THE FASHION PROBLEM
People love buying clothes. The fashion industry is one of the largest in the world and it is constantly growing. Forecasts suggest that by 2030, the apparel and footwear market will reach 3.3 billion dollars . But besides being one of the largest industries, fashion is also a significant environmental polluter.
Here’s a list of environmental impacts of the fashion industry according to the United Nations :
- 2,000 gallons of water is needed to make one pair of jeans
- 93 billion cubic metres of water, enough for 5 million people to survive, is used by the fashion industry every year
- The fashion industry produces 20% of global waste-water
- Clothing and footwear production is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions
- Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned
- Clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014
The root of the problem lies in the business model. The “Fast Fashion” approach presupposes the frequent changing of clothing collections, persuading customers to buy new things often, and get rid of the old. It results in many negative impacts. Modern tendencies of taking care of the environment push society into new models, such as Sustainable Fashion, whose task is to ensure that clothes are produced as ethically and sustainably as possible. Technologies, such as blockchain, can be a great help for that, and a great value both for business and customers in today’s modern age.
SUSTAINABLE FASHION, MILLENNIALS AND ZOOMERS’ IMPACT
Sustainable Fashion is a movement working to champion ecological integrity and social justice throughout the fashion sector. It relates to the whole system of apparel and shoes production as well as its purchases and usages. “Sustainable” is about social responsibility on behalf of all participants involved in this process.
In simple words, Sustainable Fashion is a mindful usage of natural resources. This implies that new garments are also made from recycled fabric. Faux fur and leather are not the best choice according to Sustainable Fashion friendlies, because they are toxic materials and decompose over a long period of time. The notion to recycle, resell, and re-use, or to find other ways of producing clothing and shoes while simultaneously caring for the environment and people has become a popularized concern. As one unique example, some companies have even started to produce leather from pineapple leaf fibres (i.e. Pinatex ). The world is increasingly on the hunt for a circular economy.
Fast-fashion and luxury brands are trying to comply with standards that are gaining ground. 32 companies, including – Chanel, Prada and Ralph Lauren – even signed a pact along with G7 countries to combat greenhouse gasses and emphasize sustainability throughout the clothing industry; Prada, Gucci, Versace, Armani and others gave up fur ; Nike stated that climate change directly affects sports and started their “Move to Zero” (Carbon) campaign .
These big brands are beginning to change because the consumers which they represent have changed. The young generation of Millennials (born 1984-2000) and Generation Z (also known as Zoomers, late 90s-early 2010) are the biggest supporters of the Sustainable Fashion movement – researchers suggest that 77% of Millennials want to support companies that are actively investing in solutions to improve environmental, social and governance concerns . These two generations are perhaps even ready to pay extra money if products they consume are created in a more socially compliant way .
The new age of consumers want to be part of a change. They want to know more, to make more informed decisions, to know where their money goes, what practices their wallets support, and whether or not their purchases have some positive impact on the environment, on people, or both. No consumer wants to support child labour practices, and today, this topic is absolute front-and-center.
As we see, the Sustainable Fashion movement is aimed at a multitude of issues. Improving sustainability, improving product sourcing, improving use of materials. Perhaps the underlying issue is…how do we know? Modern fashion – as it exists today – lacks accountability. This is precisely where technology can help. And this is precisely where new technologies like Blockchain can and will absolutely lead the way.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN SUSTAINABLE FASHION
“Blockchain is connecting all the dots. It’s showing me the story of what I’m buying. I can scan the QR-code and I will literally know where the fabric came from and who manufactured it. Everything’s only a click away! Blockchain is the only technology that can do that.”
Aishwarya Gopalakrishnan, Consulting Project Manager at DeepDive Technology Group
The fashion industry consists of four levels: the production of raw materials (principally fibres and textiles but also leather and fur); the production of fashion goods by designers, manufacturers, contractors, and others; retail sales; and various forms of advertising and promotion .
As mentioned previously, consumers tend to make more informed decisions and desire brands which demonstrate true responsibility towards the Environment and Natural Resources. Consumers want to know where the fabric came from, who are the people involved in the manufacturing process, what is the process, was there any recycling or not, and more. Talking about Sustainable Fashion, traceability and transparency within the entire garment lifecycle has become really important.
New technologies such as Blockchain can inspire a better, more transparent, more ecological fashion industry. Blockchain technology is a new technology which is particularly well known for creating trustworthy systems between large groups of different stakeholders. Blockchain technology can literally fit into any supply chain management system with no significant “new ask” of system users, no significant changes in process, and with less security risk compared to traditional database technologies used commonly today. Once information is put on the Blockchain system, it lives there, and nobody can change that. Whatever is written onto the Blockchain system is irreversible, irrefutable, and therefore can be trusted.
Imagine, you as a consumer, receive a hand-bag from a famous retail brand that states it’s completely made from recycled materials, you scan a QR code on the side of the item, and can instantly bring up the entire manufacturing history, materials, and process for the item held in your hands. That’s the power of Sustainable Fashion by leveraging Blockchain.
Blockchain is a tool both for the fashion consumer and for the clothing brand itself. The transparency which a blockchain-based system can provide works for producers as a marketing tool, by building trust with both consumers as well as with retail brands. Traceability helps to prevent against industry fraud; “smart contracts” based on blockchain systems won’t allow any transaction activity without confirming authenticity, or other forms of sensitive criteria. Blockchain-based systems can also automate workflows, eliminate unnecessary paperwork and accelerate business processes. When documentation is on the blockchain, users no longer have to notify each responsible stakeholder for signatures or approvals; once such a need appears, the relevant stakeholder can be automatically notified. Let’s keep in-mind that all records of approvals are recorded and irrefutable. Blockchain introduces a true system of trust, which the Sustainable Fashion movement could certainly leverage.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that today ecological problems are beginning to drive action. A new age of consumers are choosing to purchase clothing and shoes from brands that declare that they care about the environment…and can prove it! A lot of large enterprise producers may see the threat in this; however, what they really should see is opportunity. Consumer values are shifting. And by leveraging new technologies such as Blockchain, clothing brands can certainly keep up.
Aishwarya Gopalakrishnan, Consulting Project Manager at DeepDive Technology Group
Special thanks to Aishwarya for inspiring the Sustainable Fashion story through countless conversations & interviews.
- 28 Trendy Fashion Industry Statistics for a Luxurious 2021 https://goremotely.net/blog/fashion-industry-statistics/
- UN News, UN launches drive to highlight environmental cost of staying fashionable, – https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035161
- Pinatex, https://www.ananas-anam.com/
- The Guardian, G7 and fashion houses join forces to make clothes more sustainable, – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/21/fashion-g7-summit-sustainability-kering-inditex-macron
- CNN Style, Prada to go fur-free in 2020, – https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/prada-goes-fur-free-2020/index.html#:~:text=Prada%20has%20announced%20it%20will,Spring%2FSummer%202020%20women’s%20collection
- Nike, – https://purpose.nike.com/climate-and-sport/#
- Investment News, Almost 8 in 10 millennial investors put ESG first, – https://www.investmentnews.com/almost-eight-in-ten-millennial-investors-put-esg-first-175825
- Statista, Shoppers who are willing to pay extra for sustainable products in the United States as of September 2018, by generation, – https://www.statista.com/statistics/936491/shoppers-who-would-pay-more-for-sustainable-products-by-generation-us/
- Britannica, Fashion Industry, – https://www.britannica.com/art/fashion-industry