry on freelancing on the side, but I’m lucky to not have to think about a full-time career yet.

How do you want to see the fashion industry change? Is it already changing or is this evolution merely superficial (for example in terms of sustainability)?

Fashion needs to move towards a circular model of production, i.e. stopping with the production of new textiles and making use of existing garments and materials. In terms of sustainability I think we’re still quite far behind. Sustainability is such a large word, there are so many ways to go about making the industry more sustainable. In a sense it’s a good thing as there are many small ways to help, but the risk is focussing too much on the small things rather than the big problem at hand. We see a lot of greenwashing and superficial fixes to a problem that is fundamentally wrong. I’m curious to see more systemic change.

 

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Is 3D fashion design the future?

It’s quite revolutionary waste-wise for smaller brands since the proportion of sampling to product output is bigger than for large companies, meaning it would be extremely worthwhile to move to virtual sampling. With this, you reduce waste at the design and sampling stage and can make many alterations on a toile.

What about digital fashion from end-to-end (meaning no physical product is made)?

This would work for brands doing digital showcases. I have a preference for augmented reality (meaning real people wearing digital clothes rather than a 3D avatar). I still want to dress real people, but people have increasingly developed a digital aspect to their personality. For example, influencers on Instagram that wear a whole new outfit for every new post: augmented reality could solve the overconsumption issue caused by this. The medium is digital so why not the clothes? It can be integrated into the way we live our lives already.

 

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Lastly, what do you think digital fashion means for sustainability?

It allows design without physical production, therefore less waste. Though you can’t totally ignore the carbon footprint of technology, the electrical energy used in powering a computer would be less than trying to recycle all the waste material and mixed fibres at recycling plants. Digital fashion at least streamlines the waste and carbon footprint caused by the industry. Also, there’s visibly “tech-y” fashion (virtual fashion) which will certainly affect the zeitgeist and our opinions on owning physical clothes, but I think the core change in terms of sustainability will be about incorporating technologies into making physical products. You might look at a T-shirt and not think there’s anything particularly innovative or futuristic about it, but the truth is it was made using digital processes that aid sustainability.

 

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With the goal of a more sustainable fashion industry in mind, Mathilde wanted to address both our physical and digital identities. This is due to our digital identities playing an increasingly bigger role in our lives, and these digital identities (or rather the social media sites where they live) being ruled by algorithms that constantly call for new content. She remedies this in the physical realm through the fabric squares she used for her designs which can constantly be repositioned, creating new designs without creating more waste. This translates to the digital realm too, where her Augmented Reality virtual outer shells (each of which correspond to a different garment) can continuously be updated. 

Mathilde enjoys being able to design without creating any physical waste and strongly believes the waste issue in fashion is one that needs to be addressed by the industry. However, she doesn’t want this to come at the cost of design, whether that’s aesthetically or in terms of speed. This is what her collection tried to remedy, showing that zero-waste, repurposing and recycling techniques do not have to produce the “crafty” results they are often associated with. Like much of fashion’s “new guard”, Mathilde is an advocate for the circular mindset where things can constantly be re-designed, allowing for full creative expression by the designer and satisfying the fashion crowd’s love for newness without creating more textile waste and contributing to the devastating climate impact that comes along with fashion production and consumption. In this way, the designer can fully explore the best of fashion – unbridled creativity – whilst avoiding its destructive impact.

 

By Anastasia Vartanian

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.

textile waste
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

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.

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!

 

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. 

Why The Key To A Sustainable Planet Is Combining Biology and Design

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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Image: Piero D Angelo – Biodesign Here Now exhibitor

Fashion tech innovator, writer and public speaker Brooke Roberts-Islam investigates how a movement of biologists and designers are working to replicate nature’s design systems to create sustainable biodesigns and biomaterials for the future health of people and planet. 

Every day, we learn more about how our homes, transport and fashion and beauty products are becoming more sustainable. However, many of these sustainable solutions are chipping away at the global climate change problem, providing retro-fitted partial fixes. With the urgency proven by recent collective measures at the G7 summit, the outcry at the burning Amazon and ongoing ocean plastic cleanup efforts, it’s clear that whilst every positive action to reduce impact is a step in the right direction, ultimately, we need end-to-end sustainable systems to achieve the sweeping change that will secure our planet’s future. Put simply, we need to design and create and consume in a fully sustainable way. 

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Image: Aurelie Fontan – Biodesign Here Now Exhibitor

To this end, there is a passionate movement of biologists and designers studying and replicating the ‘design systems’ that exist in nature in an effort to apply these to how we design the cities, homes and clothes we inhabit, and more. What are these ‘design systems’? Have we copied them in the past, and if not, why not? 

In nature, there are biological processes that create and sustain life (and materials) in a naturally efficient and organic manner. They maintain an equilibrium that only draws the energy required and creates byproducts that support other life. This is in contrast to the synthetic creation of materials, which are imbalanced in the sense that they harm rather than support other life and require disproportionate levels of energy for relatively small outputs. 

An example of this biological versus synthetic material process can be found by comparing silk to synthetic ‘silk’. The silkworm creates a cocoon of continuous silk filament around its body length (around 3 inches), giving rise to a thread that is 1,300 metres long – in just three days. To do this, it expels a sticky silk protein while moving its head in a figure eight pattern to weave the cocoon. All it needs to do this is the correct climatic conditions and its energy source – mulberry leaves. It is an extraordinary organism that creates a raw material that has uses spanning beauty creams (silk protein protects the skin), medical dressings and of course, luxurious fabrics. The raw material has several grades of product outputs and all byproducts have value, with broken and low grade cocoons providing a superior protein food source to livestock, for example. 

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Image: Blast Studios – Biodesign Here Now exhibitor

No wonder biotech companies like Bolt Threads are copying the biological blueprint of silk by using the DNA of silk proteins (bioengineered into other organisms) to manufacture silk in larger quantities in a lab, so that this high value, relatively low impact material can become more available and affordable. The resulting fabric maintains all the natural properties of silk and ideally it would eventually reduce our overdependence on cotton and synthetic substitutes. Currently, silk makes up only 0.18% of textiles used globally. The most common fabrics used in clothing are cotton and synthetics (polyester is one example). 

Prior to this biodesign effort by Bolt Threads, the industry approach to replicating silk was to create synthetic fibres and weave them in a manner that attempts to mimic the look and feel of silk. These synthetics had the added benefits of being machine washable, much less fragile, and much cheaper than silk. However, as we now know, they are also often treated as disposable – particularly in fast fashion – and this has contributed to the microplastic pollution problem, strengthening the case for more solutions like Bolt Threads bio-engineered spider silk. 

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Image: Open Cell, Shepherd’s Bush

In the UK, there is an emerging community of biologists and designers working in tandem on solutions in the same realm as Bolt Threads. Pivotal to this community are graduates from degrees such as MA Material Futures and the new MA Biodesign degree, launching at Central Saint Martins later this month. In addition, co-working lab spaces such as Open Cell in West London are making biodesign and materials research accessible to the most ambitious and creative minds at the beginning of their careers, on small budgets. 

In addition, the Biodesign Challenge launched in 2016 fosters collaboration among art, design, and biology students, helping to cultivate the first generation of bio-designers and build meaningful public dialogue about biotech and its uses. Its executive director, Daniel Grushkin, said that: “future designers must fully understand the debates surrounding biotech so when they are asked to design with it, they do so thoughtfully and ethically.” 

In September, London sees the annual design festival present the most cutting-edge product and material design to industry and consumers alike. The Biodesign Here Now exhibition at Open Cell marks the second year that biodesign has been featured prominently at the festival, with a pivotal place at the V&A as part of the Global Design Forum on September 16th, along with a launch event and free public exhibition at Open Cell on the 19th to 21st September. The aim is to share biodesign and biomaterials with the general public and allow access to the lab spaces that are catalysing this new generation of sustainable design systems. 

The work being presented includes non-toxic bacterial dyeing by Post Carbon LabLovely Trash by Blast Studios , an algae-based sustainable material by Carolyn Raff and Rosie Broadhead’s probiotic bacteria embedded into clothing, with the aim of encouraging cell renewal and improving the skin’s immune system. The work of these hybrid designer/engineer/scientists is proof that sustainable design systems that harness nature’s blueprints are crucial not only for the future health of the environment, but for humans, too.

The Zozosuit: A Fashion Revolution

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

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

https://youtu.be/32rbuLFbVWk

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

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

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

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

**add self-styled jeans pics**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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