Blockchain technology and a changing consumer mindset is the key to a sustainable fashion economy. The fashion industry is a top polluter and contributor to global climate change which has been made worse with the introduction of fast-fashion.
Technologies such as blockchain and innovative business models can be implemented to address these problems and shift our perception of fashion sustainability.
Merriam-Webster defines blockchain as “a digital database of records that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessibly network”.
Blockchain and AI is still in infancy stages so the best thing we can do at the moment as consumers is to ‘shop less and reuse more’. Future technology aims to tackle this issue by completely revolutionizing the fashion shopping experience.
Companies such as Xehar and Designerex lead the charge; implementing inventory management systems, clothing subscription models, and more to enforce a more sustainably conscious mindset of ‘shop less and reuse more’.
Blockchain, a technology yet to reach its full potential, is currently bridging the gap between manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to in an effort to rebuild an eco-friendlier manufacturing process. Blockchain allows retailers to carry the exact amount of inventory as trends and seasons change.
Hadari Oshri, CEO of a fashion-technology company, believes blockchain can not only improve fast-fashion but also reduce waste
“by shifting the industry to a demand chain versus a supply chain. This can and will reduce the waste of unsold inventory. The result would be a more streamlined industry with reduced end costs to the consumer.”
In a demand chain industry, customers begin the process by ordering custom garments from the retailer, who reorders from the wholesaler, and this continues all the way up the chain to the raw materials supplier. This means brands will know the exact amount to order without overproducing, which saves more money for everyone.
A customer-driven chain would lead to the possibility of more local supply chains. This means less transportation pollution as well as minimizing labour and logistic costs from offshore manufacturers.
Even though blockchain is still in development and it may take longer for global adoption, just like the internet, blockchain will be crucial to world health and societal advancements.
Additionally, blockchain technology makes the manufacturing process entirely transparent. Since brands rarely own their own production process, blockchain enforces manufacturers to work in a sustainable manner since garments can be tracked throughout the entire process.
Oshri mentions in his article:
“If used, blockchain would make companies like H&M and Gap accountable for where their apparel and fashion is being manufactured. It would also help consumers ensure that brands do not engage in unethical business practices.”
Since brands don’t own their own their own production lines, they order massive volumes in multiple countries from multiple vendors. As customers begin the demand chain, retailers are under pressure to choose ethical manufacturers, which in turn pressures manufacturers to use more sustainable processes.
One such startup, Provenance, uses blockchain by adding smart labels which can be scanned to view a history of the garment’s journey. There is a conscious effort to fight growing climate change concerns and consumers want evidence that they are supporting brands who use eco-friendly processes.
According to McKinsey & Co. and Business of Fashion’s joint report, The State of Fashion 2019, 66% of consumers surveyed will pay more for sustainable products.
Blockchain is able to solve the sustainability issues during the manufacturing process, where most of the industry’s waste stems from, by shifting to a demand-chain industry where eco-conscious consumers hold the power.
Consideration must also be placed on enforcing sustainability once the garment is in a customer’s hands. This involves recycling clothing and fabrics so it can be repeatedly used without additional impact on the environment.
Designerex, the ‘Airbnb for dresses’, utilizes recycling by introducing a renting business model:
Unwanted clothing can be rented away as seasons and trends change, maximizing the garment life cycle. As they say, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’.
According to The State of Fashion 2019 report, the resale market “has grown 21 times faster than retail in the last 3 years.” This statistic is significant because it means we are starting to see more consideration towards eliminating excess waste.
Additionally, businesses such as Patagonia, offers clothing repair services to prolong the garment lifecycle. Fabrics from unwanted or broken clothing can also be repurposed into new clothing.
Alternatives to fashion recycling would be the creation of biodegradable textiles or technology that can revert garments back to thread.
Theanne Schiros, a professor at Fashion Institute of Technology is creating alga-based fabrics
“using live organisms to grow pieces of biodegradable textiles, creating environmentally friendly materials in the laboratory — and are even producing some near-complete items without the need for factory assembly.”
Since 97% of pollution is due to manufacturing and dyeing, eliminating the need for factories means less pollution from running the factory and the unsustainable methods they employ.
Not to mention, in the off-chance rental business models don’t work out, there would be less damage done if we discarded biodegradable clothing instead.
Additionally, the H&M Foundation is looking to tackle the industry’s recycling obstacle of separating fibers. While the technology is still going through trial-and-error to be able to consistently separate fabrics, it will eventually be possible to achieve this.
Technology is encouraging consumers to be more eco-conscious which in a demand-chain industry, also encourages brands to adopt more sustainable products and methods.
Blockchain paired with innovative business models is the answer to a sustainable future in the fashion industry.
By shifting the fashion industry to a demand-chain and placing emphasis on manufacturers to use sustainable methods, sustainability can be achieved during the production process. Innovative business models and biodegradable textiles will allow consumers to be more eco-conscious.
Technology is spreading its reach to all areas within the fashion industry, businesses and customers alike, to bring about environmental change. There is still a long way to go for fashion to achieve circular sustainability, but it is possible and just around the corner.