Sustainable Fashion through the lens of technology 

From shopping at the mall to shopping in the metaverse, technology has significantly changed our way of life. Today, sustainability is the need of the hour. Being sustainable today will help improve the quality of life for our future generations. With emerging technologies being a boon to society, working towards sustainability doesn’t seem like a far-fetched goal after all. These technologies are even making it possible for us to preview a reality where fashion is purely digital and more sustainable.

Emerging technologies have demonstrated their ability to meet the ever-growing demand for sustainable development. As a result of the introduction of such technology to the market, various industries are making sustainability a part of their business processes.

Let’s explore the various technologies that have made it possible to work towards sustainability in the fashion industry. 

Technology for a sustainable fashion industry

Did you know that the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for generating greenhouse gas emissions? It’s pretty safe to say that a sustainable future for the fashion industry is imminent. 

Let’s look at some emerging technologies that are on their way to disrupt the fashion industry as we’ve known it.

Body Scanners

Try imagining the wastage produced due to sizing and fitting issues. To avoid unnecessary waste of material and effort, body scanning technology is on a mission to reduce errors due to sizing by a significant amount. 

Earlier, only high fashion or custom-made clothing was accurate in sizing and fitting. Only a small percentage of the population had access to these avenues. A more significant majority still purchases from fast fashion affordable brands like H&M, Zara & Forever 21. This body scanning technology is on a quest to democratize the fashion industry by making it available to the larger population.

Artificial Intelligence 

AI has limitless potential. Whether it applies to self-driving cars or to logical and creative thinking, AI is capable of everything. AI is used for demand planning and even foreseeing certain trends in the fashion industry. Tracking inventory in real-time allows brands to make operational decisions with ease.

Tommy Hilfiger, the fashion brand, announced a partnership with IBM and The Fashion Institute of Technology. As part of the “Reimagine Retail” project, FIT students were given access to IBM Research’s AI capabilities. These tools were utilized to understand real-time trends and customer sentiments around Tommy Hilfiger. This information was filtered back to the student designer, who could then use it to make informed decisions around their design.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

With the help of Web 3.0 technologies such as AR/VR, the gap between online and in-store purchases is being bridged. These technologies allow you to try on clothes from the comfort of your own home. Today, online shopping is the preferred mode of shopping. It has made it possible to buy almost anything in the world from your home at any odd hour of the day.

With AR/VR tech shaping the fashion industry’s future, this advancement is game-changing. In fact, the fashion brand Burberry even collaborated with Google for this. It brought their in-store shopping experience right to the shoppers’ digital devices. By experiencing a more realistic view of the products, shoppers were in for a visual treat. 

Image source: Burberry PLC.

Buyers can make a better decision after they experience what the clothing will look like on their bodies. This will reduce the amount of wastage and exchanges caused due to fitting, sizing, length. 

Alternative Textiles 

You must have heard of plant-based meat, but have you heard of plant-based fashion before? Seems unlikely. Did you know that creating a single cotton t-shirt takes up the same amount of water as one person drinks in 2.5 years? Although nylon and polyester take less water during production, they emit some hazardous greenhouse gases. Thus, the need for substitutes is higher than ever before.

For context, eco-friendly textile alternatives include agricultural fibers such as leaves and rinds, making them biodegradable. Here’s Peta’s list of sustainable brands making a splash in the vegan plant-based clothing market. 

Designers like Stella McCartney have also contributed to this movement by introducing their innovative bio-based fur. This 37% plant-based fabric emits up to 63% fewer greenhouse gases compared to traditional synthetics. 

If you are interested in contributing to this movement and purchasing from indigenous vegan clothing brands, here’s a list that will definitely come in handy:

  • B-Label: This brand utilizes hemp, one of the world’s strongest natural fibers, to create sustainable and durable clothing.
  • Mio Borsa: If you love the look and feel of leather and seek a worthy substitute, then Mio Borsa leads the innovation in that field. They create stylish handbags with a natural component, pineapple stalk extract imparting a leather-like sheen. 
  • Nicobar: This brand focuses on clean fashion using fabrics like bamboo, Tencel, and modal with no chemicals or pesticides used in production.

Natural Textile Dyes 

Did you know that most of Asia’s water pollution results from the chemicals discharged by textile industries? Colorfix was one such brand that identified this problem and came up with greener ways to produce these dyes. They set out to make this process sustainable and less dependent on chemical dyes. They create dyes with fewer chemicals, less energy, and 10 times less water by employing biologically-driven methods directed by nature. 

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Today, even social media platforms contribute towards sustainability. The pandemic saw a new wave of Instagram “thrift shops” take the world by storm. Within a year, the internet was crowded with thrift stores and aggregator websites selling second-hand clothes, accessories, and factory rejects online. Websites for people to list their owned clothes and sell them online also became widely popular. 

Apart from traditional thrift stores, the concept of upcycling also became popular. 

Upcycling is the act of reusing an old piece of clothing that you would typically throw out. Various fashion brands and independent designers have proved that upcycled fashion is highly wearable and is the next big thing. For example, Sara O Robinson, an independent designer, leveraged this concept and created upcycled clothing from men’s blazers. With this idea, she grew from a small Instagram store to a full-fledged luxury clothing website that is widely acclaimed.

Image source: SaraORobinson

With every passing year, new technologies emerge and disrupt the market. Such technologies have made sustainability a possibility in the fashion industry and not a goal for the distant future. 

Now that you have examples of sustainable technologies that exist today let’s look at what’s in store for the future. 

What’s the future of sustainable fashion-tech?

Ever since the world was introduced to the concept of the ‘Metaverse’ by tech mogul Mark Zuckerberg, things just haven’t been the same. The idea of the metaverse is one of those life-altering technologies that completely change the way people live. Think about how social media was such an alien concept back in the early 2000s. Cut to 2022, a life without social media is hard to fathom. 

For the fashion industry, the metaverse is the future of fashion. Following Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of the metaverse, Meta’s official Twitter account even tweeted: “Hey @Balenciaga, what’s the dress code in the metaverse?”. 

Image via Epic Games

Sustainable Fashion in the Metaverse 

Today, realities like a Metaverse Fashion Week are not hard to believe. In fact, Decentraland is hosting its first Metaverse Fashion Week starting 24th March 2022. This Fashion Week will see various brands and designers coming together to showcase their digital designs on the catwalk. Visiting folk can experience these digital clothes just like they would at the physical Fashion Week. Fashion shows, live music sessions, and branded after-parties will also be a part of this Metaverse Fashion Week. 

A Metaverse Fashion Week will be considerably more sustainable than the physical ones held in Paris, Milan, New York & London. For instance, designers and travelers attending Fashion Week result in 241,000 tonnes of carbon emissions generated just due to travel alone. Technology today empowers people to expect that reality sooner. Moving towards a purely digital strategy will reduce the carbon footprint significantly. 

In 2021, Helsinki Fashion Week went purely digital. The carbon footprint per visitor dropped from 137kg to 0.66kg. With a reduction in overproduction of clothes, water, materials, and time, digital fashion is an opportunity to push for a sustainable future.

Image via UNDX and Dolce & Gabbana

The takeover of digital avatars 

In 2022, AR/VR technologies, Artificial Intelligence, metaverse, digital avatars, and NFT’s have created quite the buzz. In a future where our digital avatars will be predominant, you can expect fashion to be an indispensable part of the metaverse. Brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, Nike, H&M, Adidas have already forayed into metaverse fashion and retail. ‘The Impossible Tiara’ by Dolce & Gabanna, made from “gems that can’t quite be found on Earth,” was sold for almost $6 million in fashion NFTs. Shocking right? In fact, soon, you will be more concerned about your digital avatar’s fashion sense than your own. Although this ‘reality’ seems distant, it is definitely the future of digital fashion. 

Now that you have an idea about the endless possibilities of technology, share your thoughts on what you think will be the future of fashion in the comments below!

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