Emerging Tech x Climate Conscious Consumers

Did you know that it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt? Or that producing a single pair of denim jeans takes enough water that a human drinks in ten years?

The $3.5 trillion clothing industry produces 20% of the global water waste, 10% global carbon emissions and deposits 20 billion tons of waste into landfills every year. That’s more than the emissions by all international flights and maritime shipping combined! At its current rate, the apparel industry will produce more than one-fourth of the world’s carbon footprint by 2050. Consumers are gradually getting more conscious about the environmental impact of their fashion purchases. On the other hand, brands are also taking note of the neo climate conscious consumer. Consumers are steadily accepting sustainable fabrics, upcycled clothing and organic materials that reduce waste. 

Brands like Everlane and Adidas have released lines of clothing made from recycled plastic bottles and other reused materials. In fact, Adidas doubled its number of shoes made from recycled waste last year. Zara and H&M have pledged to only use organic, sustainable or recycled fabrics in its clothing by 2025 and 2030 respectively. In a nod to the ethical consumer, Stella McCartney became the first designer to launch the world’s first faux fur made using plant based ingredients. 

According to Porter Novelli, 90% of Gen Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to not only highlight environmental issues but actively work to overcome them. However, with 45% of Gen Z shoppers likely to seek additional information on a product or company before making a purchase, it’s important to increase transparency in the apparel industry’s supply chain process. In the fashion world a massive ton of clothing gets trashed before it is even sold – this could be due to faulty manufacturing, not meeting standards, order cancellations or even errors in the supply chain. That’s another reason to increase transparency in the supply chain. Since consumers increasingly want to see how truly brands are committed to sustainability, some companies are using blockchain technology to create an online public ledger that generates a permanent and unchangeable record of transactions. So users can track the journey of the item, from the production of the raw material to the shop floor, simply by scanning the item’s QR code on an app. Blockchain can be effective in securing transactions but can be limited in performance, scalability and confidentiality. 

Some clothing companies are using a fairly disruptive innovation – 3D virtual sampling – to decrease product development time. In the past, physical samples were required in the design, manufacturing and selling lifecycle. Oftentimes twenty or more such samples were necessary for designers and retailers to have an accurate representation of the final product. Tommy Hilfiger will only use 3D design to create, develop and sell samples from its Spring 2022 apparel collections onward. This reduction in waste and decrease in production time will bring huge cost advantages to the company. 

To address the concerns around labor conditions and waste caused due to human errors in the supply chain, companies are using automated manufacturing technologies such as industrial robots to assemble products. Softwear Automation’s robot was developed at Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center. Their sewing bots or “sewbots”  have vacuum-powered grips that feed fabric into a sewing machine, adjusting it accordingly using machine vision. Fashion for Good, a global initiative to make fashion more sustainable, estimates that Softwear Automation’s sewbots can help lower emissions by around 10% by creating products closer to consumers and reducing material waste.

While I agree that consumers are gradually becoming aware and mindful of sustainability in fashion and clothing, it is still not widespread enough. Changing buying patterns take time, but with positive influence and active conversation, it can be accelerated. I genuinely feel that more consumers need to pay attention to how their clothing is sourced, what happens when you dispose or throw away clothes and most importantly how the incineration of certain fabrics and chemicals leaves our planet worse off. By passing this information along to consumers transparently, brands can build trust and loyalty – important factors when making purchasing decisions.

To start off, given how active the younger generation is on social media, I think more companies should use social channels online to highlight how new technologies can be put to use to curb our carbon footprint. Another solution could be having a mandated global consciousness index such as Fashion Transparency Index – to incentivize major brands to share policies, practices and supply chain transparency. Finally, consumers need to realise that when they buy a T-shirt, they’re buying more than a piece of clothing – they’re buying into resources.

I think it’s fascinating how using emerging forms of technology can not only help companies but also help (conscious) consumers be more data-driven. I’m sure a lot of us would like to see garment companies evolve and be more transparent. The question I ask you is, how many of you would like to be an evolved consumer who cares beyond that T-shirt?

Sources:

  1. https://3dlook.me/blog/7-emerging-technologies-for-sustainable-fashion-production-in-2020/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2020/02/24/11-fashion-companies-leading-the-way-in-sustainability/?sh=58733ce56dba
  3. https://www.whichplm.com/3d-virtual-sampling-evolution-or-revolution/
  4. https://3dlook.me/blog/sustainability-inclusivity-and-traceability-a-fashion-industry-fit-for-gen-z/
  5. https://eco-age.com/resources/blockchain-technology-powering-transparency-fashion-supply-chain/

7 comments

  1. abigailholler1 · ·

    Wow – some of those statistics you mentioned at the beginning are a bit alarming!! Definitely glad to see some brands begin to focus on the environmental aspects of their business, especially those that focus on fast fashion strategies (i.e. Zara). Your idea to make the ‘Fashion Transparency Index’ more widely used reminds me of a similar concept for consumer personal care & cleaning products known as “Environmental Working Group” or “EWG” score. This company has an app that rates various household products and produces consumers with a score of how ‘clean’ the product is for household & personal use. Their database uses a driven approach to score various factors including: ingredient relation to medical issues, transparency of product, and other environmental aspects. I think consumers will continue to request more transparency as digitization allows us to have such data at our fingertips.

  2. olivia_levy8 · ·

    This is a topic that is no doubt shifting consumer behavior. In 2021, one of my goals is to work on quality over quantity when it comes to clothing, and not take part in fast fashion as much as I have in the past by buying one/two ethically sourced items from companies such as Everlane, rather than ten sweaters from a cheaper, non-environmentally conscious brand. The blockchain idea is a great application, especially with our class on blockchain coming up. I know that other industries as well such as the food industry have been leveraging blockchain to track supply chain as well. I enjoyed reading your blog and would love to learn more ways I can be a conscious consumer.

  3. therealerindee · ·

    Great job showing some of the initiatives being used by certain brands and companies while also describing what they could focus on to go a step farther. I think future efforts to push consumers towards making the more environmental conscious choice will need to focus on the individual impact of that purchase rather than what the company is doing more broadly. I believe while our generation and generations after us care much more about a brand’s reputation, I think we are all driven by mostly selfish motivations so it may be cool for a company to advertise how many gallons of water that shirt saved along with the price of the item. This allows a consumer to purchase what they need but also feel the direct impact while doing it.

  4. I really liked how you articulated how certain companies in the retail space are working to provide a more sustainable supply chain that will limit carbon footprint. It’s eyeopening to see how much individual companies can really make an impact, As more and more investor mandates start flowing through to ESG related funds. The retail sector will be pushed more and more to take on these types of changes. One thing that I am not sure was discussed was the efforts that companies like Zara and H&M are doing to incentivize customers to recycle their clothes. Fast fashion and quality don’t typically come in the same sentence. Often times customers are buying shirts and or garments that might last two seasons or at best two years before its reached its 1st useful life. To me more efforts, through discounting programs need to be instituted to ensure that these firms are able to close the loop and ensure that they are an active participant to have their customers alter their recycle habits to make sure that these sustainable clothes don’t just end up in a landfill.

  5. Jie Zhao · ·

    I loved reading this post as this is a topic that I regularly think about it. I’m glad that sustainable clothing and minimizing the impact on the environment have become more important for some of the biggest and traditionally fast-fashion brands in the world. Whether it’s for the brand’s reputation or the increasing attention to sustainably, brands have been adapting their product strategies to address this issue. Unfortunately, many companies are also greenwashing their brands and pretending to be more eco-friendly than they really are. I think this is where the blockchain technology you mentioned will play an important part to hold brands accountable to be more transparent.

  6. conoreiremba · ·

    Divya, reading your log I cannot help but feel weighed down by the relatively light t-shirt that I am wearing, instead thinking of it as a 2,700-litre tank of water sitting on my shoulders. But this is a hugely important topic and thank you for writing about it. This reminds me of when I bought my first pair of TOMS shoes and being proud to know that for every pair purchased, a pair of new shoes is given to a child in need, and feeling better about my purchase.
    As you mentioned, companies are beginning to understand that they cannot afford to underestimate the ethical consumer. They need to meet their customers halfway and I really support the idea of using blockchain to track the production at each stage, removing the risk of greenwashing the Jie mentions. I love how you mention that brands should focus on building trust and loyalty. I believe companies should not view sustainability-driven strategies as a threat to their top line but instead, look at the opportunities it creates to enhance the customer relationship. The case of Patagonia in the Forbes article you shared is a great example of a company that is successful in using sustainability as a selling point.
    It should not be a “Doing the right thing vs boosting sales” scenario and instead, companies should look at boosting sales by doing the right thing, using sustainability as a competitive advantage for their brand, and leveraging technology such as blockchain to do so. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Great post! I like how these different technologies used to explore the possibility and feasibility of solving such problems. Blockchains have so much potential and power that can be used in various industries. I understand that the concept of blockchains is actually from cryptocurrency, and that is why people always talk about them together. Besides, the concept of cryptocurrency is actually coming from modern cryptology in computer science (RSA, SHA, Hashing, etc..) I am so grateful that these technologies can be used in helping people instead of in making illegal activities.

    The way you describe how 3D virtual sampling can reduce development time is also fascinating. One question I always ask my self, the quality and detail of 3d scan/model cannot actually match that of physical items. I’m wondering how will this affect the development process. Besides, there are limits in the digital world, eg. How do you feel the materials (wool, cotton, etc) when you only rely on the digital models in the development process?

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